Heroes, Heroics, and Heroism

Writers generally use the word hero to mean main character, though often that main character is not particularly heroic. So what makes a hero heroic?

Note: For the purpose of this discussion, hero refers to both men and women for no other reason than that I don’t like the word heroine. For one thing, it’s too close to heroin, which is how many people misspell it; for another, it reminds me of intellectually lightweight females more given to heroics than heroism. (Heroics meaning “ostentatious and overly dramatic conduct.”)

The other day I watched the movie Lone Hero (an older movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips), and it struck me it had the same basic premise as Hero (an even older movie) starring Dustin Hoffman. A character instinctively does something heroic, (meaning, in this case, “marked by courage and daring; noble”) and at the end of the movie, he consciously chooses to do another heroic act. (I know movies aren’t books, but they are the result of writing, and as such fall within the purview of this group’s discussions.)

So, which was the true heroic act — the instinctual one or the calculated one? I got the impression from those movies that both writers thought the second one was more heroic since the characters chose the action, but to me that was merely bravery — true heroism comes from within, the instinct.

So, are your heroes heroic (in any sense of the word)? Do they act instinctively or calculatingly? What do they do that is so heroic? Does it change them? Does it change those around them?

And, on the opposite side of the spectrum, to be worthy of note by the hero, does the villain also have to behave heroically? All too often, writers give their villains heroics (overly dramatic bad conduct) but not heroism.

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will exchange ideas about heroes, heroics, and heroism during our live discussion on January 15, 2009 at 9:00pm ET. Hope to see you there! (Or you can discuss this matter here.)

(Could I have used more parentheses?)

One Response to “Heroes, Heroics, and Heroism”

  1. Saoirse Redgrave Says:

    In my current story, my main male lead is instinctively heroic (almost to his detriment), my male “villain” is a calculating hero who does good things because they advance his cause and aid his manipulation of my main female lead.

    I’m glad you’re making such distinctions between interpretations of heroic behavior. Although I agree heroism can be strongly based on instinct, I also think giving a hero the chance to bow out of doing the right thing and then still seeing him/her make the right choice (especially if it messes them up somehow) can make for a powerful character building moment.

    Interesting points you make,
    ~Saoirse


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