Friday, April 29, 2016

Hero Spotlight: L and Hermione

Today let’s look at two examples of great intellectual characters, one who meets their intellectual match in the form of a person, and one whose intellect is tested by more extenuating circumstances.

First let’s look at L. Yes just L. L is the hero of an anime called Deathnote. I know some of you may be thinking that Light is the hero, but he is clearly the villain in this pair. This sherlockian relationship is what happens when Moriarty is your main character. And he gets a magical notebook that can kill anyone just with a name. And he likes potato chips.

Yeah, this was my first anime.

L, however, is the detective assigned to his case and the entire first season of Deathnote is devoted to their amazing back and forth. He is intellectually similar to Light but distinguished from him in his commitment to Justice. L at many turns, is too smart for Light and it takes a stunningly complex, long, overarching plan for the villain to finally get the jump on him. L is an awkward sort of genius utterly committed to justice, or what he believes is justice, but it’s also clear he respects Light in a lot of ways.
Despite kicking him in the face
Since the anime isn’t from L’s perspective, we don’t get to see into this head, but we root for him until the end. L remains one of my favorite anime characters. Episode 25 is exceedingly painful for me. Those who have watched the anime know why.

Another character near and dear to my heart is Hermione. Any bookish girl who grew up reading Harry Potter looked up to Hermione in all of her brilliant awesomeness. And while of course she is brave and tough and many other things, her chief quality is her amazing brain. She knows just about everything about magic and is at the top of all of her classes. And of course, this intellect gets her friends out of trouble many times. They would actually be dead without her.

Hermione’s intellect is constantly tested by the situations around. Sometimes her brain power isn’t enough, which she even admits in the first book. And she’s certainly not the best at everything. Harry beats Hermione in potions with the help of the Half Blood Prince’s book and she struggles in divination. Her greatest fear is failing her classes. In many ways, her intellectual match can also be her high expectations for herself.

But what makes Hermione such a strong character is her bravery. She is a Gryffindor after all, and even in spite of these fears and failures, she fights tirelessly to protect her friends, eventually evolving from a know-it-all, to a woman wise beyond her years.

And she punches Draco in the face

That's all for now! See you next week as we tackle our next hero archetype: the lovers. Until then, happy writing!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Heroes and Heroism: The Intellectual vs. Their Intellectual Match

Last week we looked at the fighter so lets jump to the other end of the spectrum to those heroes that rely on brain rather than brawn. This is one of my favorite heroic types: The intellectual. 

The intellectual is, in many ways, the opposite of the fighter. They are more reserved and prefer analyzing a situation before rushing into it. Their greatest asset is their brains. And they have no problem bringing others down a peg with their superior knowledge.

There are a million and two examples of the intellectual in fiction, movies and TV. Of course there are many, many different versions of the great Sherlock Holmes, from Robert Downey Jr.

To Benedict Cumberbatch 

To the Disney version starring mice (main character is not named Sherlock, but he is basically Sherlock). 

And all of them have their Moriarty, who puts them in their place and tests their intellect more than ever before.

But there are so many more shades to the intellectual archetype than Sherlockian heroes. Hermione is also an example of an intellectual as from the very beginning, her greatest strength is her bookishness and cleverness which saves her friends on many occasions. 

Sazed from Mistborn belongs to a culture of intellectuals, the Terrisman who collect history, religions, science and other areas of studies by way of Freuchemy.

So what ends up ultimately being the downfall of these heroes who are so brainy? They meet their intellectual match.

Now this could be a human being of course. A renown super villain or psychotic, smart enough to evade the hero and even out think him. The scary thing about this kind of intellectual match is it points out just how similar the hero and the villain are. This kind of match up can make the hero doubt their own humanity and wonder what really makes them so different. And I love complex psychological exploration like that.

But the intellectual match doesn’t have to be a villain. Sazed experiences an existential crisis after losing someone important to him. He decides none of his vast knowledge means anything anymore. The intellectual match can be circumstances beyond the hero’s control. Circumstances that make their vast knowledge irrelevant.

