archetypes · Characters · writing · Writing FUNdamentals

The Non-Traditional Hero: Part One

Art by Drew Melton

Last week I discussed the alpha character role and the trap of stereotypical heroes. So what is a traditional hero? Often in fiction, especially romance, the hero is what is termed an alpha male, which I discussed in last week’s post. The often hypermasculine and overly sexualized characters (male and female) in media, while popular, are becoming cliche.

So what makes a non-traditional hero?

First let’s break down what a hero is and what makes them a hero.



noun, plural heroes;

  1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
  2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
  3. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.
  4. Classical Mythology.
  1. a being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.
  2. (in the Homeric period) a warrior-chieftain of special strength,courage, or ability.
  3. (in later antiquity) an immortal being; demigod.


hero. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: May 29, 2015).


One who acts in consciiousness of heart and soul. modern: one who acts on what he/she was tought to do or perform. as in Doctors, astronauts, firefighters, paramedics, etc.. the modern kind of takes away from the true meaning of the word “HERO”.Answer A traditional hero plays by the book, he doesn’t bend or break the law, doesn’t smoke, drink or cuss, will not lie and helps little old ladies across the street. Like Atticus Finch, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Superman etc… A modern hero may be on either side of the law, will bend or break the rules to his benefit, he may steal, will certainly lie, smokes, drinks, cusses and helps little old ladies across the street. Like Dirty Harry, Lazarus Long, and others. Of course this is only the general differences, both types of heros have the same focal point, the common good of the people.

A hero is a man that is admired for his achievments; that has strength and shows courage to others.

Last week I covered the various character archetypes and how Mad Max doesn’t fit the typical alpha male role. What I want to do this week is discuss the typical hero. The definition of a traditional hero is someone who follows the rules and is courteous and polite. A gentleman, basically. The modern idea of a hero is an anti-hero who only follows rules when it suits them and is more coarse and crude, but still a ‘good’ person. Both the traditional and modern types of hero work for the common good of the people. The alpha male is simply a hyper-masculinized version of either a traditional or a modern hero. This is something that I find unfortunate, because it does a disservice to both men and women in the portrayal of that kind of behavior being the norm. There is nothing wrong with having an alpha male character, provided they’re not the only kind of hero we get to see.

There is more than one way to be a hero, and anyone with enough guts can be a hero if the moment calls for it. Some characters never even think of themselves as acting heroically; they just act. To quote my character Jasper Stanton from The Jeweled Dagger, ‘Heroes act. They don’t wait for things to happen.’

Even a so-called coward can become a hero given the right set of circumstances. Even if they act out of cowardice or self-interest, if the action benefits others it can be deemed heroic. The character’s actual motivation for the act is immaterial because it’s the results that matter.

This is where the concepts of the anti-villain and the anti-hero come in. The anti-hero is almost always motivated primarily by selfishness. An anti-villain is a villain with a conscience: they know they must make the hard decisions and aren’t afraid to make the necessary sacrifice in order to fulfill their goal as long as they themselves are not the sacrifice. It is that difference which makes them a villain. Villains and heroes are just two sides of the same coin. A character who believes themselves to be the hero is really the villain if the results of their actions are harmful, though they are often considered to be a hero by some.

An example of this is Rozzen Barbeaux, an original character in my Thief fan fiction series which can be found on Archive of Our Own. She is powerful, driven, in control and incredibly intelligent. She is publically working to better the City, to bring order to the chaos created by the events of the game. She was previously an altruistic corsair who toppled tyrants and oppressive regimes. Many of the wealthy citizens of the City see her as a hero, and their last hope to stem the chaos and bring order. To Garrett and the common people of the City she has become another oppressive tyrant like those she used to fight, and is the main villain of the series.

There are always two stories in every conflict, and which side is which is often a matter of perspective. The same would still apply even if the harmful results were accidental instead of deliberate.

Each archetype I listed last week possesses a core moral value, that inner decency that drives all their choices and decisions. These archetypes are a good starting point for creating a character but, like a core moral value, they must be expanded upon to fully develop a character that is not a stereotype.

