What Do You Look For In a Hero?

One of the more interesting things about Beginning of a Hero reviews was that a few of them mentioned how Luke Callindor wasn’t heroic.  He was immature, unpolished, reckless, and selfish.  First, this is the beginning of a series, so starting him out as the perfect hero is ridiculous.  I have 15 books to grow him into that role and even at the end he’s going to have moments.  All of that is for another topic.  Today, I’m curious what people want in their fictional heroes.

I’ve heard everything on this topic.  Many times I’ve heard people voice what they want and then deny a character to epitomizes it.  For example, I spoke with a person who wanted a powerful, unstoppable, beacon of justice hero.  When I mentioned Superman, this person scoffed at the idea because he was ‘lame’.  So, I guess there was something else in their personal hero equation that Superman didn’t meet.  They claimed Batman as perfect, so I’m guessing smart and tortured soul were secretly on the list.  It’s funny how many people go on about the noble, shiny hero and then gush about an anti-hero that’s about as shiny as a broken lightbulb.  So, there is an element of a person not accepting what they really want in their heroes.  I’ve yet to figure out this mentality.

Personally, I want my heroes to have a weakness.  I’m not talking about kryptonite or the color yellow (Green Lantern at one point).  I meant, I like my heroes to have aspects of humanity in them.  They can get mad, get sad, be happy, and have a range of emotions.  I think this is why I have trouble getting behind Batman because I always see him as tortured, which gets old.  To counter this vulnerability, I like my heroes to have a lot of courage and the drive to help others.  Even if they are tossed into an event that they don’t understand, I like it when a hero decides to be the good guy.  It doesn’t have to be at the beginning, but at some point the hero has to acknowledge being a hero.  To go through an entire adventure and continually deny you’re a hero against all evidence rubs me the wrong way.  Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland comes to mind.  By the middle of the film, I was ready to slap Alice because all she did was deny she was ‘The Alice’ in the face of constant evidence.

Power-wise I’m torn.  I enjoy Superman even though I don’t like heroes to be utterly unstoppable.  He might be the exception to my rule because he’s been around so long and he is what he is.  More current heroes that have multiple powers, no weaknesses, and are perfect make me mad.  Eragon came off like this to me.  I believe in fantasy, a character needs some training or a history.  If they don’t have it then they need to make mistakes as they go on their adventure.  For example, Luke Callindor starts his adventure after a lifetime of training.  That’s why he can do what he does.  Darwin Slepsnor gains his sleep magic at the beginning of his story, which is why he works of instinct and causes a heap of trouble.  I need that explanation of why a hero is the best in the room or proof that he or she is not the best in the room.

There are other little facets of heroism that I look for, but they tend to come to mind only when I’m reading.  So, what do other people look for in their heroes?

Legends of Windemere: Prodigy of Rainbow Tower Coming July 31st!!!!

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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82 Responses to What Do You Look For In a Hero?

  1. J.A. Romano says:

    Great post. I agree with you there. I find “tortured” gets old, and ‘human’ would be a cool thing for a hero to be. The heroes in my books are generally not good by the traditional sense. The two main characters of the Line of Corruption, for one, are not like Eragon or Rand from Wheel of Time. Larik was the Chosen One, and he had to play the bad guy in the public’s eyes in order to keep them safe. Ambrose is a mercenary, and cares mostly about fighting. So, this is a very interesting post, and it made me think. And no worries, I won’t hold making me think against you. 😀

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    • Interesting. I will admit to playing up the brave hero card in my series. For a light, humorous, fun fantasy adventure, it feels right. I’ve kind of felt that there has been a sea of dark and gritty heroes since the 90’s. The strange thing about this trend is that I hear people claiming the ‘pure brave hero’ is cliche while the ‘anti-hero’ is fresh. Both have their places, but we’ve been in the age of anti-heroes for a long time. They’re as big a cliche as their predecessors. So, personal preference and view of what a hero should be definitely differs from person to person. I do like the idea of a Chosen One having to play the part of a bad guy to fulfill his heroic destiny. That’s a nice twist.

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  2. It kills me when a creative author (like yourself) builds a solid character that is not perfect and then needs to explain why the character is not cookie cutter to the genre. Some readers are really intelligent and can be challenged with something new and different. Others do not want to think and read at the same time. I love Luke (hey there!) and his wanting to improve and learn.

