Is a Hero Made or Born?
Heroes, heroes, heroes, so often on my mind. Every time I think of a new story idea, it is usually the hero who speaks to me first. Many of us writers use the term "hero" to describe our leading men, but are they heroes because we create them, or were they heroes already and we simply opened our imaginations enough to realize they were waiting to be born into our stories?
Is a hero made or born? What makes any one hero special for a specific story?
I don't know how it works for all writers, but I always feel a tremendous responsibility to create a character who lives up to the hero title. Of course, we want them to be real, to have human flaws and emotions, but there's always that one thing that sets them apart, and in my opinion it's that extra something that separates the heroes from the villains.
Sometimes the line is thin and we have to be careful not to cross it.
Some of my earliest heroes come from the Gallagher family. Ethan, Gabriel, and Ramsey have flaws, with stubbornness being at the top. If you asked any one of them, they would not consider themselves heroes. They will do anything for their family, friends, and those who cannot take care of themselves. That's just who they are.
Would any hero do, or did it have to be those three men? Could others have taken their places?
What about those who stay in the background until chance sees fit to test them. In books 3-6 of the Gallagher series, the heroes were not men born to be front and center. In truth, I'm sure they prefer to stay out of the spotlight, and yet circumstances brings them forward to fight "battles" only they can fight and save people only they can save.
Is someone a hero when they are humble enough not to acknowledge it, or does one need to be aware of their heroism?
The British Agents are another breed. They, too, would do anything for family, friends, and the downtrodden, but their heroism originally stems from duty, which is then born into love for the women who come into their lives. They wouldn't consider themselves heroes, either. Their women, however, would most definitely call them such.
Like many heroes of their day, their actions were not without causing death, though they did so in the name of honor or a purpose beyond even their ultimate understanding. They protect those they loved and those who are too weak to protect themselves. This makes them heroes.
Is there a hero in us all, and some of us have yet to realize it?
I do not speak of super heroes who wear masks and fly through the sky. I speak of the unsung and everyday heroes who see a wrong in the world in and set out to make it right. Some might go forth grudgingly while others swoop into the fray without thought to themselves. These are my favorite heroes. They are the heroes I love to read about in books, see in movies, or hear about in the news.
Heroes who make a difference.
The heroes in the Crooked Creek and Whitcomb Springs stories lived through the American Civil War, most of them having fought from the beginning. They would have spent up to four years taking the lives of men they had nothing against. Does this disqualify them? Does war erase the guilt and wash the slate clean, so to speak? They emerged from the war with their honor in tact, vowing to do good all the days of what remained of their lives. Does this make them heroes? I believe it does.
Protecting home, country, loved ones, and those (human and animal alike) who are unable to protect themselves are the actions of a hero. We are rarely in a position to witness true heroism first-hand, yet not seeing it does not mean it doesn't happen.
It is diffcult to say who rises to the top of hero status in The Case of the Copper King, Quinn or Cassandra. Both have committed violence on others (after all, it is a western mystery and she's a Pinkerton), both have had violence thrust upon them, and yet, the hero in each of them is always at the surface. They fight for justice, for the greater good, and for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Is a hero made or born? How long does it take for the hero to emerge?
I believe writers have a duty to create more than a hero who can make a woman swoon or sweep her off her feet while fighting off the bad guys. That stuff is pretty cool, so we want it, but a hero should represent more. With all of his human flaws and emotions, there still must be a moment when an ordinary man (or woman) becomes a hero.
To one person or many, I hope we can each claim to know a hero of great courage. Perhaps, one day, we will see such a person in ourselves.
As for why I read (and write) books with heroes . . .
Originally posted in 2019. Reposted with updates.