Today I welcome Veronika Walker to my blog! Veronika is a writing consultant and freelance editor, and can be found at her website, Inkwork Literary Services, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
Veronika's here to share some tips on how to create heroes we care about. Take it away, Veronika!
Some people call it the "pet-the-dog" scene. Whatever you call it, your story has to have it or your MC will be pretty shallow and forgettable.
It's the scene that makes your MC a hero, a pure, unadulterated hero that your readers will fall in love with in that instant. This is the scene that makes an assassin a man with a heart, a scarred man not a monster, a convict a guy you actually want to escape from Alcatraz.
It's the moment that shows the "nice-guy" side of your character.
How, exactly, do you succeed in doing this with your main character? I have one simple bullet point:
- It's in the little things.
Honestly, it's that simple.
Why do we really like Rocky? It's not just because he's a down-and-out boxer with an unattainable goal; it's because he protects Adrienne and cares for her more than anything. Why do we root for Robert Stroud in "Birdman of Alcatraz" even though he's a two-time murderer? It's because he holds that little wet sparrow in his brusk and deadly hands so, so gently.
The reason we like them is simple: they show their nice-guy side. Readers want to see your main character's softer, caring side - even if only for a moment - because it makes them more human, more realistic.
Here are some ideas for "nice-guy" moments you can apply to your draft now. Have your MC:
- Not just help a homeless person, but bond with them by giving them his/her own bed, taking them to the hospital if they're hurt, or sharing a quiet, personal moment about a traumatic experience.
- Tell the antagonist or obstacle character that they forgive them.
- Cry when they think about having to kill the bad guy and/or when they actually do.
- Remember a special moment where their abusive parent took them out for ice cream and a movie, or held them during a frightening thunder storm.
- Share a personal story with their lover or close friend/work partner/teammate that they've never told anyone before.
- "Stop and smell the roses," perhaps literally. Find something in nature or some work of art that takes his breath away and makes him feel alive and full of purpose.
- In taking care of a sick member of the family, feel the angst of not being able to take away their pain.
And there are plenty of other options, but the point is to make your MC fully human by not just showing off what makes him big and bad and extraordinary...but what makes him a feeling person, what makes tears come to his eyes, what makes him stop and stare and say, "That's beautiful."
Now, there's a trick to this. If you overlook it, these small, comfy scenes won't work at all. In fact, they'll make you look like you're trying too hard to make readers like the MC, and you don't want them to figure that out for sure.
The major trick is to take this small scene or scenes and make them drive the character. Let me show you how I did it in one of my short stories recently.
Cal's little sister is sick. He can't do anything to stop her disease from spreading or make her feel any better. His big brother protective beast is coming out...and it's the main trait that develops throughout the story. When Cal gets into a fight with the bully that's been tormenting him all year, he's not fighting because he hates the bully; he's fighting because he's angry about feeling powerless to help his little sister, and the bully just happened to get in the way and must now suffer all the anger built up in Cal's big brother heart. Later Cal gets infuriated at his parents for not doing something more to help his sister, even though he knows it's not really their fault; still, he has too much anger over his sister's pain to think rationally.
This one little scene, where Cal tucks his little sister in bed and does his best to be brave for her, is a window into Cal's soul, into what is actually making him tick as a human being.
And that is what makes him a hero that we care about.
Thanks, Veronika! Writers, have you created a hero? Can you share your tips with the rest of us?
And please feel free to visit Veronika's blog today, where I guest posted about Applying Writing Lessons Learned. Stop by and share how you put into practice what you've learned from craft books.