The problem with heroes is that sometimes they are just too good to be true. When I was writing Daniel Grant in Keeping Secrets, I didn’t want him to have superpowers; to be able to win a fist fight with three henchmen whilst sporting a bullet wound and a dislocated shoulder. Real heroes are not like that. Unless you are writing a fantasy novel, they are just normal people who are capable of extraordinary acts in the name of justice, fairness or in protection of someone else.
For me a hero is a person you really want to root for, to win in the face of adversity and one who you would consider to be brave and selfless. I am not sure I like the current trend for the darker heroes that have some major flaw in their personality or lack humanity. Call me old fashioned but I like a good guy who is really good.
The world we live in has enough darkness and I wanted to revive the light with my heroes. Daniel is no goody-two-shoes. Fundamentally, he is a decent man with strong values and ethics and a clear sense of right and wrong. The conflict in my book comes from the fact that the very organisation he works for, that is supposed to protect the security of the nation, sometimes reverts to unethical ways of doing that. He constantly challenges whether the end always justifies the means.
I was concerned that this might make him a boring hero, two dimensional and without any clear characteristics that would endear him to the reader. When I broke it down, I realised that I had used a set of criteria to develop him as a character.
1. He is an interesting person; he has quite a complex personality with a mixture of traits. Daniel is a loner with a quick, dry sense of humour. He is well educated but able to look after himself (physically), a great strategic thinker, proactive and goal oriented. He thinks first before acting and has a strong and accurate gut instinct. He has a strong sense of duty and responsibility, he is principled, ethical and passionate about doing the right thing. Daniel never hesitates to take the lead and that engenders great loyalty from his people. This complexity gave enough room to write different reactions to situations that arise in the story.
2. He has an emerging backstory; his upbringing set out the moral framework that he operates from and that is what makes him a decent person. His bravery, courage and drive come from a need to protect others that cannot do that for themselves.
3. He has likeability; he is not ego driven in any way. In fact, he wouldn’t see the lengths he goes to as anything other than normal. To him it is just the right thing to do.
4. He overcomes adversity; he needs conflict to bring out his traits in the story. He is conflicted by his respect for the ex-agents (for their sacrifice and service) and the bureaucracy that results in civil servants placing a monetary value on their existence. The paradox is that he operates in a rule driven world but he is a rule breaker and he will do questionable things if the cause justifies it.
5. What makes him stand out; his normalness! He is not gung-hoe when fighting the bad guys. He does it through logic, reason and using the truth to expose wrongdoing.
If Daniel Grant could be explained using a fable it would be;
A woman walking along the beach saw thousands of starfish that had been washed up after a great storm. They were dying and needed to be returned to the water to survive. The man was picking them up and throwing back into the waves, one by one. The woman approached him and said “Why are you bothering, you will never save them all, there are too many?” The man continued to pick them up and throw them back into the sea saying, “I can make a difference to this one, and this one, and this one. If you helped we could be even more effective.”
With the current madness we are living through; conflict, pandemic, economic uncertainty, fake news, I think it is time for literary heroes that are ordinary people capable of doing extraordinary things and for no other reason that it is the RIGHT THING TO DO! Characters that inspire us to be better and
to do great things in the name of others. There has never been a time in recent memory when we needed characters like this more. They have the power to inspire us, to fill us with courage, hope and determination. Hopefully they show us that a necessary quality of a modern hero is normalness.