Inside my head, wraith-like images form and fade as I try to flesh out the hero for the Gilded Age series I’m plotting and I keep hearing Bonnie Tyler’s song “Holding Out for a Hero”:
Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need
I need a hero
This is all I have: my hero is valiant, noble and true. He’s a little bit sad and lonely, suffering from a grievously broken heart, so he’s the kind of man we’d want to take home, fill up with lots of warm food and fall in love with.
I reviewed my notes from various workshops and spent some time watching TV (it’s research!), looking for those qualities which make a three-dimensional character who can carry a series.
Christopher Vogler, the Joseph Campbell apostle, describes the hero in “The Writer’s Journey” as he (or she) who is devoted to protecting and who sacrifices in the service of his community. Vogler says that not only must he be flawed, but that the more neurotic the character is, the more the audience likes and identifies with.
My survey of TV and film heroes included Sidney Chambers (Granchester), Dr. Who and Rick Blaine (Casablanca). They are all flawed. Sidney and Rick both nurse broken hearts, drink too much and consort with loose women. Dr. Who doesn’t want to get attached.
A hero who has experienced loss, and therefor is incomplete, is classified amongst the flawed by Vogler. My hero will have given up his plans for an education to take his father’s place supporting his mother, brother and sisters when his father unexpectedly dies.
All the heroes have quirks. Sidney is a pastor who likes jazz, gets drunk and fights. Dr. Who is a time traveler. Rick Blaine, who claims he sticks his neck out for nobody, consistently rescues people – but only the ones he likes.
They’re wounded. Sidney and Rick both have a broken heart. Dr. Who is the last of his people.
They’re all “bigger than life.” Sidney’s super-power includes his ability to listen. I like that one a lot. That’s a rare ability. Dr. Who knows everything and what he doesn’t know, he can figure out. Rick Blaine is a tough New Yorker.
They’re all self-sacrificing. Sidney gives up the love of his life because he thinks she can do better. Dr. Who puts himself in danger consistently to save fragile humans. Despite what he says, Rick Blaine does stick his out neck and gives up his bar, his home and devotes his life to the war effort.
So this is what I have so far: My hero, Liam Barrett, gives up law school so he could take his father’s place in the cotton mill when his father unexpectedly dies. Liam is later recruited by the newly formed police force in Adams, Massachusetts because of his gifts. Like all heroes, he is tall and handsome, but the gift that particularly suits him to police work is his galvanizing personality and his ability to listen. People want him to like them and they want to talk to him, like late Tim Russert the host of Meet of the Press. Liam’s father, to whom he is constantly compared, was well-liked but known for drinking too much which is believed to have been the cause of his death. So Liam doesn’t drink, a quirk indeed in the Irish community. And he’s self-sacrificing, having given up his true love because to support his family.
And now I’m stuck. It seems he needs a little more than that, maybe more quirks, maybe more flaws as Vogler advocates.
The question I pose to you, my Mysterista friends, is what other qualities would make you want to take Liam Barrett home, give him a hot meal and fall in love? What kind of flaws attract us? Are they flaws that we feel we can fix with enough love and understanding or should they be flaws that so deeply rooted that they’re unfixable?