Heroing For The Rest Of Us
In the favored genres here, particularly with our tendency to prefer the more old-fashioned kind of SF and Fantasy (where men were real men, women were real women, and little green men from Mars were real little green men from Mars… You know the drill), the non-villainous side of the cast list has a tendency to get a little bit larger than life.
There’s this creeping tendency to gift the hero… protagonist with extra powers, extra smarts, extra good looks and the like. There’s a definite trend towards extra muscularity in the males and gravity-defying firmness of the front-mounted weapon emplacements in the females, too.
But most folks aren’t like that. We’re ordinary, and it gets tiring – and tiresome – to see nothing but the overpowered all the time (that’s not to say that superhero tales can’t be fun or that there’s no place for the noble hero who’s a paragon of paragons. Just that it’s a bit boring if that’s the only type of hero floating around).
I’ve always had a bit of a fondness for the rogue and trickster types. There’s a lot of fun to be had in sharing head-space with a character who charms their way out of potentially lethal situations and wins through unusual and clever means rather than the more traditional victory (these have also led to some of the most hilarious books I’ve read – as Dave knows because I’ve cursed him a few times for something that had me laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe – for a good free starting point, try Save the Dragons complete with hero who is more of a long skinny streak of misery who thinks his way out of trouble – and usually into even more trouble).
Pratchett’s Rincewind has his moments, although there are limits to how far one can take a plot based on the main character running away – but he certainly shows a fair amount of trickery mixed in with the cowardice when he’s stuck in the malodorous deposits.
The key thing is to refrain from making the protagonist too powerful. Doing that forces you to keep coming up with more powerful antagonists to the point where you wind up escalating from personal crises all the way to saving the universe just to keep the protagonist on his/her toes. That or make the protagonist sufficiently dumb that all the problems are actually caused by said protagonist’s mistakes.
It’s also helpful to have other people check what’s happening. I’ve read drafts of works where the alleged protagonist was so noxious that the only thing distinguishing him from a seriously evil antagonist was the author’s insistence that the protagonist was the good guy. I sincerely hope the author responsible actually listened to criticism and changed things, because there’s a much larger market for mostly-ordinary decent types as protagonists than there is for amoral nutcases whose only distinction from the antagonist is the side they’re on.
I got distracted somewhere there, and my brain is currently too scattered to find it again, so I shall sign off and see what the comments bring on the less “uber-heroic” protagonist types.