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    • I love characters that evolve, so that’s where my focus is. Yet, I do get a lot of criticism for not sticking to genre standards. I also get criticism for using a few genre standards, so I can’t win. Makes me think there are no standards at all beyond spelling and grammar.

      One of the more interesting parts of the criticism I get is my lack of politics in my writing. It’s a fun adventure, but I’ve taken a lot of heat from fantasy readers that expect the politics of the world to be tied into the plot. I could go on about the political fantasy at length, but that might be for a post.

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  3. I’m with you on this one. I think heroes needing weaknesses goes back to nobody being perfect and everyone having flaws and faults of some kind. A hero with no weakness is boring. As boring as a hero who never has to face/overcome his or her weakness.

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  4. tjtherien says:

    I think a good hero would constantly be struggling with good and evil. It goes without say that a hero would have an ability is uncommon, whatever that ability be I believe a hero is constantly examining the why he chooses to use his ability the way he does… also a hero is walking a moral line and will cross that line from time to time… that and of course a reader must be able to see himself or herself in the hero. An article I read at the time of the release of the first Toby McGuire Spiderman movie explained the appeal of superheros on a psychological level… I wish I could reference this to you but I don’t even remember the publication it was from… but it made sense…

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    • Those are good qualities, but what about the confident hero? Playing devil’s advocate here. A hero that walks the line is expected to slip from time to time. What would you say to a hero that is far from the line? What they have a more impressive fall to the other side or would that be contrived?

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      • tjtherien says:

        confidence is easily shaken and so it should be with heroes because they feel contrived if they are unflappable. Spock, not quite a hero is an example of a character with extreme unflappable confidence and the fallibility of this is frequently explored in Star Trek which I believe is an attempt at making the Alien more human while at the same time remaining Alien… just my “logical” opinion. no spoilers about the new Star Trek…I’ve avoided them well to this point and still haven’t seen the movie… waiting for dvd…

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      • The movie’s secrets are safe with me. Spock is a good example, but one thing I like about those characters is their extreme unflappability. As an author, I would see this as a character that possesses an amazing plot point. The event that shakes such a character has to be big and the results have to be equal to that. A hero that is easily shaken won’t have the same oomph as one that is set to be ultra-confident. Entirely unflappable is impossible. I’m trying to think of an example of that. My mind keeps going to Eragon, but I barely remember it.

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  5. sknicholls says:

    Integrity,honor

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  6. kingmidget says:

    “He was immature, unpolished, reckless, and selfish. ”
    In other words he’s real … works for me.

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    • That’s what I was going for. I’m surprised how much people hate a character that starts like that.

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      • kingmidget says:

        It’s one of the things I did in One Night in Bridgeport. The main character charged with rape. I didn’t want to make him 100% sympathetic. I wanted people to be ambivalent about how they felt about him as they went through the story. So, he’s immature, he’s a jerk, he’s selfish. He’s a whole bunch of things, but he wasn’t a rapist. Complex characters make for a more complex tale that should provoke more thought and reaction from the reader.

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      • I like that idea. If you made him sympathetic then it would be too obvious what the end would be. I like complex characters because they have the most growth potential. A simple character can only go in so many directions.

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      • kingmidget says:

        Completely different subject … just got an email from a friend who had purchased novel #1. She got an email from Amazon alerting her to my new release. I think that’s a feature you have to sign up for but I’m not sure. If it’s automatic and I imagine that email when out to the thousands who either purchased #1 or downloaded it for free..

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      • Interesting. Do you remember signing up for that? I haven’t seen anything beyond KDP Select in terms of programs.

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      • kingmidget says:

        No. I meant that somebody purchasing a book might need to sign up for email alerts about other books by the author. Maybe.

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      • Could it be through Goodreads, which is now owned by Amazon? They might follow the author too. Good to know.

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  7. L. Marie says:

    Great post and question. I grew up reading Superman and other DC comics. I alternated with Marvel comics–Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man. As a kid, I liked Superman, because his invulnerability gave me a sense of comfort, since I was so powerless myself. But as an adult, I find I like a hero with a weakness he or she has to overcome to get the job done. I hear you though. Though I love Batman, “tortured soul” gets a bit old.

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    • I was the same way. I loved the old Superman movies until I got older. Then I went with Spider-Man because he came off as a ‘normal’ person when out of his costume. I wonder if everyone has a ‘Superman’ moment. That being said, I still get goosebumps when I see the final episode of Justice League where he fights Darkseid and does a speech about how he never gets to cut loose.

