Pen and Scalpel: Does Your Hero Need To Be Flawed?

There is a disturbing, at least to me, the trend over the last decade or so that says that a Hero or Main Character has to have a flaw or they won’t be interesting. What a bunch of balderdash. There are plenty of characters that people love that don’t have a fault that sticks out like a third arm. These people are just ordinary folks, living their lives until something comes along and destroys that idyllic time.

Every day heroes

A crisis in the lives of our hero. That’s what is most important in a story. There is an old formula for writing a story that still holds true even today:

  1. The hero is walking down the street.

  2. Someone chases the hero up a tree.

  3. Someone else comes along and throws rocks at the hero in the tree.

  4. The hero figures out a way to get out of the tree and stop the rock thrower.

That’s not the exact recipe for an ideal story, but you get the point. There’s nothing in there about guilt or alcoholism or impotence. It’s just that simple. Yes, you can add in that he’s having trouble with gambling, but that’s not his main concern. Nor should it be the main concern for the reader, unless it’s a story about a gambler who gets in over his head due to his addiction to dice and chips.

When we pick up a book, most of us don’t look in the back to find the list of what’s wrong with our hero. That would be stupid. We also might not read a book just because that person has a weakness that makes them make bad decisions. There are fans of this kind of story, but I’m not in that category. Give me someone who has a good life, good job, family, and friends. Then have them get taken hostage during a bank robbery or involved in a domestic terror attack on his kids’ school.


Anyone can be a hero

Can you see how it’s the outside events that are more likely to draw us into a person’s life and not the inner demons? Those inner demons can come to the surface when the Hero’s life becomes a living Hell. A perfect example is Die Hard. (Funny how this film keeps popping up in my posts, but I digress.)

John McClane is an ordinary guy as his plane lands in LAX. Sure, his relationship with his wife is strained, but that’s how life can be. He’s in Los Angeles to get his marriage back on track. His inner demon is his need to have his wife live in the same city as he does. He can’t wrap his head around the fact that she is becoming a very successful person in her own right. It takes away from his masculinity.

Sure enough, John and Holly have a fight and he retires to her private bathroom to bad talk himself. He can’t seem to keep his caveman brain from smashing his attempts to see things from her viewpoint. Holly, on the other hand, is too wrapped up in her work to be anything more than angry at John.

But then the sharks arrive in the form of Hans Gruber and his gang of thieves. For half the night, John is a bit distracted by these bad guys. But all the while, he is thinking of how stupid and pig-headed he has been lately. He becomes very motivated to save Holly and her co-workers and to make sure that they never fight again. We all know that he gets the job done.

John McClane uses the outside influence of the Nakatomi Building getting robbed as a way to solve his marriage problems. Quite an extreme example, I know, but it’s a good one to show how the Hero does not have to have his inner flaws out in front in order for us to enjoy the time we spend with him. His scuffle with his wife is minor at first, and that’s where it should always start. When John realizes that he’s fighting for Holly’s approval (in his mind) that he finds the inner courage and fortitude to overcome a problem he might not have been able to handle without that inner fire.