So You Want to Be a Hero?

WritersDontCry From Batman to Obama, Navy Seals to Captain America, Robin Hood to Stephen Colbert, we need heroes. Heroes arise in response to the needs and problems we have as a society, and a lot can be learned about a society from its heroes. Do we value perseverance and loyalty or genius and talent? Do we value passion and faith, distrusting science and cleverness, or do we value intelligence and progress and struggle against blind belief and the unthinking status quo? And are we idealistic, believing that if we don't stand up for what we believe in, then what's the point of living anyway—or are we devoted to the Hero_bigidea of equality and peace, to living a full, enjoyable life with our friends and families, only drawn into conflict when these things are threatened?

Making a hero that people respond to requires an understanding of the times and society in which you live. Popular hero archetypes almost always come in waves, responding to the needs of the society. You can see it in the movies and books that hit it big. Based on the current pain points in a society, people will be drawn to heroes that relieve that pain, that let them believe that the world could be different.

I've outlined a few of the basic decisions that define your character in society below. In making these choices, you're also choosing what audience you want to appeal to, as well as what kind of story you're going to tell. So, what kind of hero are you, anyway? And what kind of hero do you think our society needs?

Why They Fight: Necessity vs. Conviction

Bound by circumstances, some heroes are heroes by necessity. Marked with a lightning bolt on their forehead or a silver circle on their palm, they cannot hide from their destinies. Their choices are to fight—or die. The attraction here is that the hero is by nature modest. Modern society realizes there’s something a bit cracked about wanting to be a hero—and not a little cocky. The hero-by-necessity is easy to identify with because they’re us—only, something extraordinary happened to them, and they became heroes.

Garion, of The Belgariad, whose palm is marked with a silver circle, whose enemy can sense him and has been searching for him, and whose only choices are death or resistance, is a perfect example of a Necessity hero. Percy Jackson, likewise, is literally chased by monsters until he gives in and accepts his heroic destiny.

The classic heroes of old are heroes by choice, not necessity, and sometimes, that choice is the whole point. It’s not an easy choice. But these heroes can choose nothing else. In a way, they’re as bound as the Necessity heroes, but by their own integrity. They know their cause is just and their path righteous, and they can do no other than walk that path. And there is something powerful in that conviction. People are drawn to it, even as they don’t understand it. Because the Conviction hero could have chosen the easy way out and instead chose heroism, chose sacrifice over happiness, they are far more admirable—if less sane—than their Necessity counterparts.

Robin Hood’s stealing from the rich to feed the poor, even when it means his own head, is an excellent example of a Conviction hero. He knows that King Richard wouldn’t approve of King John’s laws, and so he fights them any way he can, even though it may mean his life.


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Comments (5)

Thanks, I'm going to have nightmares tonight.

Posted by: 2012 Timberland | Wednesday March 28, 2012 at 5:13 AM

Catherine: I would like to think so! But I'm always curious as to what drives each different hero.

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Monday September 12, 2011 at 8:30 AM

I think I am a hero, but I've been wrong before...

Posted by: GiMan | Monday September 5, 2011 at 11:15 AM

I think in one way or another, we all want to be a hero, esp to something or people we value the most. It may be our country, countrymen, friends, loved ones or even strangers we believe needs our help-- we want to do something novel for whatever it is that we love or believe.

Posted by: Catherine | Monday September 5, 2011 at 8:57 AM

The hero isn't someone who can fight and beat the pulp out of another, who can put a ball through a hoop or run with it to the other end of a field. A hero isn't someone who grabs his crotch, gets away with pedophilia, looks like a woman and sings 3 tenors too high. A hero is someone who devotes his or her life helping people, whether as a preacher, as a teacher or as a healer. A hero is also someone who is ready and willing to lay down his or her life for the defense of this country and its wonderful way of life. These are heroes. Singers, football players, and the like are celebrities, not hereos. We need to learn the difference. An unnamed soldier wearing a ton of things on his or her back and marching in 110-degree weather -- that's a hero. Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan are not heroes. They are celebrities. There's a BIG difference.

Posted by: Rosemary E. Lloyd | Monday September 5, 2011 at 7:15 AM

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