I'm listing my 10 all-time favorite hero tropes just for you! Leila, the main character of my dark fantasy romance novel The Savior's Sister, is a heroine in her own right. She battles grave dangers and fights the good fight for what she believes is right, and I think it's time I talk about what I believe is right . . . when writing heroes. Pull up a seat and get ready for my 10 all-time favorite hero tropes in fiction!
Disclaimer: this topic is in regard to heroes, heroines, and every gender in between. However, I am going to be referencing heroes throughout the entirety of this post for the sake of keeping shit simple. Let's get to it!
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Number 1: Rich Friend, Poor Friend
I'm listing this first because this is my ultimate, long-standing favorite hero trope of all time. It also happens to be the most niche, and I'm not sorry! My life becomes full and worth living when the hero is poor and their friend is wealthy, but somehow still manages to be jealous of said hero.
Why? Because the hero knows how to appreciate life! They've had to work for everything they have, so they understand respect and gratitude. Rich friend has never had any struggles, so their life is empty and meaningless.
Lately, there's been a switch in fiction where the rich, arrogant character becomes the hero and I don't like that shit. Take us back to when working for accomplishments mattered! When the hero was humble and tenacious.
There's a scene in The Count of Monte Cristo–one of my favorite movies growing up–where the poor, humble Edmond Dantes is betrayed by his wealthy, established friend Fernand. And he asks Fernand, “Why?”
Fernand says, and I quote, “Because you're the son of a clerk, and I am not supposed to want to be you.”
This is what I came here for! All I want to see are the moral implications of how a life of privilege can corrupt not only your ethical code, but also your mental health and outlook. Is that too much to ask?
Number 2: The Vulnerable Action Hero
There is absolutely nothing exciting about a hero who has no weaknesses. Show me someone who is real, raw, and vulnerable and you have my attention. I want to see a hero who, when they get shot, actually has to go to the hospital and recover. I want a hero who fights the bad guys, then suffers from PTSD. I want a hero who struggles with the fact that they've killed someone, even if it was in self-defense or for the greater good. And most importantly, I want a hero who actually has to struggle when fighting the bad guy. Nothing about the hero's journey is interesting if there's no challenge. Give me a vulnerable, relatable hero, or don't give me the book at all, 'cause I won't like it.
Number 3: The Almost
The best literary climax, especially in heroic adventure novels, involves an “almost.” The character almost loses. They almost fail. They almost die.
This is my absolute favorite part of the climax, not because I'm a sadist. (Okay, maybe a little bit because I'm a sadist.) It's because it's so gratifying to see the hero come back from such a low point!
We all want the encouraging story of seeing a character fall flat on their ass, coming so close to failure, and then somehow still defying the odds! This is inspiring! It's uplifting to pretty much anyone who's struggling with anything in their life. Plus from a literary standpoint, it makes the win feel justly earned. The hero had to fight for this win! They almost lost their life in the process, and that's what makes the ultimate takedown all the more satisfying.
Number 4: Cue the Awkward
I am so sick of heroes who are perfect at the art of seduction. So they get to be a lethal weapon and a fuck factory? Unfair! I'm calling the police.
I find the juxtaposition between being able to say, easily murder a band of assassins versus tell your crush that you like them, extremely endearing. For one, it humanizes the character! They are not endlessly indestructible. They're a real person. Two, it's very obnoxious for a character to be good at all things, seduction included. I think it's sweet to see them fumble with something so many people struggle with. It takes a character with an uncommon strength like heroism and makes them instantly relatable.
Number 5: Personality
This isn't even a trope, it's just a basic request. A plead, if you will. Can we have more heroes with personality? I don't think that's too much to ask. I'm really sick of the brooding, gravelly voiced, monotone, one note hero. You can claim they have emotions, but that note hasn't reached their facial expression or tone of voice.
I enjoy heroes that, you know, are people with feelings and stuff. Give me a hero who's funny or awkward or really angry. Give me a hero with some kind of personality. I'm tired of the Batman voice and the same tired backstory. Speaking of backstory...
Number 6: The Tragic Backstory
Unless it involves a dead wife, ’cause you neckbeards have done that one to death. I talked in the past about how I don't always enjoy a villain who has a tragic backstory. Give me a hero with a tragic backstory, however, and I'm intrigued.
Psychologically speaking, there have been links between trauma and struggle and the increased development of empathy, so it makes more sense for your hero to have had some kind of tragedy in their past. People hate orphan characters, but I like ’em. There are few tragedies worse than losing both of your parents. So long as you're not fridging a woman, give me a sad, sad story and your hero will have my support.
Number 7: Gray Characters
I am extremely picky about this point. There are certain evil actions that are completely unforgivable in my eyes. For example, adultery or sexual assault. Murder, for some reason, isn't on that list.
My point is, I do enjoy a hero who isn't a beaming light of goodness. Again, I'm particular. I would like for them to be a good person. I'd just like for there to be some bad in the mix. Some mistakes. Some questionable decisions. Maybe some typically evil actions where you kinda get where they're coming from so you look the other way.
“Whoops, didn't see that murder. Didn't happen!”
I enjoy this shit because it makes the character a lot more layered and interesting. It also creates more room for struggle and hardship, and as we already covered, I do enjoy a struggle. I'm not sorry.
Number 8: The Unchosen One
I love a good underdog, but there's a particular underdog that really gets me going. It's not enough that the character is overlooked, they're specifically seen as “not cut out for” whatever they're doing. It's kinda like Captain America. He's so unqualified that they won't even let him enlist in the military, and this is back when standards were pretty damn low.
This trope is even more satisfying when there is some other character who is seen as “the chosen one,” or supremely favored. Not only is our hero not supposed to be here, there's some other character who's already been slated as the hero. Ain't that a bitch?
I love this trope because it produces way more obstacles for the hero to overcome! They have a fake hero to dethrone. They have to gain the support of a world that's completely turned its back on them. This storyline is inspiring! I think a lot of us can relate to being told we can't do something or that we're not cut out for something, so this storyline is really satisfying to read.
Number 9: Bring On the Pain!
I just want the hero to suffer! Is that so wrong? If the hero doesn't have some kind of emotional or mental breakdown by the end of the story, if they don't hold the dead body of someone they love and scream, “Why, God? Why?” to the heavens, if they're not dripping in blood while they walk away from a battlefield while explosions resound behind them, are they even a real hero? I don't think so. Make them hurt, or I don't care.
Number 10: Happily Ever After
If you make me sit through all that heroism and courage and sacrifice, and then the hero doesn’t save the day or end up with the love of their life, I will light your face on fire! Okay, I won't do that, but I will leave a very critical review!
I am not here to read about heroes with tragic endings. That is not a hero story, it's a tragedy. Label it appropriately so I don't get tricked and conned and gooped.
I just want all that hard work to be worth it, specifically in regard to romance! Just let the couple get together and enjoy each other's private parts. If they're into that, of course. If not, that's fine, because I love and respect my OTP. Just let them be happy, damn it!
So that's all I've got for you today!
These are some of my personal favorite hero tropes of all time. They check all the epic, badass boxes and I am here for it.
What are your favorite hero tropes? Let me know in the comments below!
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