Character Archetypes: The Hero

Hi Gang, Craig here today. Put on your tinfoil hats, because I’m about to create a wormhole in the writing world.

Once Upon a time, I wrote a series about The Hero’s Journey, also known as the Writing Monomyth. It was fun, I got some good comments, then I came up with various expansion packs based upon this idea.

One of my recent Expansion Packs was called Character Archetypes + A Trick. It was based upon some standard characters that appear in the Writing Monomyth.

The fact is the steps from the Monomyth meld with the standard characters. So is this an Expansion Pack based upon an Expansion Pack? Can it serve as its own series, with some Expansion Packs of its own? It kind of blows my mind, but like Dr. Jeckyl once said, “Can’t know for sure until I drink the potion.” Away we go…

The Hero:

This is probably going to be the toughest one, because everyone instinctively understands this archetype. With few notable exceptions, this is your main character. This is the point of view readers are going to use to discover the story.

Your hero must undergo a character arc during the story. This means any sort of creed or beliefs they held true needs to evolve and improve by the end of the tale.

Not every character deserves to have their story told. Someone in a recliner, having a beer and watching Godzilla get defeated on CNN isn’t the person you want. You want your character on the ground and participating in some meaningful way in Godzilla’s demise.

I try to create heroes by starting with a nameless and faceless soul. At this point there is no race, creed, religion, gender, age, weight, or eye color. These are all window dressing. A hero should be an underdog of some kind, but not to the point of losing all credibility.

Look at your plot, and assess ways of overcoming the main event. It might be good to start a list. Will it take raw strength, intelligence, trickery, deception? How many ways can you find to overcome the main story problem.

At this point, it’s fairly easy to avoid the low hanging fruit. Choose one that will offer you some twists and turns as you write.

This may seem like I’m writing about plot again, but we use this information to decide who our hero is going to be. Raw strength might require a certain kind of character. Deception gives you a lot more options.

With deception, maybe you need a disgraced Evangelist, or a stock broker who lost his SEC license and did some time for insider trading. The plot requires someone who can get inside someone’s organization or inner circle, then lead the villain astray.

Maybe you need someone with knowledge of higher mathematics to provide solutions to a programmer who’s diverting a missile of some kind.

Make sure you have a way for a hero’s moment. At some point near the end of the story, they’re going to take center stage for the big smack down. (This doesn’t have to be a physical butt kicking, but it doesn’t hurt, either.) If you don’t, maybe you can tweak the character a bit to make sure this happens. This would happen face to face. Your mathematician might take some creativity to make this happen vs. someone who is going to have a physical fight.

Now it’s time for the window dressing. Human or not? Male or female? That sort of thing. I gave one of mine a mild physical handicap once. It really helped sell her as the underdog. Maybe you need a seafood allergy in a fishing village?

Your hero is also going to need a personality. Pick something people can relate to. It’s always easier if readers like your character. Yes, I know there are plenty of antagonistic main characters. I said a likable hero is easier, not the only way. Quirks, flaws, wounds, your hero needs these more than any other character, because readers are going to spend more time with him/her than anyone else in the story.

As I get into the other archetypes, some of them have specific character traits, too. You have a bit more leeway with the hero, than some of the others.

In an attempt at an example, I tend to write more stoic heroes. I surround them with a colorful supporting cast. This works for me, because in my stories the hero usually carries a lot of responsibility. They don’t normally have time for playing grab ass. That doesn’t hold true for my supporting characters.

That’s it today. The hero is hard to write about, because everyone pretty much understands it. As I get into some of the others, I might be able to offer some more unique spins. You can pick up the second post, The Mentor, at this link.

Leave me some comments. I love the comments section. Did you gather a nugget or two to help with your next story? Do you have a different tip to add?

