Guest Post by John W. Howell: The Untrained Thriller Hero

Thank you to John W. Howell for writing an insightful post!



Last week Charles asked me a question, and I took some time to think it over. His question was a request. Here is the quote, “tips to making a thriller hero who isn’t a well-trained badass.” He was also nice enough to say he liked the fact that John J. Cannon the protagonist in my book My GRL (got the book promotion out of the way early) was a normal guy who gave the reader the feeling he wouldn’t go all Schwarzenegger on people.
The way I developed the average guy character was to:

First of all the writer must imagine what it would be like to be an ordinary person faced with extraordinary circumstances. We all know the Hollywood version of a hero. They are the ultimate fighting machine. They can be shot, knifed, beaten up, tortured and wrapped in chains but still manage to rally to save the day. An average guy is by nature afraid of death and will try hard not to entice those who mean him harm to go ahead and act out their aggression. The character is forced to bide his time until the danger passes, or things get significantly worse. There is no percentage in rising up with a couple of automatics and blasting out of a situation. The odds are such the hero would be cut down, and the story would be very brief.

Second the hero must also be crafted with the kinds of tools an ordinary person would have when placed in a dangerous situation. Among the tools would be humor, intelligence, personality, patience and the desire to stay alive. To do this effectively, the writer makes a list of those traits the character has at the time the danger presents itself. Once in a situation it is not fair to add more qualities that have not been part of the original package. For example, my protagonist is a lawyer. When he finds himself kidnaped and in the presence of terrorists, he will not automatically transform into a scientist and produce some chemical solution to a problem.
Third the story must be developed in the context of the protagonist’s ability to survive. If the danger is so overwhelming that there is no possibility of escape for the hero, then the story won’t go far unless the hero is a well-trained badass. The danger must be in keeping with what is feasible in the real world and more or less solvable by regular means. This third way to develop an average guy character needs to carry throughout the story. There can’t be a change in the situation that makes the job easier and, therefore, solvable.

Finally, the character needs to remain stable throughout the story. If he is calm in the beginning, he can’t magically turn into a raving lunatic unless you carefully write how the change happens. If he is scared that fear doesn’t go away magically. It has to be written away logically so the reader can understand the transition. If he is brave in the beginning, he must be brave until something is introduced to change him. Long story short the character personality needs to remain intact.

Thank you, Charles for the question, and having me with you today.
Photo by Tim Burdick
John W. Howell spent over forty years as a business person and in 2012 finally began his lifelong dream to be an author. His first novel named My GRL is published by Martin Sisters Publishing. It is a fiction thriller telling the story of one man’s efforts to save a symbol of America’s greatness from destruction by a group of terrorists and the first of a trilogy. It is available in e-book and paper. The second named His Revenge is in line for May of 2015, and the third titled Our Justice is in the final editing stage with publication in 2016. In addition to his novels, John also writes short stories, and some of them are features on his blog Fiction Favorites at John lives on a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico off the southern coast of Texas with his wife and assortment of rescue pets.

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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34 Responses to Guest Post by John W. Howell: The Untrained Thriller Hero

  1. Great guest spot, John.


  2. That’s a great post. I love real heroes, as opposed to Uebermenschen 🙂


  3. sknicholls says:

    You are spot on, John! Loved the post and love your character 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. tpolen says:

    Nice post – think the reader can more easily relate to the ‘ordinary guy’ as opposed to a John McLane type. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bad-ass types in movies.


    • Funny thing is that John McLane started as the ‘ordinary guy’. He was only a cop who was in the wrong place at the right time, so he didn’t have the training to so many other action heroes had at the time. Seems they pumped him up after the third movie though.


    • Movie badasses are great I agree. Hard to sustain all the action in writing. I like ordinary characters since almost everything that happens to them is a moment of tension. I’m thinking of the movie The Out of Towners where even exploding manholes with covers falling all over the place was exciting.


  5. Reblogged this on Fiction Favorites and commented:
    Hop on over to Charles Yallowitz’s blog. He let me write a few things about Thriller characters in response to his terrific question.


  6. Thank you Charles for having me today. Fun, fun, fun.


  7. Of course all actions must be logical for the story. You can’t make up whatever you want all of a sudden, like tell a true lie. 😀 😀
    Loved this interview. Down to earth! Real.


  8. Two of my favorite guys in one place. Nice!
    I enjoyed John’s post and will take his advice. Writing a hero is hard work, for sure.


  9. Charles, this was a great idea for a post. John, very good advice. Hugs all around! 🙂


  10. 1WriteWay says:

    Great post, John. Charles, thanks for hosting. I think Cannon’s greatest appeal is that he’s just a guy going about his business. He isn’t looking for trouble. It’s a quality that makes readers quickly identify with him. And he’s a gentleman, which is a rare thing in a thriller 😉


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