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  8. I can’t really explain this without taking three hours to explain, my favorite kind of hero is the Chosen Undead from Dark Souls. BTW, what is that picture from?

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  9. Jae says:

    I think some people hate on Supes not only for his invincibility but for his unobtainability. Batman they might actually be able to become. But Supes is an alien, so strike that. I love Batman, but Supes will always be my #1 (even if they can’t figure out how to make good movies about him anymore). I think it’s because he is the boy scout, that he doesn’t give up the fight, and that he has to struggle with doing the right thing vs. the easy thing. It’d be much easier if he oppressed society and killed those who disobeyed—easier, but wrong. He tries to work within the parameters of a free society, curbing his power in favor of freedom for the people. But I don’t think Hollywood types get that about him, at least not since 1980. 😉

    Like

    • Superman will always have cartoons. 🙂

      I never got the feeling that Batman was an obtainable goal. I’ve talked to people that think that and they ignore the fact that he has unlimited resources. The man never runs out of money, so he can build all those marvelous toys. If I had to pick an obtainable superhero . . . I have no idea. How does Punisher afford enough bullets to stay in the vigilante business?

      Seriously though I do see what you’re saying about Batman. He’s human. The step after him was Spider-Man, who was ‘human’ and had normal issues in life. One of the big selling points for him was that he was average outside of the costume.

      The boy scout definitely is a character that people have trouble with. I like Smallville where he was learning how to live in a world that he could tear in half if he wasn’t careful. I think I remember a few oopsie moments in the first Superman movie too. Maybe Hollywood thinks that makes him look stupid even though it would so happen.

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      • Jae says:

        That’s what’s great about Superman, when he tears a door off its hinges and is like, “Aw crap.” Smallville did it really well. That’s the thing, for Supes to be likable, we have to get to know Clark. Some of my fav Smallville moments is when he uses his heat vision to make toast. Or on Lois and Clark when he uses it to shave. Stuff like that makes him interesting, because he grew up human, so he’d totally be using his powers for convenience too.

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      • I’m only on season 2, so heat vision just showed up. Hilarious way that they introduced it. I hate to admit that I’m more interested in Lex because the actor plays him so well. The writers get credit too for making him morally ambivalent.

        Maybe that’s what Hollywood should do with some heroes. Normal life and they happen to be a superhero too. That might be why the original Superman, first 2 Spider-Mans, and the first Iron Man are so great. There was more attention to them as non-heroes and the forces that drove them to enter the fight.

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      • Jae says:

        Oooh, wait until season 8 when it’s Lois and Clark time. You’ll love how they do it. Erica Durance makes the best Lois ever. Just as a warning, seasons 5-7 are sort of meh. Season 8 was almost a reboot and breath of fresh air, so if you can’t take 5-7, just skip ahead to 8. I really should rewatch 5 to see if I want to own it. I’ve got 1-4, 8-10.

        Enjoy. Smallville is awesome. And yeah, Lex is awesome too. He’s oozes charisma, which makes it even more tragic that he’s Mr. Supervillain in the future.

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      • It’s been slow going because of my book writing. My TV time has taken a major backseat. I think the last episode I saw was the red kryptonite. I own 1-4 right now. What was happening in the 5-7 time? Is that Doomsday and Brainiac? I really wanted to see Brainiac.

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      • Jae says:

        I can’t remember which season is which. It might be Brainiac first. There’s a site I used to use to see what upcoming episodes would be about: http://www.kryptonsite.com It should give you an episode run down. Although maybe it’ll be easier to handle on DVD cuz you can fast-forward or skip less interesting episodes. I should re-watch Smallville. Awww… good memories.

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      • I’m a glutton for punishment. I stick through a series including the bad episodes. I always figure I’ll lose something of the good episodes if I don’t want the bad ones too. Either comparison or that one plot event that helps the other make sense. I did hear that they butchered Doomsday.

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  10. mswoolsey22 says:

    I’m a fan of the unlikely hero. They got to have some sort of a weakness, such as a phobia or doubt. I want to see the hero develop overtime, changing some part of their attitude or becoming stronger by facing their weakness or overcoming it (not entirely though…that wouldn’t be too fun if they had zero weaknesses).

    Like

    • The evolution into an unstoppable hero should only be done at the end of a series and retiring the character. I worry that I might make my characters too strong so early in the series, so I retain a lot of their personality flaws. Haven’t really tried a phobia. Luke is scared of spiders, but they don’t come that often. With a phobia, the appearance of the trigger can be seen as contrived.

