Sunday, April 10, 2011

Do We Need Our Heroes to Slip?

How perfect do you like your heroes to be?

Me? I like mine to be awesome but imperfect. But what does that mean exactly?

That's a harder question to answer than you think. We have so many kinds of heroes these days. The anti-hero isn't a new notion, but I think we all look for a certain code of ethics when we read a book or watch a movie that has a good vs. evil set-up. If we watch a heist movie, for example, we want to root for the guys who are stealing a boatload of money from some evil fat-cat. But what is the code we want a supernatural hero to follow? How pristine do we want something like a vampire to be?

I was reading a vampire-themed book recently (hence this post) and I realized that a too-perfect vampire is not only unrealistic-- but boring.

In the book I was reading, the hero of the story is a vampire that never, ever gives in to his urge to feed on humans. EVER. How is that possible? It was a strange book to me. The beginning had an incredibly effective set-up in which we really see the horror of a vampire attack and how the insatiable need takes over all reason. Loved ones turn into monsters and the need-to-feed wipes out all notions of familial relationships. I liked it a lot. And then.... nothing. The main character is turned and his grandfather convinces him to suppress his unnatural urges.

I'm not buying it.

I got about three-fourths of the way through the book before I realized the main character was never going to slip and I stopped caring. It's not that I want my heroes to go over to the dark side. I just need to see the effort to overcome a hard struggle. I need to know that the character is human-- even if it isn't. It's all a question of relatability.

Modern heroes are too perfect in my opinion. Everyone is a martial arts expert or, if they are imperfect enough to need a gun, they're the best shot you've ever seen. Regular bad-assery isn't enough. Special effects have taken mundane notions of heroism and made it about being super-human-- but not necessarily interesting.

I suppose it was inevitable that CGI technology would make our on-screen heroes larger-than-life, but I have been shocked to see the trend extend to my favorite books. Though I guess it was also inevitable that a generation that grew up on splashy cinematography might think in terms of what looks cool rather than what is needed for a convincing story. Writing in hopes of a screenplay perhaps?

Personally, I'd like to see popular fiction take a step back. Forget about making the hero bulletproof and remember that we need something to relate to. I'm never going to look like Angelina Jolie-- so the least they can do is make her stumble once in a while. Is that too much to ask?


silverviol said...

Something that really disturbs me is "black & white-ness". The whole either your god or your bad isn't very realistic. Everyone can get pissed on someone you love now and then and to be honest it would take a serious mental injury to be superevil all the time. Sometimes I really miss the nuances.

M. McGriff said...

Great post!

For me my hero at the end of the day needs to be human. Humans slip up from time to time but that's part of the process of being the best person you can be. If you already perfect in every single way, where is the room for growth? Isn't that the point of a story is to see a character grow and becomes something totally different at the end than they were in the beginning?

Budd said...

on the other end, there are heroes that are so flawed that it is hard for the reader to actually identify with them.

ashenshadow said...

I definitely agree with this. There needs to be an element of struggle, or some time or moral dilemma that the character grapples with otherwise what is the point? If the story doesn't set out to preach, it should at least be there to entertain and there is no entertainment when the character takes a stance and then follows that stance to perfection without any mishaps along the way.

Denise said...

I really like a hero to have flaws, otherwise what's the point. They have to be able to grow during a story to hold my interest and a "perfect" hero can't do that.

JDuncan said...

totally agree. I could never write the super-star hero/heroine, and I tried actually to go the opposite way with my book Deadworld, with a heroine who is so fallible in the beginning that you want to slap her upside the head. The fun part is breaking them down, exposing their flaws, and then having them figure out how to get back to being whole again. Might just be the psychology major in me, but I really like reading/writing messed up characters.

Amelia James said...

Conflicted heroes, and villains, make stories great. A little bit of good, a little bit of bad--which will he choose and why? That's what I want to read.

Versulas said...

I think everybody relates to a protagonist who can't catch a break. Things go wrong and he has to overcome them, whether he's a 'good guy' or not.

I just don't want to know about the problem he's walking into before he does. I like to be surprised and the main hitch I have about 3rd person POV's that jump around to different characters is they almost always give away the plot.

Whether the hero makes mistakes or is infallible is more of an opinion on the part of the reader, and I think if you can find a connection between their actions and what you would choose to do makes all the difference.