How Far Can a Hero Fall?

Disney . . . Went for a Pun. Sorry.

One thing I added to Warlord of the Forgotten Age is the concept of a fallen or broken hero.  It might seem late in the game for a such a subplot, but I wanted to see how it would work when it’s in the last leg of an adventure.  This is always a dangerous period for the hero and his/her allies, which can be made much worse if there’s no time for healing.  Since one needs mental and emotional toughness when a battle is on the horizon, this situation swings in favor of the villain.

In my series, the champions can only rest for a little since the Baron is starting to spread his influence.  Those with evil hearts are starting to gather in preparation of a new master and people are getting scared.  So, a choice must be made.  Do you stay back to let the broken hero recover or risk them remaining in a fallen state when the big battle finally begins?  Yes, you can attempt to do recovery on the road, but there are more chances for failure and making the situation worse.  It’s very much a lose/lose scenario because the champions are going to either let people die or cause a friend to suffer.

Having never done a fallen hero before, I wasn’t really sure what the overall effect would be.  At least in terms of a main one because supporting characters being fallen heroes fit rather nicely into minor redemption arcs.  That last chance for an old warrior to help the younger generation for a book.  It’s much bigger when one of the main characters has this problem.  Feels a lot tougher to help them get over it since they have such a big spotlight on them.  In some ways, this mimics PTSD, which makes it even more nerve-wracking for me.  Even after reading up and watching videos on it, I’m not 100% sure I fully understand it, so I’ve tried my best.  I don’t want to make it too easy for the character to recover, but I also don’t want them to succumb entirely.  As strange as it sounds, I wanted to use this to create a sense of hope in the reader that one can get over even their darkest obstacles when they have good friends and push forward.  Finding that balance between hope and misery wasn’t easy and I’m still not sure how well I hit it.

The fallen hero does add a lot of tension to the scenes, which is an effect I both expected and was surprised by.  I knew it would bring this ‘will they/won’t they be a burden’ question that hasn’t been in the series before.  All of the champions have been fairly reliable in terms of supporting each other, but now you have one that can lock up or crumble at any given moment.  This is what I hoped for with action scenes.  I didn’t think it would influence the character interaction ones.  Tension was there because the other champions were finding it hard to trust their friend and wondered what could be done to fix them.  Their focus wasn’t entirely on the prophecy and they were distracted, which meant everyone could make a mistake.  At any point, the champions could stumble and not even make it to the Baron.  This was definitely a welcomed bonus and really shows how a fallen hero can cause havoc on an ensemble cast.

Now, I had a question in the title that I’m still mulling over.  How far can a hero fall?  A simple answer would be: As far as they can go.  Many people would prefer a hero goes right into the abyss never to return.  We do seem to have an odd obsession with heroes falling and not getting up.  It’s like humans enjoy seeing figures of heroism get corrupted to the point where they’re mockeries of their former life.  Yet, that won’t help in a story where it isn’t the main plot.  So the story determines how far you can send them into the darkness.  If you need this hero to be functional for the final act then you can’t decimate them to the point of uselessness.  Not everyone is Frodo with a Sam following them to pick up the slack.  Sometimes they’re alone or are the only ones with a certain skill, so removing them from play effectively kills any chance the heroes have for winning.  Readers are pretty quick to notice when an author abruptly prevents the heroes from being the victors and going for the ‘evil sometimes wins’ ending.

Another factor is where you put this in the story too.  Having a hero fall near the beginning or middle gives you time to reverse the descent.  At the very least, you can minimize it to a point where the hero is still functional.  If you do what I did with it being an 11th hour obstacle, you don’t really have that option.  So, you need to keep the character in a state of semi-brokenness.  They’re in a lot of pain, but are still willing to continue on even if they’re being physically carried.  Since you don’t have the time for full recovery, you have to find ways to bring them back to a state where they aren’t a burden.  Especially with a long series, making a main hero a burden at the end doesn’t always work.  You can pull it off, but you end up getting people asking why you didn’t just kill them and have one of the other heroes take up the cause.  A fair question, which is why you need to watch out on doing this in the first place.

So, what do you think of fallen heroes?

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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12 Responses to How Far Can a Hero Fall?

  1. I think it’s a nice bit of tension and that never hurts. Reminds me of an old John Wayne movie where he couldn’t walk from an old injury, so he drove into the fight on a wagon.

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  2. I think fallen heroes are okay as long as the fall isn’t as a result of some cliche like lost love. I think a complex story of the fall and redemption of a hero is interesting. It might even be better if the hero is pretending to fall with some other objective in mind.

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  3. You know how I detest a linear narrative, so I’m all for falls. I’m also a sucker for a happy ending, though, so I expect my heroes to rise again (even if they’re broken).

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  4. If I’ve been reading a while and feel invested in a hero, I wouldn’t abandon them after a reversal. Instead, I cheer for them to get back on their feet and carry on. Someone who gets up again is that much wiser and stronger.

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