      Like

      • mswoolsey22 says:

        Yeah, you don’t want an over-the-top, unstoppable hero to start with. I prefer the hero to be weak and maybe alittle cowardly or just doesn’t have what it takes to be a hero yet. For example, they start with few or no skills, such as no experience with weapons or combat or have barely an idea about their powers. They develop skills later down the line.

        I know phobias don’t show up often, but they can be used to slow a hero down. Doubt, fear, and lack of confidence can prevent a hero from moving forward, if they don’t try to overcome it.

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      • I’m actually not a fan of the ‘no skill’ hero. I find that it’s hard to make it believable that they survive without any type of skill. As an author, you have to factor in training time to get them to a point of survival. That requires either a time passes thing or writing about the tedious training. This is all personal preference though. I tend to have my heroes already trained or skilled in something before their adventure begins.

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      • mswoolsey22 says:

        Yeah, they do need some form of basic skill, in order to survive.

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  11. I love Superman, always have. He’s a boyscout and I just like him. Batman is too moody for me – and I only have so much tolerance for moody. D slips into moody and I want to slap him. In general, I do like a hero to have some flaws – have reasons to fight to *be* the hero – and reasons to grow. I also want to like my hero (of course, I also like giving some of the villains likable characteristics too – just to make their slide into villainy that much more powerful).

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  12. Ellespeth says:

    Oh he’s cute! I’ll tak that hero you have pictured – even with faults 😛
    Ellespeth

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  13. I more or less agree with you! My favourite ones are Spiderman kind of hero or maybe even more Arrow!

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    • Green Arrow is a great hero. Though, I only know him from the comics.

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      • I’m ignorant about superheroes comics! I’ve always loved manga more! To be honest my knowledge comes from movies and TV series, but green arrow is the most human I’ve ever seen and I fell in love with him. Before him the favourite was Spiderman because he shows his weakness and copes with pride! Either I love unlucky characters or it’s just as we said more human!
        PS I know that written format is better than TV, I know that, but I don’t really like the comics style much!

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      • It’s the humanized hero that you’re talking about. Prior to Spider-Man, all heroes were aliens, publicly known, or billionaires in suits. Spidey was one of the first to have real life problems.

        The difficulty with American comics is that they have no end. You have storylines and character evolution, but there’s no end to a hero’s tale. They are eternal soldiers against evil. Manga works with an end in sight. As long as it isn’t Inuyasha, Bleach, Naruto, and a few of the other ridiculously long ones.

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      • Tell me about that! I personally love One Piece…the genius of Oda has been working on that for 10 years. He’s a great author and storyteller! He said he’s going to do other 10 years of that and then he’ll creat a manga about robots!!! I love him!

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      • One Piece is great and shows excellent storytelling. I think because the other characters are on the same level as Luffy instead of belie him. Is that series still going?

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      • Well I think they do both! The could give their lives for Rufy but also they trust him with their lives. And they’re still on the same level as you said.
        As I mentioned, yes it’s still going on, and Oda said he’s going to go on for other 10 years!

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      • That’s dedication and I hope he can keep it fresh for so long. A lengthy series like that is what does in a lot of American comics.

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      • Sometimes it start to be a little bit repetitive, but he maybe compensate with jokes and familiar behaviours that you don’t really pay attention to it! I know, but at least he set a end. He told in his interview, he wants to start a robot series!

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      • I’d like to see that. Robot series are always fun because you can go off the wall with the technology.

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      • Well he’s doing it already with Franky! Suuuuupaaaaa! Have you ever seen Franky yet!?

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      • No. I ran out of spending money for series and Shonen Jump during the jail story arc.

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      • Oh no….so you don’t know even what happened to ACE….ahhhh you have to catch up when you can. Watch in streaming! It’s in Japanese sub in English but it’s worth it!

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      • I remember the 4Kids dubbing and nearly threw my TV off the roof because of it. Terrible treatment. Maybe I’ll get back to it someday.

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      • Try on goodanime.net. There are many of them!

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      • It’s become more a matter of time. I’m busy editing my 4th book, planning to edit my 5th book, outlining my 6th book, and marketing the 2nd book. TV has taken a major backseat.

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      • Sorry for the delay! I understand! And I wish I could do the same, but sometimes I’m just too tired!

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