What Every Writer Must Know About “Hero Fact”

A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard

In my work as a writing coach, I come across a lot of stories where the hero isn’t being heroic. Either the hero is being saved by someone else or there’s not enough conflict to force the hero to actually step up and earn the title.

That’s a serious problem. Take note of this fact, because it will save your fiction writing career: the hero must be heroic. (I call this “Hero Fact.”)

Or your story won’t work.

While it might seem nice to have a story where the protagonist (aka: hero) gets rescued by someone else, you can’t do it. Not if you want a story that’s publishable.

In a story that works, the hero must go on a journey.

First he’s just trudging along, enjoying (or not) life. But then something happens (the First Plot Point), and he’s thrust into a journey that’s conflicted and full of stakes. Now he must work through all the demons (inner and outer) in order to come to a resolution of some kind.

Pretty basic stuff, but you’d be amazed how often people get it wrong.

No matter what story you choose to deconstruct, you’ll always find the hero being heroic. He has to be. That’s what it means when Larry says the hero has to be the “Martyr” in part four of the story.

And even when you think the hero isn’t truly the hero, if you dig deeper you’ll see that he is.

Hero Fact In Action

The example I love to give in my story planning workshops is from the movie, Twilight: Eclipse. This is the third film in the Twilight series. Regardless of whether you love or hate the movie, you can’t deny the fact that it (and all the Twilight movies) follows, to a T, the 4-part story structure Larry teaches here on StoryFix.

The hero in the Twilight series is Bella Swann (played by Kristen Stewart on the big screen). Now, she has a lot of help in the series (the Cullen Clan, Edward, Jacob, etc), but ultimately she is the hero. Even when there are two (or more) protagonists in a story, one of them still has to step up to be the main hero.

So in Eclipse, Bella and Edward have a final showdown with the vampire who has been after them since the first movie (or book). It has been argued with me that Edward is actually the hero in this movie, not Bella, because he is the one who kills the vampire. Bella kind of just stands there the whole time.

Or does she?

In the showdown scene, Edward is fighting with the main antagonist, a vampire named Victoria, and her crony, a vampire named Riley. At the end of this scene, Riley is killed, and then Edward kills Victoria.

Which is why it’s easy to think he’s the hero. But step back a little, and you’ll see that it’s really Bella.

Around mid-scene, Riley and Victoria have Edward in a headlock (and if you’ve seen the movies, you know that a headlock is the kiss of death for a vampire). That’s when Bella grabs a sharp rock and cuts her arm, which draws blood, thus distracting the vampires long enough for Edward to break out of the headlock and keep fighting.

If Bella hadn’t done this courageous act, Edward would be killed and she would be next. She is the true hero of the story. It is because of her that Edward was able to defeat Victoria.

What’s even better to prove she’s the hero, is the fact that the cutting of her arm was set up earlier in the movie, when she is told a story about a vampire who nearly destroyed the Quileute tribe, and one brave Indian woman saved everyone. She stabbed herself in the stomach, drawing blood, which distracted the vampire long enough for the Elder Chief to kill it.

Of course, the Indian woman paid the price for it. But that wouldn’t happen to Bella because she’s the hero (and nine times out of 10 the hero doesn’t die), and she has to live to be in the sequel.

Bella never would have gotten the idea to cut herself in order to distract the vampires from killing Edward, unless she was told that story about the Indian woman earlier (don’t you just love foreshadowing?).

Hopefully now you can see that, even when it doesn’t seem like it, the hero is still the hero (Hero Fact). He (or she) has to be. Otherwise it won’t work.

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard believes we’re all born creative beings, and that everyone has a story to tell. She works with writers on taking their stories from idea to draft, so they can publish and gain a readership, without fear, distractions or disorganization. Grab her free 7-day email workshop to un-stick your stuck words.

*****

Do you have a writing website?

Or any kind of website, for that matter, that “readers” engage with?

If so, I have an offer for you. (“I” being Larry.)

As you may know, I have a new novel out, “Deadly Faux,” my first in six years.  If you have an established website, I”m offering you a FREE copy with the hope that you’ll review it there.  I’m not asking for a positive review, just an honest one (and because I believe in the book, and have some endorsements that validate that belief, this is a risk I’m willing to take).

Click HERE to see the cover and read the blurbs on the book’s Amazon page.  It’s a hard-edged mystery-thriller with language that your grandmother might not appreciate (though, I assure you, this story is a soft-R rating, not even close to anything more offensive than, say, cable TV… in fact, Breaking Bad makes mystory look like a children’s book in terms of rough language, though in some ways mine is just as dark).

Send a link to your site, with some sense of your subscriber/traffic volume.  And, your preference relative to paperback or digital (Kindle).  No strings.  Thanks for considering.

Larry

10 Comments

Filed under Guest Bloggers

10 Responses to What Every Writer Must Know About “Hero Fact”

  1. 100% on the hero fact. Had to re-write my first book to get his.

    I’d love to read/review, Larry. My site is http://www.tonymcfadden.net/wotb/

    I’m getting about 2500 unique visitors a month and around 30,000 page views per month. Kindle would be the best option.

    Cheers,

    Tony.

