10 Essential Elements of a Great Escapist Hero

The always aware Charlie Jane Anders has the rare gift of being able to put her finger right on the crux of all things writerly. Don’t believe us? Read this, motherfuckers:

escapistheroesby Charlie Jane Anders

A grand adventure needs an inspirational hero. Not just a cool person in a fancy suit, but someone to believe in. It’s not quite true that a science fiction or fantasy story is only as good as its hero, but the hero’s greatness is certainly a limiting factor. Here are 10 essential qualities a hero ought to have.

1) Being Unique in Some Way

And no, this doesn’t have to mean that the good guy is “the chosen one,” or the subject of a particularly juicy prophecy. The hero could just be the youngest captain ever to command a starship, or the only human ever to take on a particular mantle. Or maybe the “good guy” is just the smartest man or woman in the room, or the one person who stops to ask the tough question before rushing into a situation. Something has to make this person stand out, from the beginning.

2) Being an Underdog, or Outgunned

Even if your hero has the coolest gear or the best superpowers in the universe (see item #9), we can’t really root for someone who doesn’t face impossible odds. There’s a reason why “Caves of Androzani” is still considered the best Doctor Who story of all time, or why the most popular Judge Dredd stories involve him crawling through the Cursed Earth or dealing with an overwhelming force attacking Mega-City One.

3) Compassion

Heroes save lives, including the lives of ordinary people. And caring about the vulnerable people who get in harm’s way during all the heroics is part of what makes someone a hero, as opposed to an anti-hero. When we see that someone has compassion for people who are in trouble, and this forms part of his or her motivation for action, this helps us invest in the character. Honestly, the bridge scene where Spidey rescues that little kid was probably what sold me onAmazing Spider-Man, despite some reservations.

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