37 thoughts on “Character Archetypes: The Hero

  1. Pingback: Character Archetypes: The Mentor | Story Empire

  2. I’ve never really analyzed my hero in such a deep way, but I can see how this would be helpful. For instance, in my short story, “A Soldier’s Children,” the hero is a fourteen-year-old girl. All I knew about her was that she was tough as nails and would hold everything together no matter what came along. In a short story, there isn’t much time to show character growth, but each hardship she overcame, she got a little more confident and self-sufficient. This is a great post and I’m saving it for future reference! Thanks, Craig!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What are your thoughts on having more than one main character, Craig? If you think about a book like The Stand by Stephen King or Dracula by Bram Stoker, they both tell the story from more than one person’s perspective. Each narrator is equally important to the plot. Would you do this for each one then?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting that you start with a nameless, faceless person. I usually start with a story idea and then the POV character that will work for that story comes to me, and she’s already pretty well formed. Then I get to know her better when I do a character wheel that makes her whole. That’s when I learn her quirks and flaws. But I agree that the character has to work with the plot you’re going to use. Another good post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Entertaining Stories and commented:

    It’s the middle of the work week. As such, I don’t have a lot to share until the weekend gets here. However, if you need your Craigie fix, I’m starting a new series of posts over at Story Empire. I’m going to be breaking down the most common Character Archetypes. This is the first one, and it’s about The Hero. Let me know what you think.


  6. I’m work a bit like Joan in that I come up with the hero first, develop a backstory for them, and an obstacle in their present or future. That leads into my supporting characters, who eventually help me develop my plot.

    What I do find odd—I never really think of my hero as “the hero” if that makes sense. And in my last several novels, I find myself having multiple heroes. My current WIP, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That happens frequently. I write some large casts, and even a buddy story or two. In that case, there is usually more than one hero. This stuff is all pretty malleable, and maybe I ought to include that in a future post.


  7. Very interesting post, Craig. (And I’m going to have to check out your link, because somehow I missed The Hero’s Journey. I may have to give some of these things you mention a try, though I’ve never actually analyzed how I put together a story in much detail. I do start with my main character. I know roughly who he or she is, but not always why, and I know that they are “damaged” in some way or other. Since I started with a Romantic Suspense novel, I had to do the same thing with the other half of what would end up being a couple. But most of their personalities, character traits, and human failings come along as the story progresses. (I think we’d call that “making it up as you go.”) I’m not so good at planning things out ahead of time, and even when I try to do so, my characters come along and tell me that I’ve got it all wrong, and that it actually happened this way.

    Having said that, I’m always interested in learning more about pretty much everything, especially writing, and I do like your approach. I plan to follow this series closely and see what I can adapt to my own process. There’s always more than one way to do something, and as a pretty new author, I’m still learning every day. Thanks for a super post, and I’m looking forward to the next in the series. Shared this one! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Marcia. Some people have an onboard concept of story structure and how characters fit into that. Some of us have to learn it through books and other things, like Story Empire. It never hurts to glance over some of it, so I hope everyone can wash out a nugget or two.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I tend to go for ensemble casts, so I’m working with multiple heroes. It works a lot like you mention, but more me deciding who is most likely to solve the problem. There can be many solutions, so I try to spread the hero moments to keep everyone around the same level. This is really tough because you have fan favorites and personal favorites. This is why I keep notes.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I find it helpful to look at stories that way. Choosing a character for empathy, to deal with a social issue, or some other reason can give an advantage. Doesn’t always matter, but it can help. Lisa Burton was relatable, and allowed me to deal with prejudice in a unique way. Had she been the terminator, it would not have come across the same way.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. My only comment would be that the hero doesn’t always necessarily have to be the POV character. I’m writing about the hero character from the POV of a supporting character in my current wip (as I did in book 1 of this series). Makes for a lot of challenges when I want the hero and the POV character to not be in the same scene – I have to come up with a way for the POV character to come along to be involved in the action!
    Great article Craig, though, I might be interested in reading about the character sitting on the couch watching Godzilla… sounds like an allegory for my life actually ☺️

    Liked by 3 people

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