who's your hero

How to Create Kick-Ass Heroes that Aren’t Superheroes

I’m a fan of superheroes. If there’s a new Marvel or DC movie, I’m going to watch it. They’re good to the point of being too good. And they exemplify all the things that we wish humanity had. Thankfully, there are other, less extraordinary, and more attainable heroes that we can weave into our tales.

Heroes that we see within ourselves. They’re the hometown heroes that we hear about in the news. They are the ones who selflessly help others despite the cost. And they deserve to have their stories told.

So let’s look into what heroes are, and how we can shine their light in our novels and short stories.

What are Heroes?

Before we get too deep into the different types of heroes and hero archetypes, we’re going to define what a hero is:

Hero: is considered to be the main character (or protagonist) of the story. These characters exemplify the better characteristics of the human race when dealing with everyday problems. They grow and change at the end of the story, or they die.

Heroes are the good guys that everyone cheers for. We can sympathize with and relate to them.

But they are not superheroes; they are generally everyday people like you and me. However, heroes do possess a special something that makes them extraordinary, like an abundance of courage.

And to complicate things even more, there are different types of heroes that we can use in our fiction.

The Different Types of Heroes

There are six hero-types that you should consider using in your next writing project:

Classical Heroes 

Classical heroes are ordinary people with great talent. They often possess an attribute or quality that distinguishes them from ordinary people, making them a hero. Sometimes this is an exceptional skill, but other times it is a quality of character, like courage.

It’s important to remember that classical heroes possess something others do not have but are otherwise equal in their worlds.

Examples: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Atticus Finch, or King Arthur.

The Every-man Hero

In literature, an ‘every-man’ means an ordinary individual that the audience or reader quickly identifies with, but who has no outstanding abilities or attributes.

An every-man hero is placed in extraordinary circumstances and acts with heroic qualities. While lacking the classical hero’s talent, they exhibit sound moral judgment and selflessness in the face of adversity.

Example: Tuesdays with Morrie

Superheroes

Superheroes are perhaps the most common type of hero out there. They can start as classical or even every-man heroes. But somewhere along the way, they acquire power that makes them “super.” You can also have superheroes that are born with beyond-human qualities.

Examples: Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, etc.

The Tragic Hero 

A tragic hero is a person, usually of noble birth, with heroic or potentially heroic qualities. This person is doomed by fate, some supernatural force to be destroyed or endure great suffering. The hero struggles admirably against this fate but fails because of a flaw or mistake.

Examples: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet

Epic Heroes

An epic hero must be a man whose fortune is brought about by his own admired characteristics. These heroes are also typically found in poetry, especially Greek poems.

Examples: Homer’s Iliad, Achilles, Odysseus

Anti-Heroes 

The last type of hero is probably my favorite. Anti-heroes are the characters that are forced to be “good.” They lack the traditional qualities that we associate with heroes.

They’re dark, moody, and can be offensive. (I’m looking at you Deadpool.) In fact, you might actually consider them a villain.

Examples: Wolverine, Deadpool, Captain Jack Sparrow, Walter White, Gregory House, etc.

Male and Female Hero Archetypes

According to Writer’s Digest:

Archetypes are the core character models of storytelling, found in nearly all books. The famous psychologist Carl Jung is known for his work on archetypes, and he also developed a personality typology that sheds light on how humans approach life and do what they do. This information can be adapted and applied to the task of creating motivated, compelling characters.

And no matter what you read, you will find some sort of archetype playing itself out in a book’s pages. They can be helpful when writing your hero stories. You need to shake them up a bit or run the risk of being predictable and boring.

Here are the archetypes for the men:

Infographic: Archetypes for male heroes.

A Note on Heroines

While the writing world is getting better at representing minority groups and people of color, it’s also important to note that there still lots to be done when it comes to female characters.

Please think twice before making the hero of your story a man and maybe think about creating a strong female character instead. You should also consider coming up with new female archetypes for heroines as well. Most of the suggestions I’m about to give you fall into old ideals that don’t always portray women in the best light.

With that said, here are the heroine archetypes:

Inforgraphic: Archetypes for female heroes

How to Create Kick-Ass Heroes

So what’s going to make your hero an amazing character? Here’s a list of somethings to consider when writing:

Give them power, a special skill, or ability.

It needs to be something just over the edge of ordinary. Other characters can’t possess this skill or ability. It doesn’t have to be over the top and extravagant, it just has to be something extraordinary.

For example, Sherlock Holmes had his deductive reason and a keen sense of observation. Atticus Finch had his compassion and need to find justice for the innocent.

Heroes are flawed.

Like every other character you create, be it a hero, anti-hero, or antagonist, you need to give them flaws. Readers like flaws because they make things interesting. We relate to weakness and bad days.

For example, Superman can’t be around Kryptonite. If he’s exposed to it, his body can’t handle it and starts to shut down. It creates tension and suspense when he has to battle a foe who has access to his weakness and isn’t afraid to use it.

And if they don’t have a gap in their knowledge or skills (or Kryptonite can’t kill them), maybe give them a moral weakness. We understand moral weakness because it’s easy to put ourselves into the character’s shoes.

