“I need a hero

“I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night

“He’s gotta be strong

“And he’s gotta be fast

“And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight…”

Excuse me while I digress, but the classic Bonnie Tyler song, “Holding Out for a hero” - and the soundtrack to the 1980 film “Footloose”, starring Kevin Bacon and Lori Singer - is as good a place as any to start when creating the hero or heroine of your novel. It’s a nice little summary if you like as to just how to create a hero and the key traits.

The hero is also a good place to start when you are thrashing out your plot, although some writers prefer not to plan, but rather to just write more organically and see how the story evolves.

Regardless of your approach or preference, the role of the hero or heroine is central to most stories, especially fantasy and science fiction.

American mythologist, writer and lecturer Joseph Campbell famously came up with the concept of ‘The Hero’s Journey’ (or monomyth) in “The Hero of a Thousand Faces”, published back in 1949.

In it ‘The Hero’s Journey’ was divided up into 17 different stages and while not all stages will necessarily happen in every story or myth, it’s a useful starting point if you do want to plan your novel out and have some sort of framework to work too.

The idea of ‘The Hero’s Journey’, however, is not something only Campbell has discussed. Nor was he the first - think Vladimir Propp, who did something similar with Russian fairy tales and came up with ‘31 functions’ in his 1928 book, “Morphology of the tale” - and since Campbell’s 1949 “The Hero of a Thousand Faces” a number of other scholars have put forward their own versions too, be it David Adams Leeming in “Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero” (1981), or more recently Christopher Vogler in his “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers” (2007). The basic framework, however, tends to be split into three.

We’re talking:

  • Departure
  • Initiation
  • (and) Return.

So the hero gets the ‘Call for Adventure’, eventually embarks on said challenge or journey (Depature), perhaps reluctantly initially, before overcoming some trial or hardship (or it could be trials and hardships) (Initiation) and then eventually triumphing and returning to the where the ‘Call for Adventure’ began (Return). ‘The Hero’s Journey’ has gone full circle. The hero or heroine will also often start off as the underdog, and just like in real life readers love to see them rise up and achieve the unexpected. The crucial point is to make the reader identify with your lead character and to ensure any actions or responses are justified and realistic.

Don’t necessarily think of the hero or heroine in your story in the singular sense either, as you could have several characters helping them along the way, each heroic in a different way.

Whatever you decide just get creative and be aware that your journey as a writer will in many ways mirror that of your characters and once you have your hero or heroine thought up and fleshed out, you can turn your attention more fully to the villain or villains because as the cliché goes, ‘every hero needs a villain’…