Creating the hero protagonist

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Point of view, protagonist and theme are three deeply related aspects. The protagonist embodies the theme.  Your protagonist provides the point of view. Point of view is a narrative device that must work on-theme. So chose your point of view character carefully.

What’s a hero?

The word “Hero” is Greek and it means “to protect and serve“. It is someone who would sacrifice his own needs to help others. In psychology terms, according to Freud, the individual consists of three layers. The it, the ego and the superego. The it represents desires and doesn’t care about right or wrong. The superego doesn’t care about anything other than right or wrong. The ego is left in the middle. It has the it telling it what it wants and the superego telling it what it shouldn’t want and the ego must mediate between the two.

The hero also represents search for identity and wholeness. Every person faces the task of getting to know their bad and their good side, the hero in themselves, the villain in themselves and everything in between. Once the person has met all of himself, he must manage to incorporate all these aspects of himself into one in order to be whole and to become the true Self.

The function of the hero in a story

To be the eyes and ears

He is the eyes and ears of the audience. The readers live the story through this person and in order to do this, they must be able to identify with him and yet look up to him. Therefor, the hero must possess universal traits and feelings, be driven by universal drives such as love, success, freedom. But he must also be better, so we want to be like him.

To cause the story

The hero is also the most active person in the story. It is his wills and desires that drive the story on and without the hero, the problems could never be solved. The hero is in control of his own fate (even if he doesn’t realize this) and he performs the decisive action at the peak.

To teach

The main character is the one who learns and grows the most from the events that occur in the story. They overcome obstacles (and thus show reader how to do so) and they achieve goals. They can be teachers, especially when their struggles resemble the ones of the reader.

Overcome any obstacle

The hero faces the worst possible thing in life, death. Or at least, symbolic death. He faces lethal threats, doom, or some sort of failure. By doing this, he shows the reader how to face the worst things in life and show that you can live through most of it and be reborn. You can go through the fires of hell and come out stronger.

To be inspirational

The hero doesn’t just face the worst things in life, he does so from a serious disadvantage. The hero has character flaws and more bad luck than would seem humanly possible. He has doubts and terrors like any person, which allows us (the reader) to identify with him. His quirks make him more appealing. His contradictions make him more interesting.

Types of hero

The willing vs unwilling hero

The willing hero is active and committed to adventure from the get-go. He is (nearly) without doubt, brave and self-motivated. In contrast, the unwilling hero has buckets of doubt, he is passive and needs to be forced into action by outside forces. The unwilling hero must commit to the adventure at some point, or the story stays too passive to be entertaining.

The anti-Hero

This may be an outlaw or villain in the eyes of society. Readers will identify with him because we have all felt like an outsider at some point in our lives. They may behave like a genuine hero but carry a strong touch of something darker or they may be despicable characters who nonetheless save the day.

Group vs loner hero

The group hero is part of  a tight community but he is taken into an unknown world in some way, away from home. They are separated from their group and return to their group in the end. The loner hero (often found in westerns) has a natural state of solitude. He starts off separated from the society he eventually has to deal with and returns to his solitude at the end of the journey.

The catalyst hero

This is the exception of the rule, he who changes the most. This hero doesn’t transform himself, he transforms others.  They act heroic and bring change in a system without changing themselves. These are especially useful in continuing stories such as sequels and series.

Source: Vogler, C. (2007) The Writer’s Journey (3rd edition)