  2. The fact that the “hero must be heroic” sounds elementary, doesn’t it? But as Jennifer notes, not every author gets it. I line edited a story awhile ago where the protagonist was acted upon every which way she turned. Other characters kept coming to her rescue, and she finally stumbled upon a character who explained everything that had happened before and “gave” her the solution to the main conflict. The substantive editor (no longer with the company) had failed to see the distinction between a hero and an ordinary person. I begged the publisher to have the author rewrite the story, but the book was already scheduled for printing and nothing was done. The one review the book received said the reader never connected with the main character and the story fell flat. No surprise there.

    Follow Jennifer’s advice; make sure your hero really is a hero, not just an observer. Thanks, Jennifer!

  3. @Nann. My guess is some writers can’t “get it.” Since we write out of who we are I’m wondering how a passive dependent or the person who feels in need of rescuing could ever write a heroic hero? Could the person you exampled have done better with the Cinderella story?

  4. Hi Larry,
    Great post, Jennifer – thank you!

    I’m a big fan of Storyfix. Your story architecture breakdown for The Help (a favorite read) and The Hunger Games (my children’s favorite read) was tremendously helpful to my writing.

    I would love to read and review your book. I would prefer a hard copy, but could also offer a “Giveaway” to one of my readers after I write a blog post on it. I blog at http://www.maisymak.com and get almost 10,000 hits a month.

    Thank you for the opportunity.
    Amy

  5. @Tony Same here. Now I’m so thankful I understand the difference. PS. It’s nice to see another dot-net person :-)

    @Nann It sucks that the publisher didn’t listen to you. Could have saved the author a lot of let down. Sadly, that’s what’s also wrong with self-publishing. Writers who don’t understand how stories work self-publish and then they give a bad name to self-publishing. My dream is to help fiction writers create amazing stories so if they do self-publish they’re putting their best story possible out there.

    @Curtis Good point. I think if a person who felt in need of rescuing was writing a story, they could write a heroic one if they had enough guidance and support.

    @Amy I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Jennifer, this is such great stuff. In my first novel I went through years of frustration and rejection. Over and over I heard from agents who loved the pitch but were left with a “meh” feeling about the protagonist. Finally it was actually pointed out – the protagonist was not heroic. She never changed, she was a passive observer and just let things just happen to her. Even though there was action and romance, even though happily ever after came, it the hero was just watching it all happen. Meh. We need to hear “the hero” element over and over and over – thank you!

  7. Ms. Blanchard is right! I have 9 awful novels sitting in a box in my basement to prove it. They’re not awful just because they’re wordy like my comments!

    In the 9 awful novels, I have exactly one interesting hero (heroine actually), but even she doesn’t do much except at the very end. Things happen to my heroes, but they don’t do nearly enough themselves. I might almost lean toward calling them interested observers.

    I nearly fell into the same trap with my current novel, but I can credit Mr. Brooks specifically with waking me up. My hero is crippled and comes from a horrific and abusive background. I planned to start early in his life, but after reading Mr. Brooks’ book, I decided to spend more time planning the story. I realized that his childhood made great background, but did not make a good story. I’ve now started with him at age 37 when he is actually acting and doing things for himself.

    I’m not sure where I read it (maybe it was Mr. Brooks), but if the story can get by without the hero in it, it’s not a story.

    Ms. Blanchard also makes some good points about how heroes can be heroic. I haven’t seen or read Twilight, but I recognized the idea behind the example of Bella. It’s an idea I had to use as well with my crippled hero. My hero will never be a great physical hero, and I imagine Bella can’t fight vampires, or whatever happens. But, they can both be the “prime mover” in a scene, even if they don’t participate in the specific action. If their choices change the plot, they are the hero.

    I enjoyed the challenge of creating a few scenes where my hero could do something heroic, but mostly he sets things in motion. I created an early scene to explain this. He plans an attack on some guns, but can’t participate in the attack himself. His able-bodied friend is sidelined with him because his friend has no military experience. He has to explain to the friend why they aren’t cowards for not taking part in the attack. I think this makes his few truly physical scenes more meaningful. He gets stuck in some situations he is not physically capable of handling.

    A lot more of what he does is like Bella: he may not be doing the impressive part, but the scenes would not happen without his choices and actions.

    I really did end up a lot more wordy than I had planned, but I will close with a great example: a British TV show called “The Sandbaggers”. The hero rarely takes direct physical action, and the show had such a low budget that action scenes were very limited. But, there was no question who was the hero and who made everything happen. As he notes in the first episode of the show, “Special Operations doesn’t mean going in with all guns blazing. It means special planning, special care, fully briefed agents in possession of all possible alternatives. If you want James Bond, go to your library. But if you want a successful operation, sit at your desk and think, and then think again. Our battles aren’t fought at the end of a parachute. They’re won and lost in drab, dreary corridors in Westminster, and hopefully in Oslo.”

  8. @Amy I know what you’re saying! I have a drawer full of short stories and a novel draft where the hero isn’t really doing anything (or being heroic in any way). What’s great thou is now we’re both aware of what the problem was, and so we can move forward and write stories that kick ass!

    @Jason Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I really appreciate what you added to this conversation. Something I’m taking away from your comment is: “If their choices change the plot, they are the hero.” This is a perfect way to describe the important role the hero plays in a story.

    In the case of a hero who can’t physically be the hero, I think that’s where your creativity really gets to shine because you have to find ways to have them still make heroic choices.

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