Friday, September 25, 2009

Did I Ever Tell You You're My Hero? Of course, there is still your paralyzing fear of pillow shams...

Heroes. We need them. We love them. They are all-knowing, kind to small animals, and an enviable lesson in perfection. Oh, really? How incredibly BORING! Yesterday, perhaps, this was what we looked for, and desparately needed. But today, I believe we might be looking at it from a different perspective.

The dictionary defines a hero as "1. A man distinguished for exceptional courage, fortitude, or bold enterprise. 2. One idealized for superior qualities or deeds of any kind. 3. The principal male character in a drama, fictional work, etc." Interesting, because the third definition is not necessarily in line with definitions one and two. The principal male character can, at times, be a really nasty fellow, who has no morals or conscience whatsoever. Now, that's fine, from a writing standpoint, because that's not the kind of hero we're discussing in this post.

Note that neither definition one nor two mention any type of 'goodness', yet all those characters in literature, as well as television and films, that we've categorized as heroes have all been fighters for peace and justice for all. They have generally been crimefighters, and have either preempted crimes from occurring or, through the use usually of some super power, detained the perpetrators following commission of a crime. They wore symbols of some type and most possessed the ability to fly (thus, the cape), had a type of extra sensory ability to see through walls and hear conversations from miles away, etc. Then, of course, there were the tights. They pretty much all wore tights, didn't they? So calm, so devoid of anger, so dedicated, so..., so YUCK! Perhaps in days past, these were the symbols of right and might that we looked up to, but of late, it would appear a different kind of hero has emerged. One who is not quite so perfect, not quite so dedicated, and never--I mean NEVER--would get within ten feet of a pair of tights. Who is this new champion of the underdog? I give you--a human being.

Yes. That's right. A human being. A down-to-earth, regular old, sometimes morally challenged, possibly incredibly flawed, human being. The kind of hero we aren't just able to look up to and admire (in a strange sort of way), but one we can actually relate to in a real sense. He can't see though walls, or hear conversations from miles away, and has to rely on his own judgment, which may or may not be anything to write home about. He wears no cape to assist with flight either, so he takes cabs, buses, drives his heap with the broken exhaust pipe, or just plain walks. He's a real person who, for whatever reason the writer chooses, decides to go beyond his regular nine to five day and do something grand. Maybe he succeeds, maybe he fails, but it is in the 'trying' that he fills our hearts with a little bit of hope that maybe this old world isn't quite as dark as we originally thought it was. And, after all, isn't that what heroes are supposed to do?

Without giving anything away to those who are unfamiliar with the following (and you should be ashamed if you aren't), a couple of examples of human type heroes (flaws and all) can be found in the film, Gone Baby Gone, and in Dave Zeltserman's novel, Small Crimes. Believe it or not, there's one in the film, Sling Blade, too, in a dark and damaged way. Characters in these, each in their own way, try to right a wrong, prevent further wrong from occurring, or do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, they don't necessarily end up on a float in a tickertape parade in their honor, but still, they follow their hearts, their minds, their conscience, etc., to the end of their chosen quest.

They are remarkable characters and quite unforgettable as well. They may not be 'good' in the most fundamental sense, but they are heroes still. They are the characters you concentrate on in the story, the ones you want to know the most about, and when you walk out of the movie, turn off the set or put the book down, they are the ones you will think about and wonder--if maybe he had only...; what if he had waited until... It doesn't matter if it's over and you will never see, or read about, this character again. You'll always wonder if somehow something had been different--even just a bit--if he could have maybe been saved too...

Whether or not you decide to include a 'hero' in your story (be it crime or horror), all depends on the story. It may seem odd to say, but not every story has a 'hero' in it. As we mentioned at the onset, the hero is not necessarily the 'good' guy, and just because you have one, that doesn't automatically make him the savior of lost souls. As the writer, you are the only one who knows for sure if any one of your characters is a true hero, but if you do have one, just remember this. Make him someone your readers can envision, get to know, relate to in the most real way possible.

Whatever you do, don't have him shower and shave every morning, only drink fruit punch, and consistently help old ladies at crosswalks. Give him a drinking problem, make him obsess over the color of his shoelaces, paralyze him if he encounters a certain shade of blue--I don't know. Make his complexes rational--make them completely irrational--but, make him flawed. Perfection gets old and extremely annoying after awhile. As a reader, as well as a writer, I like to read about those who walk the straight and narrow, just as much as anyone else. But, I also like to read about those who stumble on that road, and perhaps even fall a few times and skin their knees before they get up. But, you see? That's the point. They may stumble and fall, but they do get up and keep going, and keep trying to accomplish whatever it is they set out to do. When all is said and done, they may be bruised and bloody, but they've done something that seems grand, in the great scheme of things, without seeking the spotlight or a headline or two, and, in my heart, they will always be my heroes.