I wanted to address this in my “How to Create a Character” post, but it really deserved its own article.
Everyone and their mother, me included, will tell you to put flaws into your characters, especially your protagonists. Why is that? Is there any good reason other than making them relatable? Do we just assume that’s the only way to make them relatable? I think so, yes. I think most people don’t know how to write the perfect hero while keeping them interesting. We back down and go with what we know because it’s safe. Boring!
Before I continue I want to readdress what I said in my earlier article. I described a flawed character as, “flaws or quirks”. I’d like to be more specific by what I mean. Firstly, I was using “flawed character” as a general term and as a combination of contributing factors.
Quirks are particular mannerisms that could be judged to be negatively by society. Perhaps an individual has a childlike giggle or they turn the doorknob three times to make sure it’s locked before leaving their home. Quirks are more outward appearance of a particular trait, but not necessarily a defect of character.
A flaw would be a character defect. They are not necessarily an underdeveloped social ability or outward mannerism, like quirks, but a negative attribute such as being self-centered or having personal attributes that reflect poorly on themselves as a whole, regardless if society finds it acceptable or not. Character defects are more of an inward nature and can be improved upon by the individual.
The perfect hero has perfect character.
Think of someone who is compassionate, loving, understanding, sympathetic, helps and serves others, but recognizes what would be best for an individual. Thought experiment:
A child has the responsibility for some household chores, but the parent does all the chores for the child. This is service and this is an expression of love, is it not? What benefit does the child receive other than getting out of work? If the parent does the chores and tells the child to be responsible, how likely is the child to actually follow through and grow up having a sense of responsibility?
On the other hand the parent could not do the chores and make sure the child did them instead. This would help the child learn responsibility and the value of work, but the parent provided discomfort to the child by not serving them or helping them.
Perhaps another situation would be the parent serving alongside with the child, helping them to accomplish their chores, but gradually letting the child do the work themselves. This fulfills the first two positions and illustrates the difference between being the “boss” and a “leader”.
A perfect hero with perfect character would recognize which of these is the best and choose that option.
The perfect hero has developed noble and goodly attributes, such as patience, love, understanding, humility, compassion, and so on. They have confidence but they keep themselves in check, being sure to give all an opportunity to voice their thoughts and concerns and they try to look at things from the perspective of others.
The perfect hero never holds themselves above another.
The perfect hero still has weaknesses.
Even with perfect character they are still growing, overcoming their personal struggles, and developing their abilities. Someone could be a great orator but lack in writing ability. Someone could struggle with anxiety, or depression, feelings of inadequacy, etc. Or it could be someone who is just physically weak. Perfect character doesn’t mean they are perfect at everything.
The perfect hero has a strong moral compass.
Moral obligation is a necessity of free will. The perfect hero understands what is right and wrong based upon true principles. Most importantly, the hero understands what is moral in some situations isn’t moral in other situations. For example: Telling the truth to your parents about breaking one of their possessions on accident is moral, but telling a Nazi that you’re hiding Jews is not.
The perfect hero maintains consistency and focuses on true principles.
People throw around the word “truth” more than they do the word “epic”, the word’s meaning is diminished and sincere understanding of it is lost. To say, “what’s true for you isn’t true for me” is evidence of a misunderstood word. Logic itself dictates that there are absolute truths. I put together the following argument to help illustrate this:
- Every claim without a counterexample is true.
- Truth cannot contradict itself. (e.g. Triangles can’t be triangles and squares.)
- When a contradiction or change occurs within a doctrine, that doctrine becomes inconsistent. (i.e. Is incompatible with itself.)
- Thus, truth does not contradict itself, will always be consistent, and is the same in the past, present, and future. (i.e. Truth will always be true and is unalterable by any force or desire.)
The perfect hero understands truth, understands what qualifies as a counterexample, and bases their actions on established truth. They are consistent in their character no matter what. They honor principles of truth. This leads into one of the most important things regarding a character.
Everything and everyone doesn’t respond perfectly to the perfect hero.
This is by far the greatest challenge when creating a perfect hero. There’s a fallacy in thinking everything will go smoothly, having everyone respond agreeably, or having the hero get their way when they are doing everything right, (being moral, focusing on truth, having a perfect character, etc.) This deals a lot with interpersonal relationships, communication, and perception. These subjects are extremely broad and I won’t go into much with them here, but be aware that they contribute extensively to most, if not all situations.
Let’s say you’re watching a movie with a friend and they ask the name of the actor for the main character. You say it’s John Doe, but they’re sure it’s Alan Smith. However, you’ve met John Doe and follow all his work, it’s correct that he is the main character.
Your friend, despite knowing you are well educated on the matter, continues to advocate the actor is Alan Smith. They eventually become irritated with you during the movie and are rude to you the rest of the night.
This is a very small example on how being right can cause problems between two people. I’m sure all of us have experienced a situation where we were correct, what we said was true, but yet we were treated poorly because of it.
Take it a step further and realize that people don’t always like what is true, they don’t want to be wrong, or they simply don’t want the responsibility that is required if they acknowledged the truth. Look at the divisions that take place between people over which sports team they like! If something so insignificant could create such a rift, imagine the kind of feelings that would happen over something of eternal significance!
Just because the perfect hero is right doesn’t mean others will go along with them.
The keystone of the perfect hero: character development.
If the keystone of an arch is removed the whole thing comes crashing down, the same for the perfect hero. It should go without saying that good character development is essential for any story, but if the supporting cast picks it up or the story is compelling enough it’s all right if you miss a few points here and there.
Not so with the perfect hero.
You may have finally gotten down how to write a perfect character, how to be consistent and focused on truth, given your character weaknesses, and are still making sure they have hardships from others, but if you do not show the internal challenges of the hero everything will fall apart.
How does the hero react when others are getting upset at them for stay on one course of action? Does he/she become discouraged when no one will listen or even give what they say a chance? Are they pained when others reject them for no apparent reason? Do they have a moment of doubt and ask if it’s all worth it? Does standing steadfast with truth make them feel alone? How do they work with others and maintain their character? How do they respond to the situations that come from these things?
The mental and emotional toll from just a portion of these things could bring many individuals to their knees. Just think of your own personal life where you’ve experienced hardships for doing the right thing or sticking to your beliefs. What kind of feelings did you have? Did you lose friends over it? These situations can be used in writing your hero.
You story should focus on the hero. Your writing should be personal, emotive, and genuine. If the proper attention isn’t given to your hero then you’ll fall into the trap that has warned generations of writers to only create “flawed” heroes.
While a first-person narrative could work well for writing the perfect hero, I strongly recommend writing third-person omniscience. This will give you the opportunity to delve into the hero’s psyche while showing the reader the responses and attitudes of the other characters. By giving your reader multiple perspectives, they will be able to see why people do the things they do, or what causes what. Think of it like an elaborate chess game, moves and counter moves, none wasted.
Don’t drop the ball. Remember you’re writing the perfect hero. Extremely critical thinking is required, but the struggle has to be real. Make the reader feel it.
The more one understands of human interaction, development, and communication, the more they can delve into the psyche of the perfect hero. The perfect hero is possible, it’s hard, extremely hard, but it’s possible.
One of my absolute favorite fictional characters, and one close to being a perfect hero, is Vash the Stampede from the anime, Trigun. I’m unsure how much different Vash is in the manga, but in the anime he has his weaknesses, his quirks, and still he remains firm in his conviction of peace and love. Vash is understanding and compassionate, he focuses on truth, he focuses on the best and most desired outcome, he does all he can to help others improve, but doesn’t rob them of the actions they need to take. Best of all, he’s not boring.