How to Reinvent the Hero in Story

Have the hero be heroic again.

You can’t have a story without a hero in the sense that the word “protagonist” and “hero” are interchangeable. So every story has one. But I want to see the hero reinvented. I want to see a hero who does the right thing even when it’s hard to do; even when it’s unpopular.

The lawless and immoral hero, or the antihero, is common in modern storytelling. In fact, you could argue that the antihero has become the standard type of hero of contemporary American storytelling. Every now and then you might see a hero who breaks this trend but that usually involves a story set in the distant past or in a fictional world.

You rarely see a hero who does the right thing even when it’s hard and unpopular to do.

So does this mean the reinvented hero is pristine, uncontroversial, and respected and loved by all? No. In fact, let’s make that an emphatic “no.”

Some people might think modern times are particularly troublesome, and in many respects I agree. But the world has been a bad place for a very long time. Evil exists. It’s prevalent. And that also means that the person who truly does the right thing is rare . . . and likely won’t be popular, will be deemed controversial, and might very often be a rough individual.

So isn’t this the same as the modern antihero? No. The antihero fights for selfish reasons; he wants personal revenge and is only guided by his own supposed moral code. (In other words, he makes up whatever he wants to be right and wrong and answers to no one.)

A reinvented hero—a true hero—would look to God for his moral guidance (think of David in the Bible), he would be a powerful individual (think of Beowulf), and he would fight against evil even when everyone else liked it—when evil was nice and polite (I’ve got nothing for an example for this one). He also will have no problem getting in the mud and fighting no-holds-barred if that’s what it takes to win.

Or the reinvented hero could be slightly different than that.

But the main point is that what is primarily driving him is a desire to do the right thing (even in cases of so-called revenge). He is not the ultimate authority on what is right and wrong. And he will identify evil even when it is nice, and fight it to the death even when he loses friends (or loses the battle).

In short, he is driven by a desire to fight for good and do what is right no matter the cost, and no matter what he loses. He likely will lose a lot.

And that’s the kind of reinvented hero I would like to see in story.