How screwed up can your hero be and still be a hero? The Authors Collection
September 20, 2013
This blog is not about anti-heroes, the Dexters of the world whose evil hearts motivate them to use monstrous means to achieve arguably righteous ends.
Set that group aside.
Rather the question before us is: Just how flawed can a character be and still carry the weight of a main role in a full-length novel?
I guess another way to go at it is to ask if the main character must have high standards. Can he be a sorry SOB who stumbles through a story and happens to bring about good? Can she be a high octane bitch who makes the right decision and for once in her self-absorbed life thinks of someone other than herself?
It is a all a matter of redemption and transformation.
The long and short of it is that a protagonist’s demons and flaws don’t disqualify her. Without those submerged rocks the character is one-dimensional.
But if a character has a big flaw in the course of the story something has to happen to change him. She doesn’t have to conquer the flaw, but she has to evolve into a person who has learned how to cope with it. Stories are not worth reading if all that happens is that a good guy beats the hell out of a bad guy.
Rather the good guy has to conquer something within himself, too. It’s not just her against the world. It’s her against herself.
The high octane bitch must show true compassion, the sorry SOB must take a hard look at himself.
If we tried to graph the arc of the story, we would find that as our hero climbs the mountain to fight the dragon who lives in the cave high above the tree line, he also climbs higher within himself, always discovering new things and grappling with them.
One of the movies I enjoyed most in the last year was Flight in which Denzel Washington played an airline pilot whose heroic action saved hundred of passengers. He managed to perform this near miracle while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, addictions he couldn’t break.
He couldn’t break them until he reached the truly heroic moment in his own story.
That he saved his passengers was great, but he still needed to find a way to save himself. To me, it was the combination of these heroic acts that brought the story home and gave it such remarkable power.
A hero can be really screwed up and still be a hero.
If he allows himself to change along the way.