Welcome back, readers! However many of you didn’t drift away over my ill-advised vacation, that is. Sadly my miraculous recovery from jet lag came a bit too late for me to get back into the Monday stuff, but we’ve still got this foot-piercing series! As always, I digress. But let me ask you, have you ever felt like your actions were totally outside of your control, or people were accepting you because of what their friends told you, not on your own merits?
Because if so, you can sympathize with the plight of so many literary heroes. Now, I’m going to use my fallback option and lead in with LoTR again (sorry)- yeah, Tolkien had a ton of prophecies, but not a single jack one of ’em mentioned hobbits anywhere. I see two reasons for that right away: 1. No sane prophet (and all the crazy ones are in Mordor anyway) would think, ‘Oh hey, a two-foot tall creature with no fighting skills, low motivation and a gluttony problem, that’s the person to destroy the ring,’ regardless how many visions they had of Frodo smoking (not even if the Valar bookended every single one by shrieking, THIS DUDE’S IMPORTANT!)
You may be thinking, ‘But Gandalf’s support got Frodo chosen as Ringbearer in the first place.’ Yes, that’s very true. Still shades of the same mess running there, I can’t deny that. The thing is, Tolkien’s choice of initial protagonist seems (just making this up, so we’re clear) like his personal jab at the old Chivalric ideal of heroism, where everyone just naturally assumed that the person good at fighting was the right choice for the job. Tolkien’s entire plot is organized around the idea that every so often, you want someone who’s good at stuff other than hacky-slashy murder fests. For the time, that was a very nice idea. The issue isn’t that there’s anything inherently wrong with it, but rather that we’ve all gotten a little, er, possessed. This idea is, you might even say, precious to us. Okay, you can kill me now.
While the tasteful majority are forming their pitchfork-laden mob, and designating ringleaders to repay me for that rather forced joke (Sauron made me do it!), I hope the rest of you will stay to let me explain. As I’ve gotten a little calmer over the years- a whopping six since I started writing in earnest, woohoo!- I’ve come to realize that a lot of ideas I consider overused aren’t really bad. Shocker, right? Who’d have thought it? But that’s a separate topic all its own. Now, we humans love underdogs as our heroes in general, and I do think the U.S.A. takes that a little further in its literature and film (while paradoxically frowning on its real-life underdogs!) Yet, over time, people started to remember that when the underdog wins, you’re ecstatic because it was too much to hope for, yet it happened. So what’s with all these heroes running around, every single one of whom supposedly had no chance, and yet all of whom have somehow won? These people should be the stars of heart-wrenching heroic tragedies, where they ultimately fail, or at least sacrifice themselves to win. Nope, happy endings all around! The Germans (and possibly citizens of many other countries as well) literally refer to this as the Hollywood Happy End. In English. Think about that for a moment, if any of you are actually from the States. If not, I probably seem like a moron right now.
So where am I going with all this? In essence, I think a lot of authors, rather than swallowing tears and putting their treasured gutless-to-glorified tales on the back-burner for a while, decided they should try and justify why these extremely unlikely, even totally implausible heroes keep popping up. Listen here, my fellow authors: these are your stories, right? They’re important to you? Then take my advice, and stop including things purely to justify a character to your readers. If your character’s personality doesn’t justify his/her presence in the story you’re writing, that’s a sign to grab
a quill a pen YOUR GODDAMN LITERARY COJONES and MASSACRE THAT DARLING! Or at least, send them to main character purgatory until you figure out how to make them better, or write a story they fit into. If your tale is about saving the world from a looming evil threat, your leading lady/dude/marsupial should show some actual blasted aptitude for world-saving- any scene involving them actually taking action will be infinitely less shoe-horned in than the 197th million consecutive prophecy from Fantasy Apocalypse Prophets Inc., extolling the virtues of your lead character from some undefined point in the past. And it’s a perfect excuse to write some cool action vignettes, unless you’re terrible at them, in which case GET BETTER OR GET OUTTA FANTASY. It’s not a genre kind to people who can’t put some credible swash in their buckle.
Now, this isn’t a hundred percent guaranteed either. Razor’s edge, remember? And in the end, maybe you want your prophecies and chosen ones. That’s your decision. I do think that simply telling your readers to believe your hero is special, but never proving it in the story, is cheap as hell and won’t get you many points with anyone (not even the corner you cry in), so please make sure that your protagonist justifies his/her/its/their (hey, could be several people in that body, it’s Fantasy!) own presence. It’s not that hard- just take some of the long, stupid fight scenes you wrote for the stupidly hot, fickle love interest and give them to THE FREAKING HERO. Besides, you’re the author. The protagonist is already the chosen one- because that’s the character you’re choosing for center stage. Try not to undermine your own decision.