Everyone’s the Hero of Their Own Story

This is one concept I keep going back to, over and over, as I write. Everyone is the center of their own universe, their own life story. Even bad choices are made for reasons that made sense at the time. Why is this important? Because it makes every single character in the story being told far more interesting when you think of them as someone with a life story.

For the Hero, this should be obvious – but sometimes the protagonist suffers from having no life story outside the Plot of the novel. This is actually one of the traps I keep falling into, and probably one of the easiest mistakes to make. Think about it for a minute – did the Hero of your story drop everything to answer the Call to Adventure? (Even if they were forced to for some reason?) Does your Hero ever look back or try to pick up the pieces, or do they fully embrace their role as the Protagonist?

Even the Hero becomes much more interesting when they have a life to live beyond the Plot of the story. What did they do before? What did they want to do with their life – what were their dreams and aspirations? Will the Plot get in the way of their dreams or help them achieve them?

The answers can be contradictory, too. People are contradictory! A Hero that dreamed of exploring and gets a chance to go on a Quest can still miss home while he’s on his journey.

Minor characters also benefit from this idea! The supporting cast should have lives outside of the plot, too. Ask the same questions of them as you would the main character – why are they here? What are they hoping to achieve? Did they answer the Call willingly, or were they forced to take on the role they have in the Story?

The cast becomes more compelling when each of them has a slightly different set of answers.

Even extremely minor characters – people that only appear briefly in the story – are the Hero of their story. You don’t have to know the whole story, but even a small glimpse into their life can make them feel like a round personality.

The innkeeper wanted to be an adventurer when he was a kid, but he decided he’d rather have a steady job instead. He got married and has a kid now, and he’s happy, but he still gives the Heroes a wistful look as he passes them their drinks… and then tells them to keep it down when they go to bed. Maybe he tells them his wife gets angry when rowdy customers wake his kid up at night, maybe he keeps that to himself, but either way he’s a more compelling character than he could have been.

Perhaps the most important characters to remember this concept with, though, are the Antagonists. They should think they’re the Heroes, too – even if they’re doing bad things, they should have good reasons for doing them. (Even if those reasons are selfish.)

An easy trap to fall into with the Antagonist is to give them a tragic backstory in an attempt to make them compelling. There is some truth to this idea, certainly, but it becomes a problem when it is used as an excuse. It’s more compelling when they struggle with their inner demons, too.

What does the Antagonist hope to accomplish? How do they justify their actions? Are they too proud to admit they’re wrong? Are they ignorant of the consequences of their choices? Do they just not care?

The Antagonist becomes much more interesting when they think they are the Hero. Maybe they were forced to pass the point of no return. Maybe they’re protecting someone. Maybe they think they have nothing left to lose… but they’re doing the right thing, from their point of view.

Happy Writing!

~Knight

Let’s Talk About… Strong Heroines

I’ve heard a lot of creators talking about how they’re trying to write “strong heroines” for the ladies in the audience. Usually it’s framed as wanting to give the young women out there someone to look up to – someone they can see themselves in, the same way all the young lads can see themselves in the hero.

The problem with this isn’t so much the fact that the creators are trying to represent a group of people (women) in their media, it’s… that their “strong heroines” all seem to be cut from the same cloth.

To highlight this, I’m going to use some examples from media that I think show this point well – Fullmetal Alchemist has a great cast of characters, so I’ll start there.

(Note: I tried to keep this relatively spoiler-free.)

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We see the typical “strong heroine” type in Riza Hawkeye. She’s a soldier. She stands on even footing with most of the male cast and keeps them in line. The colonel she serves under, Roy Mustang, trusts her to watch his back and keep him on the right path.

Something that really helps Riza stand out from other “strong heroines” is the fact that we get to see her at her weakest moments, we get to see her struggle with her inner demons… and overcome them. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that none of the men see her as weak – even those who have seen her at her weakest.

They don’t treat her like something to be protected, they trust her to protect herself.

The same could be said of Izumi Curtis, the woman who taught the main characters Alchemy. She’s also strong in the typical ways – she’s rugged and tough. But she’s also defined by one of her greatest desires: to be a mother.

Her husband also openly mourns the children they couldn’t have, which does a lot to make it clear that Izumi’s desires and pains aren’t something tied uniquely to her gender. I see that happen far too often as well – by making a woman want children, it’s somehow supposed to make her feminine.

Which is weird, because wanting children isn’t just for women.

There are a lot of “strong heroine” types in Fullmetal Alchemist. I love Olivier Armstrong, Lan Fan, and Mei Chang. The author of this series is great at capturing characters and motivations and making them feel human.

Winry Rockbell is a different kind of strong. She’s a mechanic, and I think that alone speaks volumes for the kind of strong she is. She keeps things running. You might not appreciate her until something breaks and needs repaired, but you can count on her to fix things. She’s a supporting character, but she’s very important to the main characters, Ed and Alphonse.

“Your hands aren’t meant for killing people,” Ed tells her at one crucial point.

She’s not a soldier. She’s a mechanic – but she’s the best at what she does, and the heroes know they can count on her to be there for them. Sometimes, that’s the kind of strong people need in their lives… and supporting cast, especially supporting heroines, shouldn’t be seen as less important.

Of course, it helps to have a full, diverse cast. When there are women like Riza, Izumi, and Mei in the front lines, it’s okay to let some women like Winry to hang back and be there for support.

So, keep writing all kinds of women – mothers, soldiers, mechanics… they’re all important roles.

The bottom line? Women are strong. People are strong. Treat your heroines like people, real people, and they’ll be strong characters.

Happy writing!

~Knight