Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Hero

From Writers Helping Writers:

Character Type & Trope Thesaurus Entry: Hero

In 1959, Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes—”universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” He posited that every person is a blend of these 12 basic personalities. Ever since then, authors have been applying this idea to fictional characters, combining the different archetypes to come up with interesting new versions. The result is a sizable pool of character tropes that we see from one story to another.

Archetypes and tropes are popular storytelling elements because of their familiarity. Upon seeing them, readers know immediately who they’re dealing with and what role the nerd, dark lord, femme fatale, or monster hunter will play. As authors, we need to recognize the commonalities for each trope so we can write them in a recognizable way and create a rudimentary sketch for any character we want to create.

But when it comes to characters, no one wants just a sketch; we want a vibrant and striking cast full of color, depth, and contrast. Diving deeper into character creation is especially important when starting with tropes because the blessing of their familiarity is also a curse; without differentiation, the characters begin to look the same from story to story.

But no more. The Character Type and Trope Thesaurus allows you to outline the foundational elements of each trope while also exploring how to individualize them. In this way, you’ll be able to use historically tried-and-true character types to create a cast for your story that is anything but traditional.

Hero (Archetype)

DESCRIPTION: Heroes are driven to fight for the oppressed and defend the defenseless, and they succeed by employing their own specific mix of strengths, talents, and skills. In addition, some form of sacrifice is usually required for them to win.

NOTES: In the context of storytelling, the terms hero and protagonist are used interchangeably, but when it comes to archetypes, the two are distinctly different. A protagonist (the main character whose goal drives the story) with the characteristics described above will be a hero. But not every protagonist is a hero; it’s actually quite common for secondary characters to play this archetypal character. As an example, in Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is the protagonist of the story, but its her lawyer, Tom Milton, who represents the hero type.

Secondly, please note that “hero” in the context of this entry is used as a gender-neutral term, similar to artist, athlete, or doctor.

FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games series), Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter (The Help), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars: A New Hope), Elle Woods (Legally Blonde)

COMMON STRENGTHS
Adventurous, Bold, Confident, Courageous, Disciplined, Focused, Honorable, Idealistic, Independent, Industrious, Inspirational, Intelligent, Just, Persistent, Resourceful, Responsible, Talented

COMMON WEAKNESSES
Cocky, Nosy, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Pushy, Stubborn, Workaholic

ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Having a specific goal in mind and working toward it
Gathering allies that complement them and assist in the pursuit of the goal
Having a strong moral code
Being sensitive to injustice
Speaking up or stepping forward when others won’t
Utilizing certain strengths or skills in the pursuit of their goal
Making sacrifices to achieve the goal
Struggling with personal flaws or demons
Learning from their mistakes
Seeking to learn or improve skills and abilities that will aid them in their task
Persistence
Standing up for the vulnerable or defenseless
Difficulty accepting viewpoints that go against their own moral code
Overconfidence and cockiness
Trying to do things on their own instead of depending on or working with others
Taking too long to self-correct
Difficulty taking orders or advice from others

SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Losing a minor confrontation with an adversary
Being betrayed by an ally
The death of a mentor
Facing a setback that makes success seem impossible
Having to make a decision that will result, either way, in someone being hurt
Being unable to save someone
Being pitted against a seemingly undefeatable enemy
Not being in control
Loved ones not supporting the character in the pursuit of their goal

INNER STRUGGLES TO GIVE THEM DEPTH
A strength becoming a weakness—e.g., John Nash’s mental acumen being compromised with the onset of schizophrenia (A Beautiful Mind)
Having to change course and not knowing what to do
A significant failure causing the hero to doubt themselves
Recognizing a weakness but struggling to deal with it or do things differently
Having to make a decision between the goal and important people in the hero’s life
Being tempted to give in to temptation or take a shortcut along the way
An ego-driven mistake harming the people the hero is trying to help or protect

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

For those unfamiliar with Writers Helping Writers, it contains a huge number of tools that writers may find very helpful.

Here’s a video that demonstrates some of the tools. (PG apologizes if you have to watch a couple of YouTube ads before getting into the video. He hates that YouTube has jammed itself full of ads.)