I wrote this for my League of Extraordinary Scribes, and thought I’d share it on my blog since people seemed to like it.
What makes a hero? Or what makes a villain, for that matter? Well, let’s take a look.
The “Top Layer” of the hero is comprised of many characteristics, but the three main ones are –
The “Top Layer” of the villain also has three main things going for him. They are –
However, no hero is all good. And no villain is all bad. (Unless, of course, they’re the allegorical God/Satan figures, in which case they must be).
The Hero will have his “Inner Layer”, just like everyone. And it will show itself in these main three qualities –
And a Mean Streak.
Interestingly enough, the villain’s “Inner Layer” isn’t so different. He will have –
And a Kind Streak.
If you want to have a real villain, you must have either the element of sympathy going for him. (The exception – unless he’s a ‘slimeball’ type character who just really isn’t any good. HE doesn’t have to have the element of sympathy for us to dislike him – we just do. ‘Cuz he’s a slimeball.)
But wait – my own baddie, Oscariath, is pretty much Evil Incarnate. After all, he’s the allegorical Satan, and we can’t exactly have Satan do something nice now and then (it would ruin his image). So what do you do? You introduce OTHER villains to work under him. One of Oscariath’s pet underlings is Caranthir, a human who used to be King. Caranthir wasn’t always this way – in fact, he was a pretty nice guy. He was a good husband, relatively good father, and a good ruler. But he wasn’t strong enough to resist the persistence of Oscariath’s, and when he gave in, he murdered his wife, drove his daughter away, and tortured his son.
Sure, he’s despicable NOW – but he wasn’t always. And the reader knows it, with everything he does. In fact, every now and then, Caranthir has a dim flicker of humanity – but Oscariath suppresses it each and every time.
I have a slimeball villain, too – Sardis. He’s a slave-trading ‘lord,’ trying to climb the ladder of power. He’s callous, slimy, selfish, and honestly, he really doesn’t have much going for him. He isn’t the sort of character you feel sorry for – he’s he sort you cheer when something goes wrong of him. The only positive element in his life is his daughter, whom he wants the best for. So even though he’s an absolute knuckle-scraper in nearly all respects, we just can’t quite fully hate him because he loves his daughter.
Going back to Oscariath – look up every word encompassing ‘evil’ in the Dictionary, and you’ve pretty much got him. Formerly Leoma, he was thrown out of Shekinah by King Amar for plotting against him. So now he lives in his dark, earthly kingdom, wreaking havoc wherever possible, out of spite, cruelty, anger, and bitterness. He’s basically the cause of nearly every bad thing that happens in Elmeria – and you don’t feel at all sorry for him. But to make things interesting, he isn’t quite how you would think. He doesn’t look like Saruman, he isn’t a big Eye like Sauron, he doesn’t drool or slobber, and he isn’t a lecherous slug. (He encourages bad behavior, of course, but as a general rule he’s too busy to participate in extracurricular activities). In fact, the first time my heroine Sienna sees him, she’s shocked. He’s absolutely beautiful. He looks absolutely perfect. His voice is smoother than honey, he’s as graceful as a cat, and looking at him, you would not be able to spot one flaw. Unless, of course, he drops his ‘angel of light’ façade, in which case it becomes grotesque to see his beauty distorted the way it does. (It’s a little disturbing to see an angelic creature suddenly get flaming red eyes, sharp lower teeth, and begin exuding black smoke. Would probably give Sienna nightmares).
Likewise, if you want to have a real hero, he can’t be perfect or else readers will not connect with them. They can have a plethora of good qualities, but they must have at LEAST one vice if they’re to seem realistic. My main elven Hero, Eristor, has plenty of vices. He’s practically besotted with them. He’s arrogant, bitter, condescending, impolite, cold, and downright snobbish on occasion. But his backstory isn’t exactly daisies and rainbows – after all, his father Caranthir killed his mother, drove his sister away, and tortured him until he almost killed him.
According to Eristor, this all happened because his mother married a human after her first husband died. Because of everything that has happened in his life, Eristor firmly believes that all humans are weak, and can’t help themselves. He looks down on them, and the only human he really tolerates is his adopted ward/closest friend, Tylir.
When the human teenagers Sienna and Alec Hunter arrive from Earth, they are picked, along with several others (Sahäla, the elven healer, Salebeth, the elven lore/language/history master, Kael and Thane, the elven twins, and Tylir) to serve as word-of-mouth warnings against the mounting global war, Eristor is practically forced to go. He doesn’t want to, and he isn’t happy about it – especially since he positively loathes Alec and Sienna.
But over a period of two years, his character begins to change for the better – mostly due to the humans he used to hate, until he’s willing to lay his life on the line to save them.
To me, this is a real hero. He’s far from perfect, but he has good qualities. Even at the beginning, he doesn’t shirk from his duty. He won’t back down from a fight. He’s courageous. He’s loyal to a fault, and even though he despises Sienna and Alec, he isn’t going to let them come to harm if he can help it.
I have a heroine as well, though ‘heroine’ seems a rather glorified term for her. She’s a seventeen-year-old human girl named Sienna, who ends up in another world. She really hasn’t got a clue. She can be controlling, catty, selfish, irritating, and quick-tempered (I patterned her after me… we both need to work on it), but she can also be kind, caring, loving, and thoughtful.
She tries to do what’s right, even though it often seems too hard. She wants to understand everything, and it frustrates her when she can’t. Her little brother can make her so mad she wants to strangle him, even if she loves him.
The girls who have read my book state that they can relate to Sienna – and I think they’re telling the truth, because she’s… normal. She’s a perfectly ordinary, modern teenaged girl thrown into a fantasy world with no idea what she’s doing there. And this really is what makes a realistic hero/heroine – the ability to sympathize and identify with them.
Next post – the Antihero!
And speaking of heroes, here’s a picture of mine with his niece, Opal! He has mixed feelings about her since she’s a halfbreed, but she’s melting him with adorablness. The story behind this picture is that Opal came in to say ‘Nite, Uncle’ (the title of the picture) but was so exhausted she fell asleep before she could finish.