Top Seven Essential Character Qualities of a HeroNov 24, 2022
I have been saying for some time that a key hallmark of writing from a Christian worldview ought to be main characters who have all the makings of a hero. Instead of assigning to our characters the types of flaws that currently dominate the anti-hero archetype in secular culture, our protagonists ought to be comprised of different stuff. This different “stuffness” would necessarily preclude our characters from having certain characteristics for their “fatal flaw.” Not to say that they wouldn’t have flaws. They would. But the types of flaws that we would assign to them would differ greatly if only we understood what sorts of characteristics were automatically out of bounds from the start.
To that end, I’ve come up with a list of what I see as the top seven heroic qualities that our main characters ought to embody, if not at the beginning of the story, then certainly by the end. These are in no particular order or hierarchy, though they do seem “connected” to one another. What I mean is that while I’m sure it’s possible to incorporate one or more of these qualities by themselves, my strong advice is that we look at them more wholistically as a group of characteristics that must all be present to varying degrees for that character to be truly heroic. If one of these is missing, the heroic nature of the character overall is compromised. Thus, any character who’s being touted as potentially heroic must already possess these qualities to truly qualify as such. Take one quality away and it undermines the character’s heroism. That said, some of these may be weaker at the start, and some stronger, with the weaker parts gaining strength over the course of the story, which would play into the character’s overall arc.
This list may not be definitive. There may be other qualities that we’ll come to see as being necessary for a hero-in-the-making. But as of today, this list represents my best distillation of the types of qualities that potentially heroic characters ought to possess. As it stands, this list seems sufficient, i.e. all that are necessary for a hero in the making. Hopefully, it will give you insight into what you can do with your own main character. Or, you can use it to analyze the types of heroes being proffered to us in film and television. Whether you're a writer or just a consumer of culture, we can't allow ourselves to simply become passive recipients of culture. Instead, we ought to learn how to think critically about the types of entertainment we're taking in. May this list serve as a tool or measuring rod to help you determine the true heroes from those who are false.
TOP SEVEN HEROIC QUALITIES
- SELFLESS – The number one quality of any hero is that they're selfless. This means they put the needs of others before themselves. They care about people. They sacrifice their own wants, desires, and needs for the good of those around them and will even lay down their lives if necessary. I often see main characters whose goals are intrinsically selfish. i.e. The main character is the only one who will gain. This makes the character self-indulgent and petty. Heroes lay down everything for the sake of others, even healthy desires like romantic love, or legitimate dreams, like achieving some personal goal solely for their own enjoyment. A true hero must give these things up or pursue them for the benefit of others, not just self. Other words: unselfish, self-sacrificial, altruistic, humble, caring, other-centric.
- NOBLE – Heroic characters are driven by noble principles. They think rightly about what matters. They believe in something bigger than themselves. They aspire to live up to their highest ideals and are noble in their actions. They believe in noble ideals that are worthy to fight for, and fight for them they must. Sometimes they can get confused by their own motives. i.e., Are they really being honorable or just stubborn? Even if they get it wrong, they strive to live up to the right ideals. Other words: principled, virtuous, righteous, upright motives, moral, honorable.
- MORAL – Heroic characters have a strong moral compass. They aren't confused about right and wrong. They aren't morally ambiguous. They know the difference between good and evil and strive to do the right thing. This doesn't mean they always succeed, but at their core, they are driven by an innate sense of justice. Usually, if they cross the line, it's because justice has been so grossly violated that they want to set things right. They'll sometimes err by taking matters into their own hands, which means they’ll need to see the error of their ways and repent before they can be allowed to win. Other words: good, honorable, decent, honest, just.
- RESPONSIBLE – Heroes are those who feel compelled to act. They believe it's up to them to do something about whatever it is that’s going on. They take responsibility for more than is theirs by assignment. It falls to them to right some wrong. This also makes them feel guilty for things they had no power over, which makes for compelling drama. Other words: action-oriented, driven, liable, duty-bound, guilty, accountable, plagued.
- IDEALISTIC – Heroic characters are idealistic, not in the naive sense, but in the sense that they believe that some things are worth fighting for. In a hopeless and nihilistic world, they're idealistic because they have hope in something bigger. They believe their actions matter, that it’s possible for them to make a difference and so they must try. They believe it’s worth it to stand up against evil for the sake of righteousness even if they lose, even at the cost of their own lives. Never give up, never surrender. They must fight, they must fight, they must fight. And they must win or die trying. Other words: uncompromising, fervent, unwavering, hopeful, surrendered to that which is right.
- COURAGEOUS – Above all else, heroes must act. Even in the face of astronomical and hopeless odds, they must find the courage to take action. Being courageous doesn't mean that they aren't afraid. They may even be terrified, but they must act anyway, and their actions must be radical. Half measures will not suffice. They’re all in, fully committed, driven to do what's right. By the end of the story, you can never have a hero turn and run away from a righteous battle or behave in a cowardly fashion. By then story’s end, their courage must be set. Other words: brave, committed, resolute, determined, steadfast, unyielding.
- REPENTANT – For all their right motives, heroes will inevitably get some things wrong. They'll be mistaken about someone else's heart, or about the right course of action. They'll make mistakes and cause terrible harm to others as a result. The key is, when this happens, the moment they become aware of their shortcoming, they must repent. When they do wrong, they recognize it and feel sorry for it, and immediately have a change of heart. They allow themselves to be corrected, which is seen in the action that follows. Because true repentance is demonstrated by the immediate steps they take to rectify the situation. They must make things right. As soon as they see the truth, they immediately make amends or take other corrective measures to right the wrong they’ve done. Other words: humble, penitent, contrite, remorseful, conscience-stricken, demonstrated by actions.