Saturday, November 10, 2007

Building Complex Heroes

I wondered what I could possibly add to the great posts about heroes. Then I got to thinking about what captured me about a hero - whether he was in a book or a movie. Well, yes, I like him to be a hunk. Alpha. Dark. Intense. In short, what catches me everytime is complexity. He can't just be intense. The heroes I like best have a reason for their intensity. Part of it is nature and part is nurture. Part of it is darn good writing.

One of the best books I've read that teaches writers how to build heroes is a book called The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders. It's my bible if I get stuck while building my hero. Archetypes? Do I mean stereotypes? Cardboard cutouts? No indeed.

The authors of this book outline these archetypes, provide basic characteristics and then discuss how they might interact. Sometimes I go to this book AFTER I've created a character to try to figure out what I did with him and why he's behaving like a jerk. More importantly, how can I fix him? Sometimes, I'm not supposed to fix him, but sometimes I can.

The cool part of this is you can layer the archetypes over one another to build depth. If you have a hero who is a mysterious loner due to some dark secret in his past, you've created a Lost Soul. To make him more complex, shade a core of justice into his personality and make him a driven and controlled guy, and suddenly you've added Warrior characteristics. You've got a dark, angsty Alpha male who could be an undercover cop, a man on the run or any number of other possibilities.

I enjoy watching television shows and movies to try to figure out which archetype a hero might be. For example, Harrison Ford has a real lock on creating incredible Swashbuckler heroes. Indiana Jones and Han Solo are men of action. Indy has shades of The Professor added to him whereas Han Solo is all Bad Boy. You start with the same archetype but because of the secondary archetypes blended in, Indy and Han are two very different characters.
I really love this book. It's saved my sanity on many occasions and probably will continue to do so in the future. Like me, you may find you have an affinity for creating a particular type of hero. I can't tell you how many Warrior/Lost Soul heroes I've created but each one is unique because I pull different characteristics from the archetypes and use a different fatal flaw during building mode.
The book provides the same guidance for building heroines too. So if you are in need of inspiration pick up the Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines and get going again. You'll want to meet the authors and shake their hands. I sure do!


  1. I agree. The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines is a good book. :)

  2. Thanks Francesca. I'll have to pick up that book since you and Brenda recommend it so highly.


  3. You know, that's one reference book I don't have in my library, but I've heard great things about it. You've just convinced me I need to add it. Amazon, here I come.

  4. I just found your blog and I love it! Also, that sounds like an excellent book. I like how you read it after you create a character. I think that's smart, and it sounds like the exact time when that sort of book is most useful.

  5. You guys know I don't normally pimp myself, but I have a special spot in my heart for this book because I wrote some articles based on it (plus it's good). Here they are:


    Jody W.

  6. This sounds like an EXCELLENT reference. Yet another trip to Amazon for me:-) Thanks for the tip, Francesca. And for the record, I'm with you on the warrior/lost soul types. Love 'em!

  7. Oh I LUUUUV this book is a on my "keeper/craft" shelf.

    Excellent post,