Thursday, July 14, 2016

Too Perfect?

Heroes are (usually) the focal point of our stories.  We need a main character to battle the evil forces and come out victorious in the end, all while displaying to us the virtues we wish we had in our own lives.  However, in our quest to create the right hero, can we make our heroes too perfect?

I think this definitely used to be the case a few decades ago.  The dashing hero would rush in, flash his pearly whites, save the princess, and then tell the kids to make sure to take their vitamins and tell the truth.  While good advice, I think it was this kind of goodness excess that turned people off of some classic stories.

Yes, we want our heroes to persevere and overcome, maybe while showing a little more character than we possess ourselves, but a hero that’s too good can seem unrelatable to our audience.  Most people are basically good, yet deeply flawed.  We have an ideal we strive for, but when we read, we want to see ourselves in the role of hero if we only found that little something extra we wish we had.  Putting a hero on too high a pedestal makes it so that an audience can’t see them.

That’s why our heroes need flaws.  Maybe the cop who doggedly pursues the serial killer has a drinking problem.  Perhaps the pirate going after the corrupt naval captain is unable to commit to just one woman.  Possibly the chosen one destined to defeat the evil wizard is prone to bouts of anger.  Whatever it is, we want to be able to picture ourselves in that role, and since we all have flaws, we expect those we admire to have flaws too.

Of course, we can’t make the flaws too dire.  The hero who robs a bank to save his dying child might – might – be acceptable, but not if he kills the mother and baby huddled in the corner.  A hero should be just slightly better than we are, but only enough that we can see ourselves reaching that pinnacle.  The more perfect the hero, the fewer people he or she will appeal to.

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