Wracked with grief, the sorceress threw her hands out in front of her, desperately shrieking the incantation to save both her life and that of her brother. To her amazement, a powerful blast of magic erupted from her open palms–magic the world had never seen before.
In my last post, From Apprentice to Master, part I, I talked about the different ways that average people are made into heroes, and how that process has to be believable. Readers like having a hero they can connect to and believe is a real person, and that means keeping them grounded.
But to every rule there is an exception, and I think the exceptions to the believability rule are pretty awesome.
The heroes of Greek mythology are perfect examples of the exceptions I’m talking about. Consider Hercules. He slayed the Nemean lion, a beast whose hide was impervious to mortal weapons, by using his incredible strength to strangle it. If Hercules had obtained his super strength just from hours of long training, then technically anyone could have become as strong as him and slain the lion. Frankly, that wouldn’t have been as impressive. The fact is: Hercules was just an above-average guy. No one could compare to him and the feats he performed.
A more modern example is Harry Potter, from the series by J.K. Rowling. Also known as “The Boy Who Lived”, Harry is clearly extraordinary. He managed to survive the killing curse and, throughout the entire series, experienced a lot of moments where he was, plain and simple, just better than everyone else. He obtained his greatness from circumstances beyond his control, but the fact that it only could have happened to him puts him above all the other wizards in his own special way.
And what about the real-life racehorse, Secretariat? If he hadn’t won The Belmont Stakes by 31 horse-lengths and set an incredible record that still exists today, then he wouldn’t be so famous. People wouldn’t have cared about him as much. He probably wouldn’t have even gotten his movie made two years ago.
There’s a reason why Hercules and Harry Potter and Secretariat are considered to be great heroes. People are inspired by tales that stretch the imagination and test the limits of convention. People like believability and the connection it can create, but sometimes stories about the exceptions are a lot more fun.
I think that, when turning a layman into a superman, you should try to do it in a believable way so that you make a bond with the reader and allow them to feel that the character is real. But I also think that, once you’ve made your character the hero he or she needs to be, you should give them the freedom to shine–to become just a little better than everyone else. Make the hero significant and the story will only get better.
When do you think is the best time to let a hero’s inner greatness out? At what point does an exception become too overpowered or unbelievable to be enjoyable?
May you always find inspiration in the exceptional, and never settle for less than extraordinary.