My wife and I are finally in the 21st Century. We disconnected our cable and we are totally dependent on the Web for our entertainment. What that ends up is lots of binge watching of series, like our recent rediscovery of the masterful Sanctuary series that we got on Amazon for a small rental fee.
But last week, Shelly introduced me to another series that she thought I might be interested in. It started off promising enough. A man and his sister are on a train traveling home when he spots something suspicious and steps forward to interrupt a terrorist plot. In the ensuing mayhem, his sister is killed. When everything settles down, he is asked to join a secret organization that fights terrorists, and as a former Green Beret he agrees to do it.
It started off promising, but then ended off being like all the other action series that are on TV today. And that’s the problem. What makes your hero different than all the others? Further, if your hero gets a bullet in his brain, or gut, or spleen, why should I care?
I ended up watching two episodes of the series that Shelly had proposed to me before giving up. It had plenty of action, explosions, all the right guy stuff. But I never cared about the hero. He never made me laugh, or think, or cry. He was just a mechanism, a vehicle, to get from point A to point Z.
So what does it take to make a good hero, or villain, for that matter? To me, it comes down to making them human. Give them day-to-day things they struggle with. Give them self-doubt, or jealousy, or headaches, or dandruff. Give the villain a lovable dog that chews up his shoes every morning. Give the hero a wife that nags him constantly. What I am talking about is the fact that our lives are filled with details every day that are insignificant to anyone but us. But these things can be the joy of our life or the constant irritation that drives us over the edge.
In my last book, The Key of Solomon, Ezra Huddleston was a award-winning reporter that had a temper that drove people away from him. He could be very annoying. But he had honorable attributes as well. And it wasn’t until readers got to know him that they saw those other, deeper, attributes that God sees in all of us.
In Tesla’s Ghost, the hero in the modern era turns out to be a young college student named Eli. He’s easy-going, friendly and charismatic. He’s also lazy, tends to things will work out whether there’s an obvious solution or not, and takes people for granted. His strengths gain him alliances; his weakness cost him relationships.
A big part of reading stories is watching the dynamics of relationships rise and fall, as well as seeing how people’s character develops as they come in contact with challenges. But unless you have complex characters, you’ll never see that.