About my heroes

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

The IWSG January question:  What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

My answer: There is a current trend in writing, almost a rule by now, to make a hero of the story faulty. Critique partners ask each other: what are your protagonist’s faults? They often say: he seems too perfect.

Many novels nowadays follow this trend and introduce faults to their characters, faults that are unnecessary to the story, faults just to make the characters ‘interesting’. Modern literature, both traditionally published and indie, has been peppered with protagonists who are drunkards or drug addicts or simply unsympathetic. How does that make them interesting? How does it engage the readers? I don’t know. I don’t understand this rule.

I have known a drunkard or two in my life. They are weak, pathetic creatures, slaves to alcohol, not able to be protagonists of anything, much less a satisfying story, especially when they dive into the bottle. They don’t inspire any enthusiasm, and I don’t want to read about them. Same with drug addicts, sick and sometimes cruel people, often ready to kill for their next fix. Neither cares for anyone or anything else. Neither solves problems for anyone. They just create them: in their lives and the lives of those close to them. How does it make them heroes of our stories?

I might be simplifying a little, but what is wrong with good people being the protagonists? They could still have problems, sometimes awful problems, and their struggles are hard and long, at least they are in real life. Who invented the rule to make the protagonists unpleasant in fiction? It doesn’t make sense to me. I hate this rule. I think it is a false rule and I don’t follow it in my stories.

Courtesy Wikipedia

Courtesy Wikipedia

If you look at the stories we all like, the most popular stories, their protagonists are often unbearably good. Think Harry Potter, everybody’s favorite boy wizard, ready to sacrifice himself for us all. Think Star Trek astronauts: Captain Picard and the rest of his crew. They are all truly good, decent folks. The authors didn’t make them drug addicts, and I’m grateful for that. They wouldn’t have been half so compelling if they were.

What do you think about this rule? Are your heroes faulty?

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15 Responses to About my heroes

  1. My hero is so faulty, the heroine keeps saving herself. 🙂
    With Lucifer solving crimes now – who knows!
    Congratulations on the IWSG Anthology win! Cool!
    Happy 2017

  2. Loni Townsend says:

    Congrats on your acceptance to the IWSG anthology!

    My heroes are faulty, but not unpleasant. I’m all about having likable characters, and don’t spend much time reading a story if I find the characters unworthy of my respect. My secondary characters tend to have more issues than the mains: bi-polar disorder, alcoholism, anxiety attacks, memory issues. The mains are just reckless, arrogant, daft, or control freaks. Of course, there is that one who went off the deep end…

  3. Chrys Fey says:

    I believe in giving my main characters faults and flaws. Not to make them interesting but to make them real. We all have faults and flaws, and so should our characters. But I certainly like my characters to be likable even with their faults and flaws. For me, this isn’t about them not being good. They are good. They are just real.

  4. Julie Reeser says:

    My opinion on this is the fault is for the narrative arc to change. It can be dull to read a flat arc where things happen to the MC, but the MC never changes. I think HP was flawed. His loneliness and need for parental approval was critical to many of the problems he experienced and overcame. He eventually worked through this grief to come out the other side stronger and wiser. Not to mention the everyday teen angst and how teens go on to mellow out (hopefully). Great post!

  5. Juneta says:

    I agree the extreme you spoke are not heroes on a daily basis for sure—more like a shot in the dark and rarely repeated type. I do think everyone on earth is both good and bad, and depending on their lots in life one outweighs the other along the paths they walk. They way the shine in the choices they make and qualities they hold dear and practice. That is how I find all people, including me, but I think there are A LOT of great, admirable people out there flaws and all.

    That said, I try not to make my heroes too perfect but I do like good people as my heroes. Good at the core as in morally, spiritually and mentally but I do torture them at times. Normally the struggle is inner flaws that affect the hero themselves more than anyone else preventing them in emotional ways and the choices they make.

    Great rule to buck. I had trouble thinking of anything in particular that I could articulate.
    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  6. I like my protagonists – both in writing and reading – to feel human, to have faults and flaws. They don’t have to be huge, dark, dramatic issues but something that makes the characters feel real to me.

  7. I guess I think even Harry Potter and other characters like him do have flaws – maybe not of drug or alcohol abuse, but still flaws. Harry doubts himself, struggles to trust others, and doesn’t always study when he should – maybe those are horrible character flaws, but they all make him a bit more likeable and easier to read about. He has to overcome circustances, but he also has to overcome his tendency to go it alone.
    I do know what you mean thought – sometimes it seems like our protaganists in today’s literature are too flawed.
    Happy IWSG and congrats!

  8. spunkonastick says:

    Sadly, it’s a sign of the times. None of the characters in my series had addiction issues or anything like that. They were decent people trying to do the right thing, even if they messed things up. I think people still want those kinds of heroes.

  9. Hello, Olga. If I can’t relate to the protagonist in some way, I’ll put the book down. I just don’t want to spend a book’s worth of time with someone who’s a silly twit, a nasty drunk, a bully, etc. For me, it’s less about flaws and more about whether I can see some echo of myself in the protag. I’ve seen that echo in characters who, on the surface, are hugely different from me, because the author has given the protag certain universal human traits and desires. For my taste, a protagonist must have more positive traits than negative, or why bother reading his/her story?

  10. Donna L Hole says:

    Congrats on the acceptance Olga. Well done 🙂

    I have to agree with you on the hero with devastating faults rule. The trend seems to be to add “angst” or “drama” to every protagonist. I don’t believe flaws/faults have to be devastating. Everyone has flaws, and they are usually simple things that are endearingly annoying. Some stories/genre’s need that level of devastation, but not all.

    Just as I’m tired of drunken, addicted, womanizing/slutty protagonists, I’m also over the monster (vampire, werewolf, succubus) who hates what they are and tries to “overcome” their nature. Angsty yuck!

  11. mlouisebarbourfundyblue says:

    Awesome “rule” to feature, Olga! I get tired of faulty heroes too. Two of my favorite “good” heroes are Frodo and Sam. I think many of our true heroes are the hobbits among us, the everyday hero who does what has to be done, even when it’s difficult and dangerous and he feels he’s not capable, but forges on anyway. Congratulations on your awesome honor of having your story selected for the 2017 IWSG anthology! Happy New Year!

  12. Lidy says:

    Good points. My heroes are a faulty but their faults are also their strengths. Kind of like how there’s a thin line between love and hate. There’s a thin line between passionate and zealous.

  13. Congratulations on your anthology placement!
    I like your response to the question of the month. I think you’ve verbalized what lots of writers may be wondering about. So the perception is that the more faults your protagonist has and the weaker/more horrible he is, the more interesting he’ll be, and that he’ll emerge a better hero…something along those lines? Sounds a bit “overcooked” to me.

    Happy New Year!

  14. Happy New Year, Olga and congratulations on your anthology success!! Well done! Nobody is perfect and we all have imperfections. I remember this when I’m writing my characters to create real voices. Great post.

  15. tara tyler says:

    at first, i disagreed – everyone has faults; but when you said HP, I was like, you’re right! he’s the best and a great guy! So it’s not necessarily that they need faults as they need conflict, whether from within or without – Harry’s conflict was the evil trying to destroy the good, and in a way, it was his flaw since he had some of that evil inside him! excellent post =)

    and thanks for stopping by my cradle rock release post at chemist ken’s! happy 2017!

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