The Internal Struggle of a Hero

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Heroes don’t only face external forces, which is something we all know.  Yet, many authors stick to the easier issues like arrogance, stubbornness, doubt, and anger.  These are emotional obstacles that we all face, but they don’t always fall into the category of mental illness.  So, why is it important for there to be heroes who struggle with such problems?

The truth is that many people look to fictional characters as role-models and try to live through them.  We go on quests, choose romantic partners, and run from zombies as we get absorbed by stories.  This makes it a powerful medium for demonstrating how people with mental health issues can be heroes.  Yes, it is easier and possibly ‘safer’ to use the perfect hero that has very few flaws.  The downside here is that the audience might not connect with these characters too easily or, at least, complain that there is no depth to them.  A way to avoid this is to add something like depression, anxiety, severe phobias, and whatever you decide to research.

Now, how can this be done?

  1. The hero can be focused on overcoming their mental health issue.  This requires researching how it can be handled in the real world.  If you work in fantasy or science fiction then you might get tempted to use magic or fictional tech, but this can undo the weight of the obstacle.  Regardless of what the pharmaceutical companies say, there really isn’t a magical cure that can wash away all traces of an issue.  So, the character needs to work toward either controlling or defeating their disease.
  2. Another option is to have the hero take on another challenge and show that such things can be done if you have a mental health issue.  There’s a common misconception that people who suffer can’t live a ‘normal’ life or find any level of success.  The truth is that many do reach those milestones.  Not to mention that it’s also in the eye of the beholder.  In fiction, there’s nothing wrong with having a hero who suffers from OCD or anxiety set out to slay a dragon.  You simply have to work things the right way.

Honestly, it’s really up to the author when it comes to portraying mental illness.  There are always levels that have to be factored in and not every person suffers the same.  Still, you need to do enough research before you put your own ‘spin’ on things.  The basics need to be there for the hero to be believable as having the issue and being able to work through it to achieve their goal.  Otherwise, you might claim a character is bipolar when they don’t really match the diagnosis.  You can end up underplaying some of the more common problems too like phobias, depression, and anxiety.  Seriously, it’s extremely rare for those to get shrugged off because of a pep talk.

Again, a big reason to consider this is to use fiction to give inspiration and possibly some insight to the audience.  We look at heroes for their moral codes, but we can also see them as examples of strength.  This does have a risk because you’ll have readers that simply find the characters annoying, but that says more about them than you or the character.  In the end, this is definitely something to consider if you’re looking for a way to make your hero stand out and help others.

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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17 Responses to The Internal Struggle of a Hero

  1. I think you’re onto something with this sequence of posts. It would be a lot of work, but could produce an amazing story.

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  2. I can see where a mental challenge could make a character and more specifically a hero much more interesting for a reader. Well done this week, Charles.

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  3. I agree. Another site I’ve contributed on (that discusses mental health) has so many people commenting, saying how they appreciate someone else understanding their perspective.

    I also thought, in reading this post, that perhaps villains as protagonists are a popular choice currently because we want a flawed being and not a saint.

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  4. Just read John Green’s ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ and loved it. It’s a YA novel in which a girl with OCD and her best friend try to solve a missing person mystery. The OCD gave it added depth.

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