Mad Max from the movie Mad Max: Fury Road is a good example of a non-traditional hero, as is his counterpart Furiosa. Neither fits the commonly defined hero role. Stevesbootyshorts on Tumblr made an excellent observation:

Hardy’s Max is traumatized, he is twitchy, non-verbal, and is haunted by hallucinations/flashbacks. Despite this, he listens to the other characters; when the women decide to trust Nux, he trusts their judgement. He’s very obviously afraid. He is far more viscerally traumatized than anything you typically see out of male action stars.

The film completely undermines the male action hero, both by having the women be the true propelling force behind the film’s action, and by having a traumatized action hero who is actually traumatized.

When I began planning The Jeweled Dagger I knew I didn’t want either of my main characters to be stereotypical or to even fit neatly into an archetype. I knew it was going to be a non-traditional romance as well, featuring characters from the orientation and gender identity spectrum who you don’t see often in fiction.

Jasper Stanton at first glance might seem like your typical dashing hero and he strives to be what he thinks of as the ideal. It’s actually one of his flaws. He’s distinctly uncomfortable in a leadership role and when he’s promoted to Captain he thinks it’s a prank. He’s out of place at the Royal Court and is desperate to fit in and gain the approval of those around him. He’s a flirt but doesn’t actively pursue a sexual relationship and even rebuffs those who seek one with him. He asks for help when he knows he’s in over his head. He is terrible with a sword and pukes if he has to deal with bloody wounds. He endures abuse because he thinks he deserves it.

Not exactly your typical hero.

Then we have Lafayette Goddard, who is more of an anti-hero, but still not typical. Living a dual life at Court, they are highly skilled as both a spy and an assassin. As Genevieve they are just as assertive and capable of violence as when they are Lafayette. They are also very focused on maintaining appearances at Court, especially as Genevieve, and they will go to great lengths to protect their reputation. As Lafayette they work to remain in the background but they don’t mince words or insults. They prefer to work alone and refuse help even when it’s offered and needed. Relationships are merely tools to them and they actively use others’ interest in Genevieve to acquire information.

Also not your typical hero, anti or otherwise.

For comparison there is Adrian Barbeaux, from the Thief fan fiction I mentioned previously. He is a Warrior. Literally. Adrian is a Captain of the City Watch and the quintessential hero. He’s courageous, protective, patient and kind to a fault. He risks everything to save Garrett, at first simply because he feels Garrett’s treatment is unjust, even for a known thief. Later he stays with Garrett because he’s come to respect and admire him. Even when events ultimately lead him to a horrifying decision he decides against putting his tormenter to death.

What saves him from being a stereotype is the way he goes beyond the archetype. Here is it defined according to Tami Cowden at All About Romance:

The Warrior

This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He’s noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under to rules, or and he doesn’t go along just to get along.

Examples of Warriors? Dirty Harry, and most any Steven Seagal character. Check the Die Hard movies too. For a lighter version, try TV’s Hercules. Most superheroes are Warriors .

In romance, Suzanne Brockmann and Linda Howard write Warriors. Rosemary Rogers favors this type, too. Trap this man in a basement and his reaction is going to be pure outrage.

He’s a protector, so his focus will be getting her out. But once they’re out, the villain better start running. The Warrior will hunt him to the ends of the earth.

Forget about rescue. This man is the cavalry.


So how did I make sure Adrian didn’t fall into the stereotypical hero trap? I gave him flaws and quirks that help round him out. He takes charge when he needs to but always considers Garrett’s best interest first, including not trying to take Garrett out of his comfort zone or trying to change him. Though this has led to him assuming he knows what is in Garrett’s best interest even when Garrett disagrees. I even took some of his ‘good’ qualities and amped them up until they became flaws. Like his kindness. How can kindness ever be a flaw? When it gets to the point Adrian allows himself to be manipulated and/or abused because he’s too nice. Even his protective instincts can be taken to the point they become not just overprotective but obsessive.

As I mentioned earlier, every hero has the potential to become a villain if any one trait is taken too far. We can use this duality and potential for mistakes to make our heroes more relatable and less stereotypical. Archetypes are a great starting place to build characters, but can become limiting if our characters never go beyond their original archetypes.

These are some examples of both typical and atypical heroes, but how do you go about creating an non-traditional hero? I’ll take you step by step through the process next week.

Have questions or comments about the examples? Please let me know in the comments. Is your character creation process different? Do you like to mix and match archetypes? Do you have a favorite go-to archetype you prefer writing? Have you recognized some archetypes among your favorite characters? Who are they?

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