Wednesday, September 19, 2018

We Can Write Heroes

by Gurmeet Mattu (writer), Glasgow, December 29, 2009

Analysing the attributes required of a true hero.

Epic characters remain in the mind long after the novel is put down.

They must have qualities which raise them above the mundane, skills and abilities which ensure that their actions are not only heroic but memorably so. Characters such as these are surely easy to write but, in fact, are incredibly hard. mThe truth is that our epic heroes must be rooted in humanity, otherwise the reader not only dislikes them but may end up hating them. Not a good position for a protagonist. So, which vulnerabilities can we give our superman (or woman)?

TV detectives of the 70s revelled in this. One has only to remember Ironside in his wheelchair or Cannon with his girth. But in those cases the heroes disabilities were pushed almost as their raison d'etre and that's not what I'm looking for. I want a hero who suffers from human frailties, yet rises above them. Comic book heroes are basically built on this premise. The civilian alter ego is almost always meek and mild-mannered, and I've always had an itch to write a character who was a loud-mouthed, belligerent oaf in real life, yet transformed into a zen Buddhist in a phone box when uttering a magical word. Never quite resolved how I'd make it work, but I continue to dream.

Human frailties are legion, but we must choose one or more that captures our reader's sympathy. The frailty cannot be self-inflicted so an alcoholic hero doesn't work because most people believe alcoholism is brought upon themselves by the consumer. Orphan status is good but Spiderman and Superman have that niche stitched up and lack of parents often leads to orphans being high achievers. Loss of faculties is good. Blindness, deafness, loss of a limb, would all elicit sympathy, but for me they are a step too far. I want a man that can function normally in real life yet still have the capacity for heroic endeavour. A man with everyday problems such as a flat tire on the car and bills to pay. Stan Lee played this brilliantly when he introduced Spiderman in Marvel comics. The newly empowered Peter Parker couldn't make a living in the costume because he didn't have a bank account in the name of Spiderman.

Anyway, we're digressing too far into the land of superheroes when our intention was to create an epic character who would appeal to the reader. So let's start with our basic man-in-the-street (that being his humanity) and look at what he would need to be epic. If we ignore superpowers we are left with a very limited range of attributes to choose from. Heroism is a given, our man must be the type who will leap into a situation when others hesitate. Perhaps his impulsiveness is one of his frailties. Physical strength is only relative, and there's always somebody bigger and stronger. Mental skill is better but poses a hard question of the writer, he has to be smarter than the protagonist and the antagonist to write about their conflict. Pass.
No, the epic character plays like this. During the day he has a mundane, physical job. He is married with two children and lives in a city apartment. But in the evening he dons a special costume and goes to a private room in his flat. Here, he uncovers the machine and works his magic. He has much to say, and he will be heard. For he has the power of words, which none can resist.

Here he stands, he is the ultimate hero, the writer.

About the Writer

Gurmeet Mattu is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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