April 17, 2018

The Haunted Hero

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

A good protagonist has issues. No matter how strong and resilient they may be, a solid hero comes with baggage.

When we speak of emotional baggage we generally think of it negatively. For the storyteller, however, it's a favorite device to give the hero depth. The basic plot will throw challenges their way, but it's the inner conflict they themselves bring to the story that can create some of the most intriguing and relatable tension.

In a popular film that's out right now (don't worry, I don't do spoilers), a girl blames herself for a family member's death. Because we observe the incident, it barely needs elaboration. Hardly anything is said of it, but we understand innately what her thought process must be as future dangers present themselves.

The sort of things that haunt our hero can involve any brand of turmoil: death, guilt, abandonment, shame, rejection, you name it. The cause of their self-torture may take place within the action of the story itself, of it may be expressed in a reveal after much of the story has taken place. The latter method is a handy way to pique the reader's curiosity if they are given clues along the way suggesting there is more to the hero than meets the eye. Ideally, it will relate in some way to the plot itself so that they can gain some victory over it as part of their ultimate arc.

Baggage is not only good for the protagonist, but it makes for a more fascinating antagonist as well. Most of us know that Batman wouldn't have become a caped crusader had it not been for a tragedy in his youth. But let's not forget that The Joker also has a troubled past that he considers to be a valid excuse for his mayhem.

Is baggage always bad? Not necessarily. Writer Hope Alcocer shares this brilliant explanation: "Behind every dancer there's someone that broke her, a song that moved her, a moment that inspired her, and a dance floor that healed her." The emotional weight that we lug around makes us who we are for all of life's ups and downs.

Before our heroes embark on whatever quest we send them on, the trip is certain to be more interesting if we remember to pack some believable baggage for their hero's journey.

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