A hero needs to be imperfect.
For one thing, how many absolutely perfect people do you know? (No, you can’t count people you have just fallen in love with. Get back to me in a year.)
We all know that there are precious few saints walking among us. So a character who is perfect just isn’t going to seem real. Nor is he a character with whom the reader can identify.
That’s why movie hero Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes and has issues with his father, it’s why Superman can’t deal with Kryptonite, and it’s why Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones’s Diary is – well, Bridget is a mass of imperfections – and that’s exactly why we love her (and what drives her story).
And Story is the other reason a hero needs imperfections.
- If a hero is perfect, there is no suspense. We know he is going to win.
- A hero’s weaknesses can spark decisions and actions that keep the story moving in an interesting direction.
So an author needs to create heroes with weaknesses and flaws.
In some stories – a hero can be Flawed Lite, as with Indiana Jones’s fear of snakes. In other stories the flaws are a large part of who the hero is, as with Bridget Jones – or with Adrian Monk in the detective series Monk. While Monk is a brilliant detective, he also suffers from OCD, and seems to be afraid of everything.
And remember: we need to show versus tell a reader about our hero’s flaws – or positive traits.
So, we won’t say hero is daring or thoughtful. We’ll show him leading a charge in combat, or buying flowers for his administrative assistant.
Same with flaws: we won’t just say a hero can be insensitive or that he’s rash. We’ll show him forgetting his girlfriend’s birthday, or drunkenly signing up for a skydive or a bungee jump.
One caveat: don’t saddle your hero with unforgiveable flaws. A “hero” who steals candy from babies or money from the church till is crossing the hero line. He isn’t “flawed” in a human, understandable way. He is demonstrating a mean, amoral streak that takes him out of hero territory. (You will need to use your authorial judgment in deciding on your hero’s shortcomings.)
So, with the above caveat in mind, add an imperfection or two to the heroic paragon who leads the action of your novel, and he becomes more real, likable – and compelling.