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The Pitfalls of Allowing Heroes/Heroines to Get Away with Everything in Fiction

When the hero or heroine faces no repercussions for their actions, the narrative lacks moral complexity.

My posts are often questions I receive from actual clients. Recently, I had a client take the view that the hero can get away with a wrongdoing because "that's what happens in real life, so why not in my book?" I decided to write a post in response. In this specific case, reason number five is the most compelling because the author still managed to have enough conflicts on the fire to keep me reading. My point here is that your fiction doesn't necessarily contain all of these flaws just because your main character gets away with every act of misconduct or unethical behavior, but one is enough to frustrate the reader and to diminish the work.

In storytelling, we often root for the hero or heroine, hoping they overcome obstacles and triumph in the end. However, there's a fine line between a compelling protagonist and one who seems to effortlessly conquer all challenges without consequences, or even one who struggles with much guilt and shame, but eventually accepts his unethical behavior and moves on--again without consequences for his actions. 

Let's explore why fiction may fall flat when the hero or heroine gets away with everything.

  1. Lack of Conflict: One of the fundamental elements of storytelling is conflict. It drives the narrative forward, creates tension, and keeps readers engaged. When the hero or heroine effortlessly succeeds in every endeavor without facing significant obstacles or setbacks, it diminishes the sense of conflict. Without conflict, the story loses its momentum and fails to captivate the audience.
  2. Unrealistic Character Development: Characters grow and evolve through facing challenges, making mistakes, and experiencing failures. Allowing the hero or heroine to succeed without any meaningful struggle deprives them of opportunities for growth. Unrealistic character development can make protagonists feel one-dimensional and unrelatable to readers who seek authenticity and depth in fictional characters.
  3. Diminished Stakes: Readers invest emotionally in a story when they believe that the characters face real consequences for their actions. If the hero or heroine always gets away with everything unscathed, the stakes feel low, and the narrative loses its sense of urgency. Without meaningful stakes, readers may struggle to stay engaged or empathize with the characters' journey.
  4. Undermined Suspension of Disbelief: Suspension of disbelief is crucial for readers to immerse themselves in a fictional world and accept its premises, even if they are fantastical or improbable. However, when the hero or heroine consistently escapes unharmed from seemingly insurmountable challenges, it strains the reader's willingness to suspend disbelief. The story begins to feel contrived and disconnected from reality, undermining its overall impact.
  5. Lack of Moral Complexity: Compelling stories often explore moral dilemmas and ethical gray areas, challenging characters to make difficult choices with lasting consequences. When the hero or heroine faces no repercussions for their actions, the narrative lacks moral complexity. Readers may struggle to engage with characters who exhibit moral perfection or lack accountability for their behavior.

While it's tempting to create protagonists who always emerge victorious, allowing the hero or heroine to get away with everything can weaken the narrative and alienate readers. By introducing meaningful conflict, realistic character development, high stakes, and moral complexity, authors can craft more compelling stories that resonate with audiences on a deeper level. Ultimately, it's through facing challenges and overcoming adversity that heroes and heroines earn their place in readers' hearts. And this last line is your goal as an author, to create characters that stick with readers. 

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Tuesday, 16 July 2024

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