Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Hero Project #14: So Why Categorize?

So I invented a bunch of categories for heroes and then spent a lot of time nit-picking and second-guessing my definitions, but what’s the point? Are movies more fun when you pigeonhole the hero into a certain category? Not really. But I do think it can be a useful tool, whether for creating your own heroes or evaluating the work of others. First and foremost, it should remind us that not every “rule” for heroes can or should apply to each particular hero. Some heroes suffer a lot, some hardly at all. Some are proven wrong, some are proven right. Some start from scratch, others show what they know. In order to know which rules apply to which hero, it helps to figure out which type they are.

Not that it will make the writer’s job any easier-- In fact, defining your hero makes for new challenges. Each type of hero has different danger zones: specific issues that arise based on how where your hero’s coming from. I’ve already mentioned some of the things you have to watch out for in the last two categories, but what about challenges that arise in some of the other categories? Like a modern-day Kenny Loggins, I’m gonna take you right into the danger zone.

Take, for instance, the Pro at Work. The good news is that choosing this category instantly takes a lot of work off your plate. It requires a lot fewer plot machinations to convince your hero to tackle a problem: they do this every day. It’s their job, they’re on their home turf, and they’re well-qualified. So instead of spending your intro contriving a reason for them to get into trouble, you need to spend that time establishing how good they are, while also implying what tensions they have that will be laid bare by this new problem.

But there are also big challenge when writing about a Pro at Work: like what’s so special about today? They do this every day, so what makes this particular problem a big deal? Why would this situation change them? Do they have to change? Can you make the story significant to the audience even if this particular problem isn’t a big deal to the hero? TV writers have to accept that last challenge all the time: not every week can provide a “very special episode” for the hero! (Every case House handles has to be important to us, even if it’s not important to him.) But in most movies, the problem is supposed to be a big deal. Here are some possible answers to this challenge, but each one is a potential cliché: this time they have something personal at risk, or this is the time they cross the line, or the time that makes them realize that they’ve gotten too old for this.

Generally speaking, in order to make a Pro at Work’s problem interesting, you need a great villain, one worthy of your hero’s skills. This isn’t the case if your hero is a rookie. For a rookie, every challenge is a big deal, and an everyday villain can still provide them with a huge problem. Either way, it’s good to know what type of hero you’re writing about so that you can know which danger zones you’re stepping into.

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