Heroes we’d like to see more of:
- A male protagonist.
This is only relevant to YA literature and in the case of Adult literature we would like to see more female characters. However, it was surprisingly hard to think of teenage male protagonists in young adult literature and almost too easy to come up with the names of strong female protagonists from Katniss Everdeen to Celaena Sardothien. We had a hard time narrowing down the female heroines in stories because there were so many to choose from but when it came to choosing a male hero who stood out it became much more difficult.
- The hero who doesn’t get the girl/the boy.
It would be great to read about a bad boy who hates people but loves his pet e.g. his pet turtle. That would make him unique. And to top it off, he doesn’t get the girl in the end but his turtle does. But let’s be serious for 20 seconds. The hero, usually weedy and underappreciated always gets the hot popular girl, not only is this outdated but it’s sexist. To both genders. why is the boy even interested in the girl? When she clearly paid no attention to him before some ‘special thing that made him noticeable’ happened.
- Heroes who were once villains but NOT antiheroes.
To all Vampire Diaries fans out there, how satisfying was it when Damon Salvatore (initially the bad boy) finally turned good and united with his brother, Stefan Salvatore, in order to combat the greater evil and save the one they both love: Elena Gilbert. Damon struggles with his morality throughout the entire show. He never stops and calls himself a hero. Though this still branches into antihero territory. There are a severe lack of villains who turned into true heroes, villains like Megamind from the Pixar film.
- Heroes with a mental health issue.
‘1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year’ – to be representative of the human experience, characters should deal with issues such as depression, anxiety and stress. Not only that, but as an individual in the public eye and under intense levels of stress, surely there would be moments when the weight of it consumes them. It’s also important to show people with mental health concerns in a positive light, mental health, depression, anxiety, in real life it doesn’t always limit you. Felicia Day, Stephen Fry, Chris Evans, Johnny Depp, Emma Stone, Adele; these are all real life people, celebrities, who are constantly in the public eye and suffer from/ have suffered panic attacks, anxiety or depression; so why can’t we represent this?
- Heroes with disabilities
Look at Dr House, he’s a cripple but he doesn’t let that stop him (although yes he does sometimes hold it against the world for what happened to his leg) but other times he takes advantage of the situation and uses his status as a ‘cripple’ to get him out of trouble. There are very few disabled characters in YA and MG fiction, the only one that comes to mind is Call with his bad leg from the Magisterium series.
- Heroes without a tragic backstory.
Basically, you can’t run away from this one for long before you meet another protagonist who lost their parents in car accident (Harry Potter, the Vampire Diaries), or one of their parents died (Hunger Games) or their parents are both divorced (Twilight). They all seem to have a difficult background, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it gives explanation for why they are the people they are today. The way they got through those difficult situations gave them the moral values and ideals that they follow. However, why can’t we have a hero where all of the family is still alive and well?
- Heroes who have good intentions but flawed means.
Let’s talk examples. In the Wrath and the Dawn, Shahrzad has good intentions, she wants to stop the Caliph from murdering any other young women. Her means however, involve her intention to murder him. But this can be taken one step further and made even greyer. In the 100 TV series, Clarke’s intentions is to keep her people alive. This is an excellent intention. However as a leader she is forced to make some tough decisions that lead to the death of hundreds of people.
- Heroes who don’t win and don’t save the day.
A boy who knows he’s the chosen one from the very beginning with all of these amazing powers and yet he can’t seem to do anything right. He tries to light a fire but instead burns down a tree, he tries to help with the groceries but with his super strength he breaks all the bags. And on a bigger scale, what if the hero does everything right? He has been trained from birth and is more than talented, but when it comes to defeating the villain, he fails. Yes, you run the risk of an unsatisfying ending but if you write it well enough it won’t be. There needs to be more risks taken in literature.
- Everyday heroes.
There are hundreds of everyday heroes already in our world. Doctors, firefighters, soldiers. Look outside your window and you will see them, it’s that teenager helping the old lady across the road, the stranger who holds the tram door open for you, the kindly man who let’s you know you dropped your change, that nice woman who took some food out to a homeless man. You don’t need superpowers or amazing talents to be a hero. Ordinary can be extraordinary and we need to embrace that.
- Heroines who can kick butt in heels and a dress, she doesn’t need to be in boy clothes.
Back in the 90s we had only one of these and her name was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure she didn’t always wear her heels and dress out, but when it came to prom she still took out the villains with her tiara in place. There isn’t as much of this in literature, the only example I can think of is Rebel Belle. We’d love to see more of this. Trip him over with their scarf, whack him with their bag, throw those shoes and break a damn window. We want to see a woman take advantage of those heels and use them against her attacker, stilettos make excellent weapons. There’s a lot of pressure on those heels with such a small surface area, make the most of it girl!
- Heroines who actually have functional armour. Less skimpy outfits, skirts and metal bikinis and please get rid of that boob plate armour, it can actually kill you.
This is more relevant to film and comics and games where it is a visual medium. Being practical when going into fights seems like a very sensible idea. If you want to be a hero/heroine are you going out there just to be eye candy or actually defeat the bad guy? More to the point is that it’s only an issue that the heroine has to face, her male counterpart tends to come equipped with the full kit while she’s in her underwear.
