What motivates your heroes?
I should start with a short confession.
‘My name is V.C.Willow and I’m a whovian’.
I’ve loved Dr Who for as long as I can remember, when I was younger my love for that ‘madman in a box’ was settled deep in my subconscious, it lay there in a dormant state for a long time and then along came the regeneration of the show that has captured the hearts and minds of millions across the world including mine. The ‘Next Generation’ of Dr Who has become a distinct and formidable presence in the way I capture the motivation and ideals of the heroes in my writing and here’s why.
Commonly among the ‘hero’ genre, the go to solution for any situation is to shoot, bomb, kick, punch or hammer the other into oblivion. The hero takes on an adversarial role, but not the Doctor. Although he always stands up to oppression and tyrants it’s his cool calm intellect, ingenuity and humanity that saves the day. In the end it’s the Doctor’s and his companion’s humanity that saves him from being the war doctor fired with rage and vengeance to one that resolves conflict through compassion and by using his great intellect.
That to me is a great message because that is what makes him a true hero. It sends out the message to people that you don’t need to be ‘special’ or ‘the chosen one’ to be a hero. Anyone can be a hero, any one of you could be a hero and that redemption of yourself and others occurs through acts of kindness. That making the world better, saving the day, starts with the everyday acts that everyone can carry out, all it takes is a little courage and the will to be the change you wish to see in the world.
I work with a guy called John, he’s a great guy. A little while ago he was telling me about an article that ran in the Times titled ‘What’s wrong with the world?’. Of course the letter pages were littered with long, verbose responses blaming everything from politicians to economics. But the shortest and most pragmatic response was:
Dear Times, What is wrong with the world?
Heroes change the world through changing themselves and by making the world better by their thoughts, words and deeds. Now isn’t that a fantastic motivation for your hero? I’ve worked hard, and continue to work hard in my writing to make sure that the change within the novel that my heroes want to see start with themselves and doesn’t fall into the trope of bashing it or obliterating it to survive and overcome the conflict they face.
I’ve also always been fascinated by the concept of what motivates heroes and tired quickly of the Buffy, Harry Potter, Judi Canavan and The wheel of Time series trope that the hero is ‘chosen’ by destiny or some other such nonsense to fulfil a destiny or save the world. I’m more interested in writing about everyday heroes that pop into existence by their courage, beliefs or dumb luck at falling into the situation. What is it about these few that become heroes that differs them from the masses who appease or ignore the threat or danger around them? In truth history is littered with examples of people who have turned their head and ran, or bowed their heads and acquiesced in the face of danger and oppression. We have heard numerous times ‘I was just doing as I was ordered to’, but a few brave souls will not, so what is it about them that makes them willing to sacrifice and endanger themselves and sometimes their loved ones in the face of the ‘conflict’ within a novel? This key question, is an ongoing theme in my writing, especially my two latest works in progress that I am currently working on.
Both Athena (in the novel of the same name) and Carys in (Beyond the Mist) are headstrong, moral characters that will not give in to the forces within the novels that are at the centre of the conflict. But, I think for the characters to be fully rounded I need to understand what it is that differs them from the masses. Perhaps it is because they have always been slightly outside of the ‘norms’ of the societies that they live in, so they have less stake in maintaining the status quo? Perhaps it is that they have been disadvantage and therefore they have a personal interest in changing and challenging the situation? One thing is for sure, it is a question that I want to be able to answer and imbue through the writing before I publish either of the novels.
In Dr Who, The Doctor, doesn’t have a tank or a super power, he doesn’t have special weapons (I not sure a sonic screwdriver and a T.A.R.D.I.S count as weapons) or armoury, he has no cape or ability to do superhuman acts. When people need the Doctor he has a call box that travels through all of time and space to help others and he does it with nothing more than his ingenuity, intellect, his sonic screwdriver and a plucky companion. Stephen Moffat wrote that the amazing thing is that the Doctor has two hearts, two hearts that (although he’s Gallifreyan so technically he’s a alien) direct him to reach out and help others – it’s his humanity that drives him. Now it doesn’t hurt that there’s an adventure or two in the mix to keep things interesting, but he reaches out to others. His motivations are complex, numerous sunk in both the desire to save himself from the War Doctor that he was and to run away from the horrors of what he has seen in his many lives. But, the critical thing that draws me to the Doctor’s character is that he is fully rounded, that without knowing all of his back story, there is enough woven into the narrative that his complex and sometimes conflicting reasons for his actions make him seem real and not the victim of another writing trope the cardboard cut out character.
Although I have always been a keen reader and have been heavily influenced in the many good books that I have been fortunate to read over the last 30 plus years, Dr Who represents for me a good example of drawing your audience in to understand the motivations of what makes him be more than just a day tripper bumming around the universe for his own amusement.
So what will motivate Athena and Carys to go from ordinary citizens to heroes? What motivates your characters to be heroes?