Character Creation: How to make a compelling hero

There really is no simple equation for any type of characters. The hero, the villain, the little side characters that no one cares about… they’re all large components of a story with all of their little twists and turns. I wish I could say there was some easy way to make the perfect character that could fit into any genre and thrive in their own glory, but there isn’t. Characters are not a simple addition problem, hero+conflict=best story ever is not something that will always work.

    I’ve heard writers say that they hear their characters in their head, off writing hours, and at times I have a hard time believing it. I already stink at real life conversation, so what makes you think I want to be talking to some fiction person in my head all the time? I don’t even want to talk to myself half of the time, let alone a person I brought together from a compost pile in my head.

    Here’s some good news, you don’t have to learn to talk to yourself to make a good hero. My tip to you: Learn from television.

    Now, wow there buster, are you telling me that all I have to do is watch some television and I’ll get my characters? I just copy off of them or something? NO. We don’t need another 50 Shades of Gray. What I mean is, take your hero and put his backstory into episodes in your head. If you like dramatic childhoods, create an episode where he loses his mom or a mutant bug eating their hubby at the altar. This doesn’t necessarily have to be in your book or movie, but it gives references on how your character acts in certain situations, and it perfect material for flashbacks.. Make the episode dramatic and life changing or whatever, enjoy the episodes. The reason why people obsess over some TV show characters is because they know them and love them inside and out from what they did on their TV show. The key to all of this is: LEARN TO LOVE YOUR HERO.

    While creating these episodes, think to yourself about what characteristic of him is so likable? Heroes should never be perfect saints, first of all, but they certainly can’t be Satan’s spawn. Some characteristics that are a favorite among heroes is determination, loyalty, kindness, kick-ass-ness, etc. etc. etc. You can spice your character however you like, but the biggest thing is: why should we give a damn?

    I’ve been watching some USA shows, and frankly, some of them do amazing jobs at helping us care for the character. Let’s take Burn Notice into question. The hero, Michael Westen, is a super spy who is in the middle of a CIA mission, and suddenly, right when the CIA’s resources were needed the most, he’s got the burn notice. He’s fired, kicked back to Miami Florida with a myriad of bruises and doesn’t have a cent to his name. Now, with those characteristics alone, I really wouldn’t care much for this guy, and wouldn’t follow him on his adventures. At least not yet. However, then, when Michael Westen helps a person, one who he didn’t need to help, but helps anyway, with his two beautifully hilarious friends Sam and Fiona, things begin to change. We see that he struggled with a bad Dad, but because of that, he’s protective and distant from his family. Here’s a good man who was thrown out for no good reason, and he wants to find the truth. You’ll want him to find the truth too… well, somewhat.

    The point is, we need to give a damn about the character. Then, you get us to love him. Then, we’ll follow every chapter in your book or your tv show because we need to know whether or not the hero can protect what he needs to protect. Whether he gets the truth or what he wants or not. Take it a step up and help me love every single protagonist in the show, then the hero doesn’t have to carry all the weight. Give me a villain to love and I’ll give you waffles.

    Go on and make some good characters. If you do, it’s very likely that I will come find you and eat up all of your work.

    Good day, and see you next week.

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6 thoughts on “Character Creation: How to make a compelling hero

  1. If you only knew how much time I spend talking to my characters in my head….It may be why I like movies so much. I’m watching a movie consistently in my head, every day, of all these characters behaving as they normally would. Some chalk it up to my Aspergers. I credit my love of stories.

    • I wish I could understand… even when I have Asperger’s too, and I certainly love movies. That’s why I like the episodes idea, my mind works too fast for me, so it’s hard to focus on any one character at a time. And most of the time I’m thinking about something else. I sure hope I can get that close with my character someday.

      • I think that’s what ensures that all writers have a different voice — no two see the same things. My ability to relate very closely to my characters for YEARS at a time leaves me at a disadvantage when I write; I get too concerned about whether I am communicating what the character is like, and my writing suffers as I overstuff it. Because I know my characters better than anyone who ever reads the book will know them. There’s no need for anyone to ever know in a book that my one character loves mangoes and loathes watching people play flutes. But I know it. :)

        Seeing things episodically is probably better for you writing-wise, as it widens your scope on the story. But we all have our unique methods and skills, and that’s what makes our writing special! :D

      • I can totally relate. It’s so easy to overcomplicate our writing process for what you want for something, instead of what the stories need. Especially like facts like the love of mangoes or the hating flute people. It seems like it would add color to the story, and it could, but when there’s a word limit, sometimes it just can’t fit. Accursed, but appreciated word counts.

        It does help, although I haven’t completely gotten the hang of it yet. So far though, it’s kept me connected with my characters, and definitely interested in their story. And I definitely agree,we writers are all as diverse as the shades of skin and the mannerisms in which we live. It’s what makes having so many writers a blessing.

  2. Yes. I’ve noticed from watching review shows that one of the key places so many people mess up on is getting a likable hero. Too many bad stories feature jerks as the “protagonist”.
    Personally, I don’t think a tragic backstory is necessary for the hero. Sure, it can add flavor, but there comes a point when what “added flavor” becomes bland cliche, and one must be careful not to cross the line. What I think better endears us to a hero is that he/she is good. Consider Trigun: we start out without a clue to Vash’s backstory, but we immediately know he’s the hero, because he’s the one guy who won’t kill, and half the time won’t even fight.

    • I do agree with the tragic backstory thing, it is overused, but I won’t say that no one should ever use it. If they want to have a tragic backstory, they can, though not recommended, as long as that’s what it takes for them to sympathize with their character.

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