Thursday, June 11, 2015


Many of you have asked me to publish this and here it is finally: my manifesto of The Hero Ethic, the ethics and qualities of a true-blue fictional hero. Dyed in the wool heroes are no longer in vogue these days, we like our protagonists flawed and damaged, struggling themselves with things such as ethics and morality, very much human and prone as much to be the authors of disaster as they are to be the solution. But in my opinion, it's hard to write any kind of hero, even a flawed one or an anti-hero, unless you have a solid understanding of what the real thing is. In just the way that we cannot effectively break the long-standing rules of narrative and prose until we understand those rules completely, we cannot truly create an effective anti-hero or flawed protagonist unless we have a sense of what the brand spanking new, out-of-the-package, shiny, non-dented or scratched model looks like.

One last disclaimer: these items are my own beliefs and opinions of what make up a true hero. I did not garner them from someone else, these are opinions I formed over centuries (well, okay, decades at least) of reading and writing fiction across the spectrum. They may be up for debate, but I submit this is the kind of hero that best deserves the title.

A hero never complains, or whines about how difficult a task is. He/she merely puts his head down and does what needs doing. Dirty, exhausted, and beaten half to death by the giant guarding the airplane, when Indana Jones is told that the ark has been moved to a truck for transport, he doesn't moan, groan, bitch, or complain. He sets his jaw and asks, "What truck?" (Raiders of The Lost Ark)

A hero never divulges information that is not his to share. Hired by a mafia boss to guard his daughter, Murph says nothing when the father asks him what ugly things his daughter has said about him, Murph merely changes the subject. The Don may be his client, but Murph was not hired to spy on the girl, only to guard her. He would never have taken the gig in the first place if that had been part of the deal. (Bullet's Wake, to be released fall 2015)

A hero is always courteous, respectful, and ready to defend the innocent and defenseless. Hunted by the a relentless United States Marshal, nevertheless Dr. Richard Kimble pauses to correct an error made in the triage of a woman in an emergency room, saving her life, even aware that doing so may well expose him. (The Fugitive)

Errol Flynn

Furthermore, a hero will never attack a defenseless opponent. In the famous sword fight scene, Inigo Montoya chivalrously waits for the man in black (the Dread Pirate Roberts, aka Wesley the farm boy) to finish climbing the cliff, and even to regain his breath, before they commence their epic dual. (The Princess Bride)

The true hero will never solve one dilemma by means that would cause another harm in any way. Several times then naval aviator and now Senator John McCain was offered the opportunity to be released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton (Hỏa Lò) prison camp and he refused each time unless every prisoner captured before him was also released, thus denying the enemy what would have been a propaganda tool and public relations coup. For these refusals he was brutally tortured.

A B O V E   B O A R D
A hero never sneaks, slithers, or uses subterfuge when confronting and fighting "evil." He stands boldly at the crest of the hill shouting, "Here I am! Come and get me!" He faces his enemies boldly and openly, with nothing to hide. William Wallace lines his army up in the open on the opposite side of the field from the English troops, and charges them openly. (Braveheart)

I T ' S   N O T   P E R S O N A L ,   I T ' S   R E V E N G E
The true hero never seeks revenge for personal injuries or insults, but he will relentlessly seek justice - call it vengeance if you wish - for wrongs done to loved ones. Harry Potter suffers no end of humiliations at the hands of his cousin Dudley and his friends, but while he once threatens Dudley he never actually follows through on any reprisals. But when Draco Malfoy calls Harry's dear friend, Hermione Granger, a "...filthy little mudblood!" Harry terrorizes the bully and his henchmen, sending them running and screaming from the glade.

A B O V E   D E F E N S I V E N E S S
A hero will never apologize, never explain, and will never stoop to defend himself against spurious accusations or defamation. He understands that apologies are weak, and instead bends his efforts toward rectifying, remedying, or repairing any damage done. Explanations are merely excuses, and the hero will never attempt to excuse his actions, nor will he defend them. He understands that his actions reflect his best and most honest attempts to deal with a situation given the information he had at the time, regardless of how circumstances may have changed later. He will never lower himself to the level of his critics by even attempting to defend himself against slander or ridicule. He understands that those inclined to think well of him will continue to do so, and those not so inclined will likewise persist in their bias. Nothing can be accomplished by engaging the petty and the strident except to appear every bit as petty and strident as they.

No matter the circumstance the hero will never betray these ethics, even when placed in a position where doing so would, in the end, serve the greater good. The ethic is always more important than any other consideration. In so many books and films that the reader must have read/seen at least one (too many to count really) there is the overwrought cliche of the hanging villain, clinging to the hero's hand lest he fall to his death, and the hero is never the one to let go first, even though doing so would rid the world of the villain. Sometimes even as the villain continues to lash out at him.

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