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Hero vs Superhero: how a flawed Hero can strengthen the story

When I think of a “hero,” I tend to turn them into a “superhero.” The images of Superman, Ironman, Robin Hood, and even Joan of Arc come to mind. They are the perfect individuals fighting for a cause. They live to serve others and they always win in the end…well, maybe not Joan of Arc, but follow me. They put their lives on the line without hesitation. They are strong, they are beautiful, and everything I want to be. They rise above all fears.

Even heroes in books tend to follow this. The most recent is Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s series. He may not be good looking…even though the movie changed this by giving the role to Tom Cruise, but that’s an entirely different rant….but he has all the other qualities. He is tough. He is smart. And he can kick the butt of ten men at once while defusing a bomb and saving the girl. Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but still. He is the superhero hero.

I think this character is the easiest to write. After all, I, as a writer, manipulate events. I can make everything go the right way. I can role play. I can be my hero, going through my worst fears and struggles and come out victorious. It’s fun to write that type of person, and it’s fun to read that type of person.

But I have found recently a new type of hero is more captivating. The flawed hero. What’s funny is I typically find them in young adult books. The first was Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games series. She is not the perfect character. She doesn’t know how to handle love interests. She doesn’t know what she wants in life. She doesn’t want to conform to society, but she doesn’t want to battle it either. She is a huge contradiction. But, she is still more “super” than flawed.

As I am reading the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, I am captured by the imperfections of the main character. She actually loses a battle she faces in the beginning of the novel. Imagine that; a hero who loses every once in a while. Seeing her fail actually increases the suspense. What if she fails in something much bigger…more life threatening? What if her flaws finally prohibit her from being the hero of the story? Deep inside, I as a reader know this would be story suicide. But it still raises the stakes. It brings a little reality into fiction. Yet, she is also flawed as a character. She is selfish at times, emotional and clueless at times. But she is stubborn and fierce. She doesn’t’ conquer her flaws, but is more real with them.

I can’t be afraid to write flawed heroes. We are all flawed in one way or another and must compensate. The trick is balancing the reality of human nature with the entertainment factor that demands the hero to win. It’s a delicate balance, but worth the effort.