One important thing to remember when creating your main character–which in most cases (though not all) turns out to be the hero–is that they need to be real. What I mean is creating a character that is believable, despite all of the amazing–if not fictional–acts and accomplishments they achieve over the course of the novel.
What does it take to make a character believable? Read on.
Strengths and Weaknesses
When creating your characters strengths, its ok to make the character stronger, faster, smarter, or heartier than a real person in real life. That’s one of the reasons people like to read, right? They want a break from the mundane, the ordinary, the reality of real life. So go ahead and make your hero be able to lift a truck to save a helpless child, or to have him wrestle bare-handed against a tiger…just don’t over do it.
Keep it “realistic” without being real: Have your mage be the strongest in his town – but not in the land. Let your alien species be immune to every bio-weapon known to man,but not in the universe. It’s ok to let the fight go on a little longer as simple punches don’t hurt your “superman,” but one person can not take on a room of eight bikers and walk away unscathed.
There needs to be checks and balances in everything, including your characters strengths and weaknesses. All of the great heros of the past had them: Achilles and his damn heel, Heracles and poison, Oedipus and hubris, Superman and kryptonite, Thor without his hammer, Othello’s overactive trust issues. The point is, each of these characters had something (a weakness) that would bring them to the ground; thus, they are NOT unstoppable, unsinkable, or immortal.
A talented author (I’ll input his name once I remember, as my mind is just not here at the moment) once made an excellent point when discussing the laws of magic: basically, that there must be consequences for the magic user, or the world in which the magic is used. For example, a wizard cannot be all-powerful, otherwise no one would be able to stop him and then what’s the point of any kind of plot? There wouldn’t be, as there’s nothing at stake for him. So, to keep the plot interesting, there needs to be a side-effect of each use of magic; such as having the magic-wielder age each time he casts a spell–so that in the end when he needs to cast a massive spell to save the town, it’s a much more difficult choice (and possible sacrifice) that the character is up against. Make sense so far?
Besides the obvious strength/weakness issue, there are other little details that can be added to your character that makes him/her draw the reader in, so that readers can understand and relate to them, bringing your hero “down to earth” and keeping them from becoming an iconic ass.
How do you accomplish this? Easy. One of our upcoming books, Damewood, has a female lead character who enjoys hunting and slaying demons–and is actually so comfortable around them that she’s seeing one. So what did the author do to round her character? Fear. Nadia, the main character, can slay demons and stand her ground at the sight of gallons of blood, but cannot stand to be in the same room as a spider. Doesn’t matter what kind or what size of spider, even if it’s dead, she flips out, lifts her imaginary skirt and cries for help from her guy-pals. It might sound funny in this short description, but it really makes the character believable in that–despite the demon slayings and boyish attitude–she is, after all, a girl, with real girl fears. (And no, not all girls are afraid of spiders, so before anyone gets all huffy and bitchy just follow me here.)
Another great example would be to have a character be an acclaimed space pilot–only to come out later that he’s afraid of the dark and can only navigate the ships because of interior lighting. Or, a heroine that will cross miles of open deserts and wastelands to save her sister’s kidnapped child, but will give up an hour of much-needed sleep at night in order to comb out her hair and meticulously clean her travel dust-covered gear because she can’t stand dirt.
It doesn’t really matter what you do, just give them personality quirks or characteristics that would make them stand out, and keeps them from being the “iconic,” or “perfect” character. Again, don’t overdo the flaws and make them unrealistically stupid, slow, afraid, or whatnot, just something to offset the “hero” image, and again, bring them “down to earth.”
Is the Hero Really a Hero?
You mean is your character a hero with all (or some) of the above-mentioned flaws? Of course. If anything, it REALLY makes them a hero because of the obstacles you’ve created that they must go up against. I mean, what would be so heroic about your character if there was nothing to stop him from walking in to a building and carrying out a crying infant? Nothing. On the other hand, wouldn’t it be more dramatic and climatic if the building was on fire, the infant trapped upstairs, and the man had asthma? See what I’m talking about now?
You need to build your character up (or down, whichever way you see it) in order to make the situation tense and intriguing. On the flip side, you need to write your character in a way that readers sympathize with them so that they actually give a damn whether or not he/she lives or dies, or saves the world, etc. Make readers care. Make them understand. Make your character “real.”