After a series of posts exploring the various “types” the hero can take in literature, I wanted to clarify something made clear in a number of comments over the last couple of days:
In the end, what “type” your characters do or do not belong to doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that they read as dynamic, genuine, and interesting people.
This past week has been largely devoted to the fantasy hero and his various manifestations (though the hero can appear in almost any genre; he’s not limited to fantasy/sci-fi.)
- We discussed the reluctant hero.
- Then we moved on to the willing hero.
- The antihero came next.
- Then we talked about heroes or antiheroes who aren’t judged according to their true intent by the public in the world they inhabit
Basically, there’s been a LOT of classifying and categorizing going on. Some characters exist in a gray area between two types, combining aspects of each. Some have just a dash of a second class, though they might be 90% another.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT CLASS
It can useful and fun, and even a bit philosophical, to debate where a character belongs. Do you classify Severus Snape as an antihero or a villain? Exactly how “reluctant” can you consider a hero who chooses to act rather than to die, when death is the only other option but is technically a choice?
These debates can be fun as well as healthy when a character is fully formed and already vibrant and memorable. Already written and published. I wouldn’t worry too much about these things when you’re in the process of writing a character, though.
You should certainly question your characters as you write them. But these kinds of questions aren’t necessary or really all that helpful:
- Is my character fully a reluctant hero?
- Are my hero’s selfish tendencies selfish enough to make him an antihero?
- How can I make the in-story public misinterpret my hero’s intent? I want that to happen…. It’ll open a lot of doors for me.
In the end, CATEGORIES don’t matter. Categorizing people in the real world is never a positive or healthy thing, and it’s problematic even in fiction.
Remember, your reader won’t associate the terms “reluctant hero” or “antihero” with your character. Your reader is going to remember the person he or she read about.
It’s the person who should take focus. The person you should be asking questions about. Instead of the questions above, which can lead to wooden, caricaturish characters, ask yourself:
- The way this plot is going, my character has no real choice but to do such and such now. How would he or she feel about that? Would those emotions impact his or her chances of success?
- My character’s motives feel a bit selfish here. What kind of selfish? Is he or she greedy? Out for self-preservation? Considering his or her family more important than other people, and so working on their behalf at the expense of everyone else? Where is this selfishness coming from? What happened in this character’s life to make him or her act and think this way?
- What information about my character is available to the public? How would the public interpret that information? What cultural standards and assumptions might influence that interpretation?
Remember that no matter how helpful it can be to study fiction in a scientific matter, in the end, art is art.
There is something in all art that defies any attempt to categorize it or to break it down. Sometimes in breaking art down, you achieve nothing more than breaking it. You destroy the spark of life that comes from all the pieces of the novel being in place and doing their part.
So, those are my two cents. I say don’t worry about categories. Just let your characters do their thing. What do you think?
Feel free to comment if you’d like to share your thoughts on this. And if you liked this post, you can find the entire series of hero posts and other posts on characterization at this link.