The Perfect Hero and Heroine“That’s not very heroic,” is an ongoing comment during critique or in contest judging. But the hero hasn’t tortured animals or kidnapped anyone. He isn’t unheroic. He just has certain traits that need to be plucked like a stray eyebrow lash or a challenge that will bring out his best attributes.
Does the perfect hero mean our male protagonist is flawless? Must he embody all the attributes of the ideal alpha male to make the readers love him?
So, I ask, should our heroes be perfect?
Going against the prevailing philosophy, I say “no” and no again. How boring.
I want to see growth (character arc). Though larger than life and facing extraordinary circumstances, I need to see a semblance of a real person on the page. At the start of a book with a hero that is the embodiment of all that is good, noble and sexy, I’m bored. I can’t relate. Why? For me this epitome of heroism is not an archetype but a stereotype. And of course it follows that the man or women is physical perfection with varying shades of hair, eye and skin color. Gag me (old term and still appropriate).
This doesn’t mean the protagonist should have a disgusting habit or committed a grievous sin. If the main character is controlling or curses or doesn’t go to church… will the reader through your novel across the room in disgust?
I agree wholeheartedly that some unheroic actions or characteristics are unpalatable if not taboo. I don’t want to see the hero pick his nose. I don’t want him to have committed a grievous sin. Many years ago on the recommendation of a friend, I read the start of a series and never finished the first book. The ‘hero’ raped someone. I asked my friend why in the hell would I like this book? Her answer was as the series progresses, he must make redemption. Sorry, he was not redeemable in my eyes. Rape or murder is not an accident. And while this character was not repentant initially (though that wouldn’t have made me like him or care about him either.) His change of attitude made no difference to me. He wasn’t a hero, he was scum.
Therefore it appears that some sins are unforgivable but less than heroic traits are acceptable, in my view. That is why I like Beauty and The Beast. The story was not just about looking past the physical, The Beast wasn’t very heroic at the start of the story. Another example that comes to mind is Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake. The heroine isn’t always likable, she is prejudiced and unyielding. But as Anita grows she learns to become more accepting. She grows as a person. She’s still tough.
Vicki Pettersson’s Joanna Archer, from The Sign of Zodiac series, has both Shadow and Light sides. She seeks revenge and makes poor decisions. But this is a heroine to embrace as she learns and grows. Rachel Caine’s Joanne Baldwin of the Weather Warden series is vain. This heroine sets out to use a djinn to take the Demon Mark (a parasite) from her. She thinks of the djinn as things, not people. But as she learns, her heroism rises to the top.
These are my examples of the less than heroic but infinitely more appealing, entertaining and intriguing heroic characters. Must our hero or heroine have only heroic personas? I’d like to know what you think.