Let Heroes Stay Heroes

What? A new post? Yeah, finally back to this. I’d blame the recent fracas with Hamas & starting a new job for my absence, but it’s mostly my fault for not managing my time better. Hopefully I’ll be at least semi-regular going forward. Now, on to the topic at hand.

People talk about the heroes of stories often, especially in my writing circles. Specifically, we end up talking quite a bit about the destruction of the hero in genre fiction over the last several years.

If you look at mainstream entertainment, there is a severe lack of truly good heroes. You’re much more likely to run into dark, angry protagonists who might be the main character and thus the “hero” by default, but they don’t act it, rather doing all sorts of nasty, unpleasant things that heroes just don’t do. It’s hailed as “realism”, of course.

I’m here to talk about something related to this erasure of the hero, but something a little different, something inspired by a tweet I ran into recently, which was calling for more corruption arcs (and fewer villain redemption arcs–I do tend to agree on that; we need to stop redeeming every villain, especially not with “tragic” backstories. Some evil people are just evil.)

But back to heroes. No, no more corruption arcs. The simple reason I hate them is simple: It’s just the destruction of the hero. More nihilistic garbage. However, there’s more to it. The point of heroes is for them to overcome challenges, to resist the urges everyone has, to varying degrees, to make poor choices. Do they need to be perfect people? No, of course not. (But it isn’t a bad thing at all if the hero of a story is a good person firm enough in his beliefs that he is never really at risk of falling to corruption–but that’s a topic for another day.)

We want to see the heroes in our stories tested, pushed to the brink, and to have victory not be assured. But they have to overcome and succeed despite the odds, while not losing themselves.

Many people seem to not understand that in a story, you can have perils that are not physical. Temptations take many forms, and the threat of a character falling to them can be as heart-pounding as any physical danger. What makes the threat of succumbing to base instincts and murdering innocents to further his ends any less a compelling danger than being trapped and disarmed by his mortal enemy? Or the threat of falling back into old, destructive habits and betraying his friends as opposed to facing down a much larger enemy force on his own?

What’s important is seeing the hero we like face down these challenges, come to the edge of falling to them, but then finding a way to get through. The hero refuses to betray his friends even under intense pressure. The hero refuses to let himself return to being a merciless conqueror when the opportunity presents itself. Consciously deciding to stay a hero. Physical threats don’t give you that sort of opportunity, most of the time.

And before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not saying a hero needs to be a literal boy scout. Batman’s policy of never killing his many murderous foes is idiotic and not heroic. There are times when a truly good hero must take harsh action against evil in order to protect the innocent. Don’t mistake that for a her falling into darkness.

Moreover, stories which end with the hero falling to corruption have inherent problems. It’s a downer, obviously, and dissatisfying for readers who wanted to read about a hero, not a failure. Where does the story go from that point? A redemption arc? Okay, I guess…but then that’s not much different than a hero nearly succumbing before resisting corruption. The main difference being that now our hero has likely done unforgivable things, which forever tarnishes him. Maybe it’s just me, but those aren’t the heroes I want to read about. You either start out with a character doing bad things and then changing (villain redemption arcs–if that’s even the best term for this–may be overdone, but they’re not bad), or have them not fall at all.

And don’t get me started on prequel corruption arcs that “explain” how a villain became the villain. No one cared about why Cruella de Ville became obsessed with murdering puppies, and no one wants a lazy attempt at “humanizing” her. For another example, Darth Vader was a great villain, and his redemption was satisfying and will written. Anakin’s corruption? Not so much. We got all we needed to know about Darth Vader’s past in the original trilogy. We didn’t need a poorly written trilogy explaining how he got there.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single objectively good story about a hero falling to corruption.

However, that’s not to say it cannot be done well. When we’re talking about fiction, anything can be done well and made into a satisfying, enjoyable story. The main point here is that you shouldn’t fall victim to the idea that overly “flawed” heroes, and “heroes” who go bad are in any way better than one who sticks to the right path.

Especially considering the multifaceted attack on heroes today, we need more heroes who not only act like heroes, but stay heroes despite the challenges set in their path.

Such heroes can be seen in my now completed Galaxy Ascendant series, and you can bet that I’ll be writing more heroes who stay heroic, because fiction is meant to be aspirational, and I write what I’d like to read.

Let’s see if I can make another post on here within the next month this time lol. Until then!

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