I Need a Hero

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 


sidney chambers

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?




18 thoughts on “I Need a Hero”

  1. I’d say start writing and see what comes out. My hero has a broken heart (his first wife left him) and he can be a bit stubborn (he’s showing that now). But I don’t think the “flaws” have to be over the top. Just something that makes him not perfect. I think I’d like to take Liam home as you describe him and hear about how he feels about leaving school. Is this duty? Does he mind? Maybe he’s a bit resentful? And as Debra said, don’t make him too self-sacrificing. I think you’ve got a great hero start!


  2. Hmmm, interesting questions. I’m always drawn to the secrets surrounding flawed pasts. So I’m curious what made him leave home (and the cotton mill) in the first place, and choose such an opposite direction as law school. Is there something in his past that he’s trying to escape? Does it catch up to him now?


    1. Sue, Liam’s family hung their American dream on him and he was happy to do that for them, planning to repay his family and his community after he got out of law school by coming back and practicing law, perhaps becoming a judge someday. What do you think of this? Liam, his father and his uncle were involved in the tail end of the Molly McGuire movement for which people were getting hung. Maybe they were involved in a bombing or arson that went wrong? I’m liking the feel of this.


  3. That makes sense, Keenan. He must feel some resentment at losing out on the judge prospect, and he might even direct his anger at the current judge–who could rule in some way that hurts the cotton mill. All this would produce conflicting emotion and guilt. And ooh, I like the bombing/arson thing that went wrong! Have fun with this!


  4. Make sure he has a few vices we can relate to (apple fritters maybe?) and opens doors for the ladies. Besides the lack of an apple fritter addiction, I think he’s perfect.


  5. Ooh, I really like this post, Keenan! Reading about your hero made me think of Leo DiCaprio’s character from The Departed (one of my all-time favorite movies)–he was posed the question early in his law enforcement career: do you want to do good, or do you want to appear to do good? He ends up working undercover, and always orders plain cranberry juice at the Irish bars he frequents 🙂

    Question: why did your MC choose law? Law is such an interesting choice…is he super passionate about seeking justice and truth? Why? Does he have something in his past that puts him in direct opposition with what he must do in the story? It’s a tough balance, giving characters flaws while also making them likable, but it sounds like you’re on the right track!


  6. Hmm. I’m often drawn to the ‘bad boy’ types. Liam seems a bit too perfect. Make sure he has some undesirable traits, too. Maybe he takes his teetotalling ways a bit too far and wags his finger (or worse) at imbibers. And I bet he could carry some anger baggage at his father for dying and messing up his plans.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry I’m coming to this fun party a little late… one of the things I do when I’m trying to flesh out a character is to write a stream-of-consciousness in first person where he (or she) is talking about some of the major turning points in his life. Usually those have to do with some kind of wound, and usually those wounds are emotional. Some random thoughts: What about the family he’s sacrificed his education in order to support? Are they embracing of him or do they feel entitled? Does he bury any bitterness toward them or his father? Was his father supportive of his choice to become a lawyer or did he think his son was thinking too big? How did all of these relationships shape Liam? If he’s a good listener, how did that come about? If he doesn’t drink, does he like fast cars? Fast women?

    Awesome post, Keenan!


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