Last summer I read agent, Donald Maass’ How to Write the Breakout Novel and completed the workbook for each of my YA manuscripts. To create characters, Maass recommends thinking about your own heroes and what qualities in a person you find heroic.
For many, many years, my hero was Jimmy Carter. Whenever those questions would arise about which person, living or dead, you’d want to share a meal with, I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t need to think about it.
Until Carter’s anti-Semitic comments were published. Then I was devastated. I was disillusioned. To this day when I’m asked who my hero is, I have no answer. Instead, I have heroes who are closer to home: my husband, who would do anything for our family – and does on a regular basis – and who never lets me doubt my abilities or our family’s security; my maternal grandmother, who spent most of her post-retirement time volunteering for three different organizations despite her own economic situation.
However, my former idolizing of Jimmy Carter is instructive. What I appreciated about our former president is what he had done for other peoples of the world. Apparently, to me a hero is someone who has convictions, lives by those convictions (or pretends to) and attempts to make the world a better place for all. Maass recommends thinking about what we consider heroic qualities and giving some of those qualities to our main character.
This means that each writer’s main character will include a bit of that writer’s ideals. Each writer’s main character will be different from anyone else’s, even if that main character fits an archetype.
For example, I wanted Sophie to be a selfish, self-absorbed, entitled, ignorant about the world American teen of the 21st century. Before you click the X at the top of your screen, let me assure you that I don’t think all American teens are selfish, self-absorbed, entitled and ignorant about the world. But I do think those are trends in our society. And I wanted Sophie to learn that there is injustice in the world, and to become passionate about something outside herself.
Hopefully I have accomplished that and others will agree.
In the meantime, what qualities do you find heroic? Who are your heroes? How would you give heroic qualities to your characters (or, for non-writers, how would you teach those heroic qualities to your children)?