All of these situations put our brainy heroes through a test and, just like the fighters, they must overcome and become stronger than before.

Join me on Friday as we take a look at two very different intellectual characters! Until then, happy writing!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hero Spotlight: Katniss and Arya

So on Wednesday we talked about the Fighter and their ultimate challenge: When their strength is not enough. I gave some more obvious examples on that day like Thor and Korra. But today let’s talk about two slightly less obvious heroes in this archetype that are still excellent examples at the fighter.

First, there’s Katniss Everdeen. Katniss, despite being from the impoverished District 12, has a leg up going into the Hunger Games because she knows how to shoot a bow and how to survive. Though she is small, she has the skill to kill, and she has the ice cold attitude to back it up. So what’s the road block she hits?

In the arena, strength is not enough.

This is something that Haymitch impresses on her from early on. In order to win the Hunger Games, you can’t just rely on your skills. You have to get people to like you. You win the games with sponsors. So if you’re unlikable, even if you’re an ace with a bow, you could very well die.

Of course, this comes as a shock to the not particularly charismatic Katniss who doesn’t want allies or help from anyone. However, when it comes down to it, allies end up saving her life. Her friendship with Rue earns her support from District 11 and her life from Thresh. Her romance with Peeta gets her sponsors and ultimately earns her a victory over the capital when they both win. And all of these skills she learns here go onto help her when she plays for the camera, first as Snow’s puppet to stay alive and then as a revolutionary. Because a revolution isn’t just about brawn. It’s about inspiring people to stand up and fight with you. Seeing Katniss learn and struggle with this throughout the series was very engaging.

The second character I want to talk about is Arya. 

Now Arya, being a kid and not experienced in the ways of combat, isn’t an obvious example of a fighter. However, she has the spirit of a fighter, thinking she can take on situations that are much bigger than her. After she takes sword lessons from Syrio, however, she’s still not cut out to cross swords with more experienced enemies.

Arya’s journey is a slow one but she learns how to use her wit to survive Harrenhal and many other enemies. She even checks off a few names on her hit list.  Finally makes it to Bravos and begins studying to become a many faced man. Here she learns more important tricks, including that of deception and not charging into a situation. Eventually resulting in her killing another man on her list in a pretty badass/terrifying scene.

Even here she is punished for letting her blood lust take over. We don’t know what the rest of the story holds for Arya, but every episode, she has been a fighter knocked down over and over again and slowly made stronger as she comes to understand that though she is not the strongest, she could be one day.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Heroes and Heroism: The Fighter Vs. When Strength is Not Enough

Here we are, a day late with this post! Let's hop to it!

Across every genre, there are a wide variety of heroic types, all with their different specialties and skills. One of those skills is ‘brawn’. Brawny characters jump to fighting above other avenues, relying on their strength to get them through a situation. They are often impulsive, stubborn and jump into fights they aren’t prepared for. In older action films, this brawn might be enough but in newer books and films, authors have explored this character type, looking into what happens when their nature results in serious consequences. Thor is an example of this kind of hero, as is Korra from the Legend of Korra.

What is the worst thing you can do to a character to relies on their strength? Put them in a position where their strength is not enough. These characters are often used to being in control, masters of their physical being. So taking away their strength, or putting them a place where their strength is useless, is their greatest test. This is one of the reasons that physical heroes are pitted against more intellectual villains because they are opposites, and brains can often trump pure strength. More well-rounded heroes ultimately triumph in the end.

And that is of course the point of placing these heroes in difficult positions where their strength is not sufficient. Because they must then learn to overcome, therefore becoming stronger in the process.
Thor finds himself in this position when he is thrown to Earth and can no longer heft his hammer. Superman might be crippled by kryptonite.

Korra is put through this test over and over again, though most noticeably when she faces Amon, a villain with the ability to take away her bending.

