07 June 2010


May 27th thru May 31st saw the 34th anniversary of WisCon, the World’s Leading Feminist Science Fiction Convention in Madison, Wisconsin. I had a blast! There are so many things to touch on that I’m forced to limit myself to a single panel at a time for inspiration over the course of the next few blog posts. Rather than rehashing the panels I’d like to throw out elements from them and continue the discussion here. The first panel up for discussion is Defining Heroism.

I almost missed this panel finding it’s location at the last minute and I’m surely glad I did. At it’s heart were two questions. What makes a hero? Is heroism determined externally or internally? We went thru several context and examples, agreeing that heroism is definitely determined externally by the reader/audience and that not every protagonist is necessarily a hero simply by being the protagonist. In romance especially I think this is forgotten as the term “hero of the story” is used as interchangeable with protagonist and main character. That said, we still seem to always want the protag to be that hero for us, changing and growing and saving the day by the last page. So then again, what’s a hero?

I offered that a hero is someone who when faced with a choice chooses the better option. Again, chooses the better option, because sometimes there simply is no good choice. But there must always be a choice. There is a difference between a heroic circumstance and a hero.

Think about the plane that was landed on the Hudson. Everyone speaks to how captain Sully “heroically landed the plane”, but this inaccurate. He didn’t have a choice in safely landing the plane, if he failed he died along with everyone else, so landing the plane was highly impressive and skilled but not heroic. When he then made sure all of his passengers got out on the wing, that no one was left behind and he chose to be the last one out rather than the first THEN captain Sully became a hero rather than the center of a heroic circumstance.

Often the gestures are not so grand as saving several lives. Sometimes the hero simply goes above and beyond for a single person, affecting a single life in a way that will touch every other life around them. Whether saving the world or simply learning to accept the love offered, a hero decides to step up and to the thing that must be done regardless of their personal feelings and position on the matter. The selfless act, even when it’s the only one that can be observed, is the act of the hero.

For my fellow writers, are all of your protagonists heroes? How do you determine if they are the hero? Have you ever purposely written one that was not the hero? Would you want to?

For the readers, are the heroes in you favorite stories clearly defined? Are there any books, shows or movies where you would argue if the protagonist is actually the hero? What is the one thing you need to see in your hero to make them a hero?

For both: Do you differentiate between hero and heroine as far as the criteria? Does the heroine just need to show up? Is “quiet heroism” more the domain of heroines than heroes? And in urban fantasy which is heavy on female pov, does she need to save the world to be on par with the boys?

Is That A Cape Or Are You Just Happy To See Me Ramble…Done



Jean Marie Ward said...

Glad you had such a good time at WisCon, Xakara. :-)
For me, heroes are nice, but not necessary. I'm perverse that way. Of course, that particular perversity is almost required if you write comedy.

Carolan Ivey said...

I, for one, admire the everyday, quiet hero, whether male or female. I mean, it's fun to read the shining-white-knight-dashing-in-on-a-silver-spaceship-with-guns-blazing hero. He or she has their place.

But give me the person who makes the better choice (great choice of words, btw) when no one else is looking. That's the one that captures my heart every time. :)