Welcome to the first Monthly Writing Memo! So for my own blog, Author the World, I’ve been thinking about doing a post about villains. As those of you who have been following know, I’ve been studying horror as I work on my horror film script. During this process, I’ve been wondering about the different types of villains, which in turn made me wonder about the different types of heroes in stories. So for this Month’s Writing Memo, I thought I’d do a post about heroes, and then later this week my post on villains will be up on Author the World.
In general, I think all heroes can really be broken down into a few main types, and every hero in a story usually falls into one of them. The way I’ve divided them up is by what motivates them rather than what they specifically do, or how they go about being a hero.
- The Savior –
The Savior is someone who actively tries to be a hero. They want to help people and save the day, so they seek out ways they can do this. The most obvious example of this is many superhero stories where characters like Superman or Spiderman actively seek out those in danger to help them. These characters do it solely because they want to help people and be a hero. Some want recognition, some want the satisfaction of saving people, but either way the thing that drives them is the need to be the hero. It’s a compulsion almost, and when they don’t just help when they see someone in danger, they actively seek the danger (and the victims) out.
- The Soldier –
The Soldier is similar to the Savior in that they feel the desire to help people, but the soldier does it out of a sense of duty and honor. That’s not to say they don’t have other motivations as well, but this character type is driven by the sense that it is their responsibility to help people, and they must take action. I think if you look at the movie “Die Hard” you’ll see John McClane fits into this character type. Yeah, he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he is also a police officer and when he sees the problem he feels it is his duty to take action. Many of these character types are those military or police type characters, or have other positions that are focused on helping people in some way. Some other example jobs that a character can have to fit this role include teacher, doctor, or even counselor/therapist.
The goal of this character is to do their “job” and help people because they think it is their responsibility and duty. Maybe it can cross over into the Savior role of feeling driven to help people, but the slight distinction is where the Savior would say “I helped because they were in trouble,” the Soldier would say “I helped because it was my job/responsibility to help.”
- The Mercenary –
The Mercenary Hero doesn’t necessarily have to be getting paid, though some form of payment is generally the motivation for them to be the hero. They are a hero because they get something out of it. An example of this is are characters like Nicholas Cage’s character in National Treasure. That is a personal mission for him and he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it for largely selfish reasons—he desperately wants the truth and the excitement of discovering the treasure.
The Mercenary is driven by what he/she personally gets out of being the hero. They can be paid to do the job, they can be on a personal mission of love or vengeance or profit, but whatever it is they are being the hero because it serves them, not because they want to serve the people they are saving.
- The Reluctant Hero –
The Reluctant Hero is one of my favorite types of heroes to write because they don’t try to be perfect, and often try to extricate themselves from the drama, but they morally feel the urge to help when they see a situation. Unlike the Savior they won’t seek out the conflict, and unlike the Mercenary they don’t want anything for themselves, but similarly to the Soldier they feel a sense of duty.
The Reluctant Hero is someone who doesn’t want to be a hero, and they aren’t doing it because it’s their job like the Soldier. They are a person who just happens to be in the wrong place at the right time, and they morally can’t bring themselves to turn away from those in need. If asked why they helped, they would respond “I couldn’t turn my back on it, and it was the right thing to do.” They don’t feel like it’s their duty, they just feel like they were the only one there at the time who could do it, so they did.
I think the one thing that is often interesting about the Reluctant Hero is that, if someone else was around who could successfully do the saving, the Reluctant Hero would let them, but often they are put in situations where either they have to try, or all is lost.
- The Anti-Hero –
The final type of hero isn’t quite a hero at all – the Anti-Hero. The Anti-Hero is not someone who is trying to help anyone, and they’re most often not a good person. There are slight varying definitions of this, but in my opinion, the Anti-Hero is a character who ultimately has their own larger goal, but they do kind, heroic things along the way in pursuit of their goal. I think this falls into a lot of gangster characters who do wonderful things for the “little people” but who aren’t really good characters at all, and whose larger goals are really something quite unhero-like.
Another version of the Anti-Hero is someone who does dark, violent things in order to achieve something good. This kind of character is like Batman at times (The Dark Knight is the obvious example). Batman kills and commits crimes in order to make Gotham a better place, going from loved hero to wanted criminal.
Either way, the main thing about the Anti-hero is that they don’t follow the same rules as the normal hero, and that they will often commit villain-like acts in the pursuit of their goal. These sorts of acts will stand in stark contrast with the heroic elements, and it will make the audience question whether the character is hero or villain.