However, the real strength of these characters is revealed when they overcome. This often comes from  a since of inner strength and self-discovery. Thor finds himself worthy of his hammer again and Korra, who has struggled to find the inner peace required by air bending, is able to air bend in the end to save those she loves.

The importance of this kind of hero is that it shows that no matter how strong you think you are, you can always get better and improve yourself in other ways. Seeing characters such as these discovering this is inspiring in a novel, as it gives the characters much needed depth.

Join me tomorrow for our character spotlight. Happy writing!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Hero Spotlight: Aragorn and Kelsia

So let’s talk about some excellent examples of heroic leaders.

From the moment my brother introduced me to the Lord of the Rings films, I adored Aragorn. I loved him for his subtle complexities, his strength in battle, but also his leadership and his noble qualities. He is a ranger by trade but a king at heart, leading with skill and looking out for his companions at all costs.

But of course, Aragorn isn’t eager to be a leader. He prefers to stay in the shadows, never acknowledging his strength or status. He didn’t claim to be superior than anyone else. In fact he feared his heritage, worrying that he was destined to suffer the same fate as Iseildur.

Yet, when the world needs him to step up, he takes on the responsibility, conquering his inner demons and fears of failure. So often rulers must live in the shadow of their predecessors, either living up to their successes or in spite of their failures. Aragorn is a great example of the second and he remains one of my major character crushes. I love me some quiet, noble strength.

Kelsea is the leader of another sort, from a newer fantasy work, Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johnson. I appreciated this book because it focused on a lot of the technicals of being a leader, especially those that arise from not growing up in the court. Kelsea has been protected for years from those who might have her killed. When she comes of age she is spirited back to the throne and must quickly prove her metal over those who would see her deposed or killed. 

Kelsea deals not only with possible invaders from other countries but with threats from within the council. She often has to tiptoe around issues, walking a thin line between wisdom and foolishness. But she ultimately makes the right decisions, proving herself to her people along the way.

I really respect Kelsea because she isn’t an idealized female ruler. She has her flaws and often is in way over her head. But she acknowledges her weaknesses, turns to others for help, and works logically through problems, as any good leader would. 

Hope you enjoyed the spotlight this week! Come back next week for a look at our next hero archetype: The Fighter. Until then, happy writing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Heroes and Heroism: The Leader vs. Their People

Haha, well I've been gone awhile. Insert various life is busy excuses here. I just got back from New York term, however, so I have a long summer ahead of me to continue updating. So, without further ado, shall we jump right back into the heroes series?

Today we look at one of the most common heroic types, especially in fantasy or dystopian novels. The Leader. Honestly, every book has a character who acts as a leader, whether it’s of a sports team or a nation. Leaders step up, take charge and work to lead their people to victory.

And that really forms the crux of the leader’s dilemma. Their people. At all turns, the leader must live up to the expectations of their most loyal supporters and defy the doubts of dissenters. In many ways, they are expected to be perfect.

Trouble is they never are.

All leaders have doubts about whether or not they can live up to the tremendous pressure. Sometimes they are placed in positions where they must make tough moral calls for the good of their people. Sometimes they are wrong and hundreds of lives are lost. Whatever choice they make, its big, which means the fallout is also huge.

Leaders also have to put on a mask of sorts in front of their followers. Take Kelsier from Mistborn (fangirlish scream). He’s a complex hero with lots of baggage but he wears a face of utter confidence even in the face of impossible odds. It makes his crew feel more confident. But, as they discover, there will always be something Kelsier doesn’t tell them.

In a lot of ways, leaders are in the easiest position to become villains if they don’t watch their actions. Ruling is complicated, and if they don’t watch their step, they’ll end up on the wrong side of the history book.

The most heroic leaders, however, pull through. That’s what separates them from their more villainous counterparts. They have stronger moral instincts and act more selflessly in order to make things best for their people. They don’t grapple for power but treat it with respect. It’s another ‘with great power comes great responsibility dilemma’.

A good, heroic leader inspires you to follow them to victory, no matter the odds. They also know how to make a rousing speech.

Always a plus.