Don’t Pamper Your Heroes

Is Hercules your hero?

Give your hero or heroine huge and even insurmountable problems and then give them more. Make their journey harder and harder.

Where else in life are we given these instructions? Most of us want to help, as we have been taught. We want to make others’ lives better, especially for those we love or respect. 

This attitude translates into our first fiction forays where we paint perfect people eminently qualified to be heroes or heroines in our books. The trouble is, perfection is annoying if not downright boring.

We are not perfect and we  actually identify more readily with people who, like us, have flaws along with their good characteristics. And this drawing of imperfect heroes helps us believe we could be the heroic person at the center of a novel.

Want to interest the reader? Take a character the reader relates to and put that character in jeopardy. Heck, put them in double jeopardy. If the stakes are high and escalate, the reader will be bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, ensuring that they’ll tell others about your book. Donald Maass talks about the breakout premise, something which sets your storyline apart from the masses and makes it break out. Creating high stakes over and over will add so much to your novel, as to work hand in hand with the breakout premise.  

So pamper yourself. Go have a spa day, buy yourself those amazing shoes or that expensive book, but don’t, I repeat, don’t pamper your heroes!

What hero do you remember whom you absolutely loved so much that you couldn’t get on with life for the need to read about her? Consider leaving a comment with your own formula for creating memorable heroes. 



22 thoughts on “Don’t Pamper Your Heroes

  1. This is absolutely true, and it’s so tempting to give protagonists what we want for ourselves. But it’s fatal to the story. Also, if our protagonists cause pain for others, that pain must be clearly revealed.


  2. Hi Elaine,
    Nice having you back. I say amen to what you have written. I try to make may characters as real as possible. I want my readers to identify and get into the story, so that they will have those red eyes and cannot sleep until they have finished reading the book.
    Really enjoyed reading your blog posting because it confirmed what I believe also.


  3. This is so timely for me, Elaine. But what do I expect from you! I’m currently reading Donald Maas’s The Fire in Fiction and the first chapters really spoke to me about adding flaws to flawless heros, making average Joe’s special and making villains sympathetic. All the things we didn’t think about doing when we first started writing. But now that I think of it, isn’t that exactly what makes me re-read Gone With the Wind? And Pride and Prejudice? Flawed heroines that I can sympathize with. I’m off to make life difficult for my characters. Thanks Elaine!


    • And can you tell I’m working on Maass’ other book?
      When you think of it perhaps we just feel superior to our heroes if we make them flawed because we, ourselves, have no flaws. Woot!


  4. One of my favorite heroes is Stephen King’s young boy, Jake, in the Dark Tower series. This kid has a heart of gold. He’s a great hero. *SPOILER* He not only dies once in the books, but he is dropped to his death by the man he loves. Stephen King really knows how to torture the characters you love.


      • Stephen King is a very frustrating author. He has written some very fine stuff, like the Dark Tower series (highly atmospheric, you can get lost in it), as well as “Lisey’s Story,” another fine book which demonstrates King’s love of language. But then he writes poor books like “Duma Key” and “11/22/63.” I don’t want to be this uneven when I grow up. I’d rather not write at all than leave such a mixed heritage.


  5. One of the best workshops I ever attended was by Donald Maass. He constantly told us to make our character’s problems worse . . . and then make them even worse . . . and then ratchet it up again, throw in kinks, trip them up!

    I’m glad he’s returning to the Toronto Romance Writers in June. Can’t wait!


  6. No fear of that here, Elaine. My heroes are quite the opposite of the term.

    Great advice! Also don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. I think Stephen King said that.


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