(subtitle) The Rotten Hero
On Saturday, Edmund posted about a StellarCon panel. >>Faith and Ed appear together on the panel about making your hero as rotten as you can get away with>> The post was followed by a request to *expand on that*. Here at MW, we’ve talked a bit about the antihero, the weak hero, and the flawed hero (not always the same thing), but I thought I’d add a bit of post-con thoughts. Yep, here I am, expanding. (Beat you to it, Ed!)
Nothing is so boring as, well, fully realized, mature, kind, perfect heroes. They have nowhere to grow or go or expand. They are always going to do to the right thing and enjoy doing it because they are so wonderful. They will never be snarky, sarcastic, or tempted. Excuse me while I blow a raspberry. Thubububububububph. Dull, dull, dull, our heroes are dull. Cartoon Dudley Dorights.
Because the protags (MCs) are dull and totally predictable, our plots will have no internal conflict, no adrenaline jolt, no wild ride with an explosive ending. But give the heroes weaknesses, and they become interesting—and yes I mean weaknesses more important than just Superman’s kryptonite. I mean we should make them tempted. Blind to something important. Perhaps even with hidden evil sides. Broken souls. Physical limitations. That gives them something to grow through, and growth equals character development.
Our panel discussed how bad we can make them. Do we draw on the antihero mythos? In case some of our readers aren’t sure what an antihero is, I did a little research and here is a manga/anime/needlepoint site link that might help. Yeah. Interesting juxtaposition of themes.
Wiki will list antiheroes as far back as ancient Greece, if you want to do a fast research project. TV’s Dexter is a perfect (and perfectly horrible) psycho, serial killer, one who tortures and kills *people who deserve it.* Hmmm. I say that as if I think it is bad, and from a law-abiding citizen standpoint, I do. But my MC , Jane Yellowrock, kills vamps (who were/are) people, (sorta) even if blood-sucking killers are the only ones she kills, and only if they fall under the provision in the Vampira Carta that makes it legal to do so. I should not be one to talk. That never stopped me. 😈 The difference between Dexter and Jane is the level of sadistic joy the characters derive from the act of killing. Psychos (Dexter) revel in the death and draw it out. Jane doesn’t. So at her worst, Jane is a flawed hero, not an antihero.
At the con, Edmund and I were on the *rotten hero* panel with author Larry Correia, who brought up the antihero, Mike Harmon, as written by John Ringo in Ghost. Nearly as evil as Dexter (but not quite) Mike, nevertheless, has the mindset of a sadistic serial rapist, who is one breath away from succumbing to his darker side. Ghost is deeply disturbing and painful to read. I cannot recommend the book, which is why there is no link here, but the book exists. Yes, I read it, cover to cover, and others like it back when I was researching in the antihero vein, to see how an author took a subject matter that I find painful and made it work. It takes skill and talent and an ability to see into the mind of darkness and out the other side. Unlike Dexter, Mike doesn’t act upon his base desires and rape, in Ghost, but he is dark. Very dark. And, sadly, for my peace of mind, I don’t think I learned any new writing techniques from the read. Anne Rice’s Belinda was another book that took subject matter I find disturbing and made it work, a story about a love affair between an older man (much older) and a young teenager. In that case, the writer gave poetry to the relationship. Again, I don’t recommend these books, (which is why no links) but list them only as examples.
The weak hero is different from the antihero. The weak hero is one with a character flaw: the PI with a bottle in his desk drawer and a prostitute on speed dial. The vampire killer who *must* sleep with any man or woman she meets, even while on the job, yet saves lives every moment. The retired US soldier who lives off the grid and solves crimes for people in trouble. The hired *fixer* who takes on evil people and the dark of the supernatural and *repairs things* but can’t live in society … Well, you get the idea. I’m talking about Sam Spade (and his look-alikes), Anita Blake, Jack Reacher, and Repairman Jack. They are all MC (s) with problems (weaknesses) that manifest themselves in unique ways, but the characters struggle through and get the job (whatever that job might be) done. Characters with weaknesses are great for series, because they give a writer a character who can easily grow and evolve through the series, with any amount of falling-off-the-wagon that the writer desires and which the series plot arcs demand.
Flawed heroes are (in my opinion) easier to love. I tend to write them, and mentioned Jane Yellowrock, who has so many flaws it’s hard to keep them straight. She has only fractured memories of her own past. She accidentally did black magic and stole the soul and body of a mountain lion. Now she has to co-exist with that soul and it’s not her best pal. She has a bad attitude and as the series progresses, she tends to put her best friends and loved ones in danger. She would rather kill first and ask questions later. TV’s Jethro Gibbs is a man who murdered the killer of his wife and daughter, who drinks alone in his basement, building and finishing a full sized wooden boat by hand. Which might make him a little unhinged, but he’s so fabulous no one cares. Miles Vorkosigan is a physically challenged dwarf in a society that despises physical deformity of any kind, but his mind is brilliant and acting skills outstanding, so he not only survives, but succeeds. A police detective in a wheelchair—quadriplegic Lincoln Rhyme—solves crimes because of his brilliance. The list goes on.
Does your character have a weakness, a flaw, or is he/she an antihero? Where do we as writers draw the line? How do we decide how far to go with weaknesses before our hero (MC) becomes the arch enemy, the antagonist, BBU?