I recently discovered something as I worked on my latest book. The heroes I write into my books can almost be considered radioactive. Not really, of course, but symbolically. Their heroism is a part of who they are. It is inherent in the character, making them a little predictable and subject to a lot of hardships. These characters can’t let bad things happen without doing something about it. Even when the cost might be their lives, they do what’s right. Maybe I’ve written them this way because I’ve seen that a trait in most heroes from movies. The suffering of the hero happens simply because they see what must be done and will agonize over their decision to stand where others will fall.
In real life, heroes like this exist. They are sometimes friends you see every day or people that put their lives on the line in the military, fighting fires or facing criminals on a daily basis. Many times, our closes heroes are parents or parental figures willing to do what they must in order to protect or provide for their children.
In my stories, I am noticing the effect these heroes have on those around them. That’s what I consider to be their radioactive nature. They not only stand up and fight even when victory is impossible, but they inspire others to do the same. Unfortunately, the hero is often unique in his ability to overcome obstacles, so when others begin to emulate him (or her), they discover the suffering firsthand, leaving them in a far worse position than the hero. When you are Wolverine, fighting is not so hard because you will almost always recover no matter how badly you are injured. Those who care about him? Well, they don’t have his healing ability. This is one of the traits I find growing stronger in my characters. The hero tends to get through the worst of it, but friends sometimes are lost and others must depart from the story.
Examples of this trait are easy to see. Rocky takes the beatings and keeps coming back while Apollo was left beaten and dying on the mat. Luke refused to give in to the dark side and suffered at the emperor’s power while Vader gave his life to protect him. Wolverine had no choice but to take Jean’s life, finding no alternative to saving countless lives around him. Not all the heroes of movies lose their companions to death. In the Die Hard, franchise, our hero ends up divorced and estranged from his children with a demotion and little accolades for his efforts, but in Live Free or Die Hard when asked why he’s willing to do so much when he ends up with so little. He says: “Because there’s nobody else to do it right now, that’s why.” The conversations ends with the one questioning the hero saying: “That’s what makes you that guy.”
In the end, a hero is simply someone who sees right and wrong clearly without the grey area that those who justify evil deeds play with. I like that about heroes. I don’t know if I personally have the fortitude to do what they do, but it’s a grand adventure to see them save the world time and again.