So far in the Project Mayhem series Heroes and Villains, there have been only posts about villains. Why is that? Are heroes B-O-R-I-N-G? They shouldn’t be. We’re rooting for them, aren’t we?
What makes an interesting MG hero?
A good MG protagonist should have flaws. Kids find it hard to identify with a character who’s too goody-goody – unless the plot quickly throws enough curveballs at them to tarnish the shine. Harry Potter was an awfully good guy, but his schoolwork paled in comparison to Hermione’s, he had a short temper –and also a bad habit of sneaking off to forbidden places. Thank heavens, too, because Cedric Diggory was practically perfect, and look what happened to him! He didn’t have what it took to stand up to the bad guys.
Flaws offer room for growth and the establishment of a character arc. Plus, sometimes it takes the darker, tougher sides of a personality to stand up to the villains.
Don’t forget that virtues can also be faults when taken to an extreme. One of my favorite MG heroes, Wallace Wallace from Gordon Korman’s No More Dead Dogs, is 100% honest. Is that a virtue or a fault? Well, you decide. Here’s Wallace’s 8th grade book report (otherwise known as “the inciting incident”):
Old Shep, My Pal by Zack Paris is the most boring book I’ve ever read in my entire life. I did not have a favorite character. I hated everybody equally. The most interesting part came on the last page where it said “The End.” This book couldn’t be any lousier if it came with a letter bomb. I would not recommend it to my worst enemy.
~No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman
Middle grade kids make mistakes all the time. They do dumb stuff. Then they lie about it. And when you ask them why, they shrug and say, “I dunno.”
MG readers connect with heroes who make mistakes. Every writer knows to put obstacles in the path of the MG protagonists. But I think some of those obstacles should be the protag’s own doing, the result of his/her own mistakes. Whether it’s because of momentary selfishness, miscalculation, or miscommunication, MG heroes make errors that drive the story forward and propel them into self-discovery and ultimate success.
But, if our heroes are full of faults, virtues-on-steroids, and prone to mistakes, why DO we root for them?
I didn’t know I was going to end here when I started this post, but it kept coming to me as I worked on it. Every MG hero I can think of had a fierce loyalty to something. To friends. To family. To preserving good -- or to right over wrong. (Can you think of any MG hero who did NOT have a loyalty to something that overcame every one of his/her faults and vices – up to and including the classic MG heroes Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer?)
It seems that no matter their faults and mistakes, our heroes are kids we can count on till the end.
In loyalty lies their ultimate strength.