For example, in Kingsman’s Secret Service, Eggsy doesn’t think twice about stealing a car. He’s grown up on the streets and knows that he could die if he can’t steal a car or get away quickly enough.

What does your hero value?

Regardless of what type of character you create, they will have hopes, wants, goals, and values just like the rest of us. But it becomes more engaging when we have questions about whether they will stick to their values.

I want to point to the Fast and Furious franchise as an example. Paul Walker’s character Brian O’Conner has to go undercover and help Dom’s family steal. His values and morals come into question when he blurs the lines between his job as a police officer and his family’s respect.

And as much as characters don’t like to question their values, it grates on them, even more, when others question them. So why not ramp up the tension in your story by having your antagonist poke holes in your hero’s values and beliefs.

You need a strong villain.

“Every great hero needs a great villain.”

Live by that saying.

When you’re developing your hero, you need to build your antagonist at the same time. Heroes and villains are foils for one another. They should be equally matched, or the villain should have the upper hand.

Your hero needs to fight or struggle against something. If they don’t, things get dull. It’s through these struggles with your antagonist where we see character growth.

Let’s take Kim Possible as an example. Kim is almost always calm and assertive in everything she does. However, her nemesis Shego can rattle Kim’s calm with her assertiveness and penchant for calm. Additionally, Shego doesn’t play by the same rules that Kim does and has no qualms about fighting dirty, which also can rattle Kim’s cool.

What is your hero passionate about?

Finding their passion is the same as defining their goals and values. It’s a driving factor for your hero and gets them into the story.

Their passions can be anything from saving the world from evil to finding animals loving homes. They just have to have a reason or a cause they are willing to see through to the end.

Heroes need an “all is lost” moment.

Out of everyone in the fictional universe, no one needs to be so close to losing everything as a hero. This “dark night of the soul” moment separates them from the rest of the protagonists out there.

We don’t know if our hero is going to succeed or not. That’s scary, and it keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Here’s where we see if our favorite character has what it takes to make it to the book’s end. We want to see them grow.

Populate your hero’s life with guides, friends, and family.

No one can do it alone. Even our fearless heroes need a support network that can provide them with moral support and wisdom and teach them new skills.

Let’s look at Iron Man. He went through hundreds of re-calibrations before he could fly. It’s the same for the Karate Kid. He had to wax on and off before he could learn the more advanced techniques. The same is also true in the movie Frozen. Without Ana’s belief in Elsa, Elsa wouldn’t have figured out how to thaw Arendelle.

Heroes generally come from humble beginnings.

I want to go back to the beginning of this post. There many people just who go above and beyond what they need to do in a crisis. They are doing what is necessary and don’t know they are special until they are forced to act, like William Wallace in Braveheart.

Or Superman in Man of Steel. All Kent Clark wants is to win the love of Lois Lane and become a respected journalist. However, whenever Lois or earth is threatened, he puts on his suit and saves the world.

This point’s moral is that these heroes that we’ve created don’t need some long, complicated backstory about how they got infected one day and became amazing. They can just be ordinary people with unremarkable beginnings. You don’t need to get too creative here.


Every story needs a hero. As humans, we have an intrinsic need to root for someone, and who better to cheer for than some protagonist on steroids.

Your hero didn’t need to be out of this world and pumped up with gifts that no one should possess. But they do need to have that something extra that makes them stand out, like an extra dose of courage or an evil villain waylaying their plans.

Heroes should be relatable. And if you can do that, you’re on the right track.

What makes someone a hero to you? Who’s your favorite hero?

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time.

Cheers,

Danielle

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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her fiance and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.

Comments

12 Responses

  1. “It’s also important to note that there still lots to be done when it comes to female characters.”
    – – I’m working on it πŸ˜‰
    I would like to say that another positive aspect about a hero is that they don’t give up. They can have passion to get them into the river, but they need to show faithfulness – the choice to stick to their convictions no matter how they feel the fear upon them – to stand up to the crocodiles.
    In the anime, Outlaw Star, Hot-ice Hilda sends a final message (in the english sub version) to Gene, the show’s hero, as she’s falling into the gravity of a star: “Remember, Jean. Outlaws don’t go down easy.” Then she bites the bomb hidden among her teeth, obliterating herself and taking one of the lead bad guys with her. THAT’S an admirable character. Her display helps temper her loss, setting the level of bad-ass the hero has to live up to.

    1. Lol. I know you are, and it’s much appreciated. πŸ™‚

      That’s definitely an excellent point to make. Heroes don’t give up and continue to try even if they fail. As Franklin D. Roosevelt put it: β€œCourage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

      Wow. That is an exciting way to go. XD She definitely shows moxie and gives Jean some good inspiration. πŸ™‚

    1. I know right? I’m seriously thinking about making a poster with that saying on it and hanging it on the wall over my desk. XD

      I agree to an extent. Not all characters need to have courage all the time. They’re allowed to have bad days. πŸ˜› It’s what keeps things interesting. It’s also one of the reasons why I like Bilbo Baggins so much. He’s such an scardey-cat, but he comes through when he’s needed to.

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