Monday, April 22, 2013

C.O.R.E. of a Hero

"True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.
It is not the urge to surpass all others
at whatever cost,
but the urge to serve others at whatever cost."

— Arthur Ashe

 I chose to write about heroes today in part due to last week's events in Boston. Heroes are all around us. Most walk through life in ordinary clothes until the need arises to do something heroic, from holding a bleeding person's wounds, to attacking a plane hijacker, to a police officer who risks his life to protect the public, all the way to standing up to a bully or offering a jacket to a friend who is cold even though you'll get cold yourself.
In fiction, the same truth still applies.

Heroes usually don't wear capes.
or tights.
(unless we're writing for Marcher Lord Press ;-) Gotta love Jeff Gerke!
Yet, every hero makes the choice to do something heroic. Some live a life which thrusts them into service every day (firefighters and police officers) and others choose to step outside of their everyday worlds to serve.

WHAT makes a good hero?

Time magazine says, “Heroes are selfless people who perform extraordinary acts. The mark of heroes is not necessarily the result of their action, but what they are willing to do for others and for their chosen cause.”

(Read more:,8599,2054335,00.html#ixzz2R8UYpmyD)

Anybody else getting the sense that heroes are 'other' focused instead of 'self' focused?

And I'd hazard a challenge here to say 'extraordinary acts' might be in the eyes of the beholder. For the new kid in school who can't find her way to class, a guy who risks being late to help her find her way, could be perceived as a hero to her.

This is important to note as we mold heroes for our fiction.
Your fictional hero's qualities meet the particular NEEDS of the heroine and other people in your book.

But, let's get down to the basics for ANY hero!

The CORE traits.

1.       C – Care – a true hero inspires care and admiration from the heroine and others around him (especially the ones he ‘cares’ about the most.) This is his genuine goodness thread. A vein of nobility.

2.       O- Opportunity – a true hero, when given a choice to back away or stay and fight, will take the opportunity to stay because of his internal goodness. There is an opportunity to serve, and he will take it.

3.       R- Risk – a true hero will sacrifice his desires for the welfare of those he cares about (and many times for people he may not) He’ll take the risk for the right!

4.       E – Expertise – a true hero has some character trait in which he is an expert. This can mean something as internal as ‘optimism’ or something as external as ‘carpentry’. It is a special skill that uniquely supports the choices he makes.

These characteristics are the spine which makes for the building of a hero. How we ‘dress up’ that spine with skin, bones, and a fedora is what makes your hero unique to your story.
Things like:
1.       Humor (all types)

2.       Rogue-ish

3.       Strong

4.       Introvert

5.       Extrovert

6.       Gentle

7.       Lover of kids and animals

8.       Education

9.       Background experiences

10.   Eye or hair color

You get the point

But all of these quality must hinge on the C.O.R.E!

I’m going to use a few examples to illustrate this point:

Let’s start with an Austen hero – Darcy.

He didn’t fight in a war or race through a storm to save a stranded family, yet his core qualities are secure. He is honorable, and for that we admire him. He is loyal, and he sacrifices his reputation –and pride- to make things right. He is an expert at maintaining his calm in trial, thus using his skills to help find a missing Lydia in Pride and Prejudice.

I just finished reading Jody Hedlund’s newest novel, A Noble Groom, and her hero is a FANTASTIC example of core hero qualities, plus those characteristics I found particularly swoon-worthy. Carl is humble, humorous, and adorable, but one of his strongest Core hero qualities is sacrifice.
Though he does have a heroic act near the end that is pretty phenomenal, his heroic characteristics are best shone in the fact that he is a hero for Annalisa. He sacrifices and portrays his deepest goodness for her in small, yet powerful ways. Sacrificing his status and his future, as well as risking his life, he chooses to show care to her in tangible ways that melts the chill around her hardened heart. It’s beautiful.

One of my favorite heroes is Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. At the core, he takes risks for the lives of others in big and small ways. He genuinely cares for the welfare of his companions and will take any opportunity to save them, even accepting his role as King of Gondor. He is uniquely skilled as a ranger, but we learn throughout the book (and movie) that he is also a skilled leader.

In my contemporary romance, A Twist of Faith, my cattle farmer - Reese Mitchell- has core qualities shown through sacrificing his dreams for the welfare of his family and their farm. Though he's funny and ruggedly charming, his greatest hero characteritsics are his desire to protect and support the people he cares about. When given the opportunity to risk his heart, despite his fear, he takes it. (definition of courage, btw)

Of course, our greatest inspiration for the PERFECT hero is in Christ - who in his wisdom about the state of our souls in sin, showed 'care' for us by taking the opportunity to come to Earth as a human infant and risk death, hell, and eternity to save us.
Oh what a Hero!

As you consider your current hero, or a hero you hope to write, ask yourself these questions:

1.       What experiences and beliefs does my hero have which can show how he cares for the people in his life?

2.       What small opportunities can you give your hero for him to show his CORE throughout your story? You’ll want to begin with something in the first few pages. What is/are some BIG opportunities you can give him?

3.       What will your hero have to risk to do what is right? Is it a loss of income or status? Another broken heart? His life?

4.       What is your hero good at doing? What is something in which he excels and how can you weave that skill into the heart of your story?

List one of your favorite characters, either one of your own or someone else's - and tell us what CORE characteristics he posseses.


Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Lovely post, and lots of food for thought here.

And oh - that quote at the beginning!! Wow.

J. Hilton Steele said...

Must share this!

Susan Anne Mason said...

Great topic, Pepper! And you nailed what a hero is!

I love it when a fictional hero sacrifices something for the heroine. Makes my heart melt!

Can't wait to read some of your heroes!


Pepper said...

Making a pit stop during my lunch break!
Thanks, Karen. I do love writing and reading about heroes :-)

Pepper said...

Thanks, Julie!!!

Pepper said...

Oh my! I love those sweet subtle 'sacrifices' as much as the grand ones, don't you?

Nancy Kimball said...

Pepper, I liked this. Find a way to throw a stick at me when A Twist of Faith is available so I can check him out for my blog. =)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Pepper, this is great. I'm trying to get at the heart of my hero for my new story. I think this post will be very helpful. I'm printing it off and re-reading it. A lot. Thanks for sharing this!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Okay, WOW!!! What an awesome post!! I don't even know what to focus on because there is so much good stuff here. A great lesson and awesome pointers. A gift that is going to keep on giving to this writer for sure. Way to go, Pep!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I'll be linking to this post at a future date. Thanks for the excellent writing lesson.

Pepper said...

You can count on the fact I'll be shouting from the rooftops if A Twist of Faith ever goes to print :-)

Pepper said...

Sure thing, Jeanne! I hope this helps.

Pepper said...

Oh Amy,
You are so sweet! I really hope this is helpful.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow...great post, Pepper! I love your CORE!!!! ;) Such great characteristics for building the perfect hero. (er...maybe not so perfect, but oh-so-dreamy!)