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Monday, October 27, 2014

Is Your Hero Selfish Enough?

Oh, hey, look! It’s a blog post! I’ll bet you didn’t know I still wrote those.

If watching westerns has taught me anything, it’s that very few will do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing.

I have seen it more times than I can count in both movies and TV episodes- the main character/ hero/ sheriff/ marshal/ cowboy is running around town trying to find someone who will help him. The bad guys will be there soon and our hero needs to make sure they don’t destroy the town/ rob the bank/ break their partner out of jail.

Only, he can’t find anyone who will fight with him. Everyone he asks tells him it’s not their problem. They tell him to look elsewhere before slamming their door in his face and hiding behind their sense of disconnection.

Why is this? Why does this happen time and again?

Because people are selfish.

It is as plain and as simple as that.

It’s human nature. There would be no sin in their world if it were not so. But Satan tempted Eve with that idea of self. He made her question whether God had her best interests at heart. And so, because she was thinking of herself, she ate of the fruit.

We don’t want to admit it, but it’s the way we’re wired. We want to know what’s in it for us before we agree to something. We want to know the benefit on our part, what the fruits of our labor will be.

Which is why having a completely selfless hero is both stupid and unrealistic. Very few men will fight for something if there’s nothing in it for them. Very few people would set out on a quest to save the world if they saw no personal gain for them except “the world will be saved!”

They would say, “Why should I be the one to do the job? Isn’t such-and-such person more qualified? Surely there is someone better equipped to do it than I am.”

Now, I’m not saying you should make your hero a jerk. A completely self-serving hero is simply someone on the other side of the spectrum. They’re just as bad as a selfless hero.

No, a real, true hero is someone who balances their selfish nature with a selfless one. Rather than having a hero whose character is summed up with one side of the coin, instead his nature should be a whole, with a balance of both sides coexisting.

In the Lord of the Rings series, Frodo does some very heroic things. Many things that are both selfless and brave. But, his whole reason for saving the world, is that he wants to go home. He wants to live in peace and quiet and has been convinced that there is no way for him to do that unless he takes the ring to Mordor.

In The Hunger Games Katniss is driven by more than a desire to survive. While each of us could identify with that basic instinct, it in no way makes her a hero. We have no reason to root for her over the others. Do they not all want to survive? So, Suzanne Collins takes things a step further. She throws in an adorable younger sister who depends on our hero. A little girl who hugs her sister tight and begs her to return safely. Not only that, but we have been told in no uncertain terms that this little girl depends on her sister for her very survival.

That is why we root for Katniss. Because she has a noble reason to survive. And so, when her instincts kick in and the need to survive arises, we think of Prim and accept her desire to win.

See what I mean here? Katniss has both a selfish and a selfless reason to achieve her goal. And it is both reasons what drive her. Not one or the other. But both.

Your hero should always want something. He or she should always have a selfish desire that drives them. Wanting to be a hero and save the world is not a good reason for them to be a hero. If they want to be a hero because they need to prove themselves to someone, while highly cliché, this is still a good example of selfish and selfless desires coexisting. Yes, they are driven to save the world, but it comes out of a selfish desire to prove something.

And that, in the end, is what makes a true, human hero. They want something. Just like every person who is reading your story. They want something for no other reason than their human nature is to be selfish. Whether it be love, or a sandwich, or to go home and take a nap. Your hero is driven by more than a need to be a hero. Their character is more in-depth than that.

It is never enough to explain your hero’s actions with “They’re the hero.” If that is their only reason for doing something then it is not good enough.

Now, I will acknowledge the fact that heroic instincts exists. There are times in a person’s life when they don’t have time to think but in that split second when action is called for, they act, and in that acting they save the day. This is acceptable, if you have established your hero as that kind of a person. Not every action needs to be driven by a selfish desire.

But, as a whole, the sum of your hero needs to be more than cheap, comic book heroics. They need to be human. They need to be driven to obtain the ultimate goal because there is something for them in the end.

Yes, that sounds unheroic. It seems hard and cynical. But it’s true. And, if you can pull it off without making your hero a jerk, you are worthy of the “Writer” title.

And, in the end, if your hero’s goal shifts to simple heroics, that’s acceptable. Because when you fight for something for so long, even when your reason for fighting dies, more often than not, you will keep fighting. Because we are also driven by a need to follow through. Once again, it’s how we’re wired.

How about you? Do you agree with this post? Does your hero have a selfish reason for their actions?

Random notes: I am well on my way to being done with How to Properly Deface a Book: 
Kit Parker - Book Two, getting it all set for its release on November 10th. And, I am officially signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. If you’re participating and want to add me as a writing buddy, just let me know! Or, if you’re interested in what I’ll be writing, I’m working on a fairy tale retelling mash-up. Here’s a link to my Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/jennifersauer73/sb-jack-robin-and-the-twelve-dancing-princesses/
It’s a bit of a mess since I used it to brainstorm while I was still figuring things out, but the general idea is there. If you have any questions about it, I’m always glad to talk about my project. Just ask ^.^

And, I realized I never selected a winner for Candor Fridays, so I will be doing that this Friday. It’s not too late to enter, just pop me a question before the 31st.

Until then, dear readers! <3

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