I’m sure there are some more minor variations of heroes, but in general, I think most heroes in stories can be divided up into one of the five categories above. If you aren’t sure about which your character is, ask yourself what motivates them to be a hero? What motivates them to commit heroic acts? If you have that answer, you should be able to pinpoint what type of hero they are.
This week I had the pleasure of watching the movie, Dead Pool. (Not the one with Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, the 2016 one about the Marvel Comic character.) This movie was so much what I expected, but also so much which I didn’t expect. In Dead Pool, Marvel has given us an anti-hero we can’t help but stand behind.
Right away, in the first scene we learn that Dead Pool, aka Wade Wilson, has an axe to grind against someone named Francis. The rest of the first half of the movie is spent giving us the backstory, so we understand the reason that axe is so sharp. Our villain, Francis, aka Ajax, not only tortures Wade in some extremely cruel and unusual ways, but in essence, he steals his life from him, forcing him to mutate in ways that make it so he can never go back. Believing that he’s lost the one thing that means the most to him, his super-sexy girlfriend, Vanessa, (and she’s not even a super hero, she’s just human), Wade takes on the identity of Dead Pool and will stop at nothing to make Francis cough up the cure.
In the movie description, Dead Pool is described as coming out of the experiment with “a ‘dark, twisted’ sense of humor, but I maintain the sense of humor was there in Wade, an ingrained part of him that even mutation couldn’t change. As we get to know Wade through flashbacks, it’s apparent that he is the perfect anti-hero, not real likeable, an ex-special forces killing machine turned mercenary. But, we also see that he has redeeming qualities through his obvious love for Vanessa and his ultimate, unselfish sacrifice, walking out of her life rather than burden her with his terminal cancer. Even though he’s not the most likeable guy, it’s hard not to empathize with him.
Okay, so his character is snarky. This may or may not be a redeeming quality. He says whatever is on his mind, prompting many chuckles from viewers, he says the things average folks might want to say, and behaves in ways which are undesirable. But the guy is honest and straight forward, in a smarmy kind of way. He makes it clear that he’s no hero and he is not out to help anyone but himself, in his quest to get Vanessa, and his life, back. You’ve got to give him credit, even if he is kind of a jerk at times. One more reason why he is the perfect anti-hero.
In fact, his character reminds me a lot of the characters Jim Carey plays, especially in the way he talks incessantly and often doesn’t think about the possible consequences before opening his mouth, or his totally outrageous behaviors. The trait certainly ticks off Francis/Ajax, creating a tension between the two adversaries, which leads to Francis/Ajax pushing harder to cause Wade’s mutation. So, in fact, Wade brings his circumstances down upon himself. In fact, that may be Wade’s fatal flaw, but he doesn’t seem to ever learn when to keep his trap shut. But then, that could be because for an immortal, a flaw really can’t be fatal.
Wade/Dead Pool may not be the most likeable character, but Francis/Ajax, the villainous character who forced the mutation on him, is even more unlikeable. In fact, it’s easy to actively dislike Francis with his super-fast reflexes and total inability to feel anything, making him a truly bad guy, and providing us with yet another reason to root for Dead Pool. No doubt that’s why Francis/Ajax is the villain. His lack of feeling also makes him the perfect adversary for Dead Pool, who heals super-fast, but feels the all pain, both physical and emotional. They balance each other out.
I’m not usually a big fan of digital imaging. I think most of it comes off looking pretty fakey. However, knowing Dead Pool came from the world of comics, I think I expected it to not be realistic and the digital imagery works for me. Comic book characters are expected to do things that seem totally unreal. They have super powers that allow them to do these outrageous things.
Which brings us to the discussion of Dead Pool’s super powers. I’m not sure exactly how his mutation has affected him or amazing feats he is able to perform beyond miraculous healing, accelerated movements and super human strength. Although they are alluded to, they are not spelled out for us. He doesn’t breathe flames or shoot webbing to swing from building on. Apparently, he puts his red tights on one leg at a time, like the rest of us, (no phone booth transformations for this guy). He uses weapons to defeat his adversaries and feels pain when he’s injured, just like a regular Joe. And he knows his limitations, too, calling on the help of Colossus and Nagasonic Teenage Warhead when the going gets tough and Vanessa’s life is on the line.
In many ways, Dead Pool was your basic super hero movie. Guys with super powers get out there and punch the crap out of one another. On the other hand, it wasn’t what I expected in a super hero at all. Dead Pool doesn’t save the world, or even his city, and his motivations are selfish. I think this movie was well written with interesting and colorful characters who are full of surprises, is filled with action, and is very entertaining. I give Dead Pool four quills.