A way with worlds: 20 - Yin and Yang: The Deadly Hero
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 1
Time for another "Yin and Yang," this time
looking at the "violent hero" archetype/dichotomy. IE,
the idea that somehow a character can be both heroic and violent
and there's no potential conflict.
This is a difficult
dichotomy to study as popular media often glosses it over. We've
got explosions, actions, ki blasts, hordes of dead extras, and so
forth, and the person leaving such destruction in their wake is
usually the hero. It's a popular idea - the hero can be as
violent as he wants, no problem.
Unfortunately, when you
examine it, this brings in loads of trouble for good continuity.
So, let's dive in.
THE CRUX OF THE
What's the problem? The good guy kicks backside and wins, end of
story, right? That's how it works, case closed.
If you're going to write a
realistic continuity, a consistent continuity, you have to deal
with four factors:
- Violence has results in
the world, at times unpredictable.
- Committing violence has
results for the committer.
- People assess risks -
including that of other people, and a violent person is a
- Violence takes up time,
energy, and is risky.
The problem, simply is,
heroes who use violence are often poorly written, ignoring the
results, causes, and implications of violence. Its too easy to
put in a bunch of flying bullets and energy blasts as
"that's the way it usually is" - but inserting a bunch
of action and violent tendencies into your hero for no reason but
to have them ignores continuity, it ignores whys and hows.
Your standard violent,
bodycount-laden hero story usually forgets a few continuity-based
- The violence is going
to have other repercussions in the world - damaged
property, newscasts, anger, vengeance, etc.
- The act of violence
affects the actor, as does encountering violence. I
strongly recommend, if you are going to write extended
violence, read up on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and
veterans of wars.
- People aren't going to
ignore a violent whirlwind of destruction even if it
calls itself a hero. A violent hero also may not have
many friends as he/she is in danger. Ask yourself,
simply, if you knew a superpowerful hero always having
gun-blazing adventures, would you want them over for
- You can only spend so
much time and energy kicking rear end. You have to sleep,
you have to eat/recharge/re-equip/whatever, you also have
to avoid getting killed yourself.
First of all, don't assume hero means "lots of
violence and stuff." It just may not fit your characters and
Secondly, remember those
four factors above:
- Make sure violence has
- Make sure you deal with
the heroes reactions and reasons for violence.
- Make sure people react
realistically to violence.
- Make sure that the cost
of violence is shown, and avoid improper displays of
damage, strength, endurance, bullet-count, etc.
Thirdly, I recommend a book
called "The Code Of The Warrior" by Rick Fields, a
fantastic study of warrior cultures in history, and how cultures
coped with violence and practiced war. It's a fantastic read that
will make you think about how you write - and let you into the
lives of some remarkable men and women. It will make you look at
violence in the context of culture.
A quick summary of the book,
a good guide, is this:
People who are heroic, who
fight for a reason, who make a difference do so for reasons
larger than themselves - for family, honor, country, ideals. The
violence they inflict is there for a reason, and they accept it
and understand the implications and take the responsibility. A
hero who fights knows the results of their actions, accepts them,
and makes choices and accepts responsibility - and ultimately
accepts the possibility of their own death.
THE WORST HEROIC
The worst violent-hero trap I've seen is what I call the
"Uncaring Heroic Badass." It grates on me especially,
and as of late, I've seen the pattern a little too much.
The UHB is easily
recognizable - grim, deadly, antisocial, unlikeable, and a deadly
killer. Yet, somehow, he or she is the hero and were supposed to
like him/her, even though the person is a complete destructive
Really, the UHB seems to be
a power trip to me, composed of two parts:
- I can kick anyone
else's rear end, and no one can stop me. Wow, don't you
want to be like me?
- I don't care about
anyone or anything. I have no social ties and mock them.
Aren't I cool for having no concern, care, or attachment
to make me weak?
Most of the traits of the
UHB, written realistically, would paint such a character as more
of a psychopath/sociopath than anything else.
You can write a hero who uses violence - but do it
realistically, have there be repercussions, and understand the
reason and culture behind it.
http://www.bitbooks.com/ - I'm not sure
how it's going - it
seems to work well, but I haven't been able to get a response
from the webmaster on questions. Still, it's a cool-looking,
simple site that archives links to online fiction. Worth
investigating at least.
A Way with Worlds is also hosted at
Take a trip to my own alternate world, the Crossworld of Xai, at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/xai/
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.