- More quirky and crazy heroes like Luna Lovegood.
Luna Lovegood has such a distinctive character that resonated with so many readers. From her personality they could picture the ridiculous lion’s hat she’d be wearing. It makes it easier for your readers to identify things associated with the character. These quirky characters are usually the supporting character or love interest (manic pixie dream girl), why are they never the hero?
- A hero that can play an instrument other than a piano.
It’s rare that characters can play an instrument, but when they do, it’s almost always the piano. For examples Edward Cullen from Twilight and Celaena Sardothien from Throne of Glass. Why can’t they play the violin, or the harp or the trombone? What about a family who each plays a different instrument and they have their own mini chamber orchestra? Where is the variety? Things as simple as an instrument can add a new level of depth to a character.
- Heroes with more developed relationships that aren’t about love.
The heroes need nurturing relationships, such as a father figure, as opposed to a romantic interest. An example of this would be the relationship between Sirius Black and Harry Potter. His relationship with Sirius has always been a beloved part of the series, this is particularly relevant when considered in contrast with his fleeting ‘romance’ with Cho Chang that is difficult to even consider as a ‘relationship’. Friendships are far more important than romances, Celaena’s relationship with Nehemia was always more endearing than that with Chaol and Dorian, both her love interests.
- Boy + Girl Character always = Romance.
In every story featuring a male and female protagonist, there is always the likelihood of a romance between them. Throne of Glass, Divergent, Alanna, the Hunger Games, just to name a few. But it’s the ones without romance that standout. It’s interesting that Harry’s relationship with Hermione didn’t develop into a romance. Though A Darker Shade of Magic does set up the possibility of a romance between Kell and Lila you don’t necessarily feel it. They feel like friends first and that makes their relationship so much stronger.
- Characters who actually have to do homework and study to be so smart; characters who actually do care about their studies and can’t just abandon school to go on an adventure.
As Muggleborns ourselves, we guarantee just like Hermione we’d be in the library studying for our O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s because, come on, it’s magic. Unfortunately not every character seems to get the memo. There isn’t a lot of time put into studying all too often (particularly in stories set in a school), the pressure of exams are thrown out the window. In some cases this can be very literal, such as Dumbledore declaring that exams are cancelled.
- We always need more diversity.
Fantasy and science fiction are particularly guilty of ignoring diversity. In fantasy you create the world and the rules within it. A petty excuse such as ‘that’s how it was back then’ hold absolutely no merit when you’re writing about a world that you created. As readers we know the Western/ European world all too well. We don’t read when we can look out the window, we read so we can be swept away to another world. Let’s immerse ourselves in the cultures from around the world, understand their different values, religions and customs. One of the most magical experiences as a reader, was being carried away into the sand and sun of the Arabian Peninsula when reading the Wrath and the Dawn.
Heroes we’d like to see less of:
- Girls who say/think ‘I’m not like other girls.’
Do you know which girls say ‘I’m not like other girls’, all girls. It’s not a rare saying and it’s just condescending to everyone else who doesn’t hold the same views and ideals as the protagonist. This is often used by characters trying to distance themselves from the pretty blonde cheerleaders with their feminine ideals, it’s a way of discounting femininity. As we tackled in our desire to see more girls who can kick arse in heels, you don’t have to discount femininity to be able to fight. That’s not the meaning of ‘strong female protagonist’. Just because someone is a pretty blonde cheerleader, doesn’t mean they don’t become the Chosen One, who has saved the world how many times (it’s 7 by the way).
- Heroes falling in love with the girl just because ‘she’s different’.
This is very true in YA romance novels. We already mentioned the manic pixie dream girl and she’s covering all YA contemporary (some of John Green’s work, like Paper Towns, actively attempts to deconstruct this trope). I think John Green says a lot about this trope when he says “Both Alaska Young (in LfA) and Margo Rothe Spiegelman (in Paper Towns) are imagined by the boys who adore them as manic pixie dream girls, but in both cases, this inability to see a young woman as fully human has disastrous consequences”. It’s important to remember that everyone is unique in their own way and that shouldn’t be a reason for ‘love’.
- Less of ‘brooding and mopey heroes’ it can be annoying and frustrating.
The first 100 or so pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix have often been very annoying and frustration to the reader, while it is representative of a teenager and it is related to his link with Voldemort, this isn’t always the story readers want. If your intended audience is a teenager you have to bear in mind they might be going through experiences like this themselves, reading through the same experience when there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel can be daunting, especially when reading is an escape from our own lives. Even J.K Rowling wished that she had edited the fifth book a little more.
- The dreaded ‘insta-love’.
We’re talking every single Disney Princess ever to exist. The instantly fall in love with the Prince upon first meeting him. It’s interesting to see how Frozen deconstructs this trope when everyone she tells is skeptical of a sudden union, to quote Elsa “you can’t marry someone you just met.” Most YA is littered with insta-love; such as Twilight, because all you need in a guy is for him to be broody and attractive. Even when ‘reasons’ are given for this instant love it often feels like a cop out, the reader is cheated out of seeing romance truly develop and it often means they are less invested into the relationship between characters.
So do you agree with our selection? Is there anything you would include in this list? Let us know in the comments below!
– Elizabeth and Nadia