I was thinking about heroes last night, after a conversation with my dad. Heroes in the classic sense -- people admired for their achievements and noble qualities. Not sandwiches, not objects of extreme admiration and devotion. I was thinking about it because my dad had just watched "Cinderella Man," enjoyed it immensely, and he was telling me about how Jim Braddock was a true hero, and how I needed to see this movie posthaste. Really, this was his oblique way of telling me how much he doesn't approve of my taste in cinematic characters/men (nothing new there), but it did get me thinking about heroes and fiction. How few there are in movies today. I think there's more in novels, particularly if you go with anything high fantasy, but even there, less and less. And I was thinking about my current novel, DTD, and it's, um, distinct lack of heroes.
There are four main characters, and they are all flawed.
L - the only woman. A fence-sitter, unable to commit to taking a stand.
S - who has noble goals, who once was admirable, but years of failure have driven him to brutal, ruthless tactics.
R - who enjoys the perks that go with power without understanding the responsibility that goes with it. Selfish and spoiled.
B - the best of the bunch, except he's dead. And when you're dead, the basic needs that drive living people are gone, and this skews his outlook.
And, of course, that's only how they start out in the story. All four change and grow throughout, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. But none are true heroes, none are admirable. I would not want to emulate any one of them. However, they suit the story I want to tell. Their moral ambiguities are necessary but it doesn't mean they don't have good qualities as well. I did not set out to write a story about admirable people this time around. I set out to write a scifi/noir story.
Is that a bad thing? Is it bad that I am not writing about upstanding and morally clear citizens? That I'm not writing about heroes? That my characters blur the lines between good and bad, do bad things to achieve worthy goals, and do good things that get them in trouble? I'm not a message writer. Never have been, though the themes I write about matter very much to me. For better or for worse, I write to entertain. I love and understand all four of these characters. I wouldn't be writing about them otherwise. But this is a book I will not give my dad to read. He's not interested in human failings and how we overcome those flaws to better ourselves and our society. He's not interested in the grey area. And DTD is all about the grey.
For the record, my previous two novels both offer up true heroes, the kind my dad would happily root for and aspire to be like. Oh, both novels have their share of grey (and my absolute favorite characters in both are the greyest of the lot -- hm, maybe my dad is right to decry my taste in men/characters), but there are very admirable noble characters in both for someone like my dad to latch onto, and clear-cut evil characters he can root against. Characters I ultimately find to be rigid in their outlook and best used to contrast against the greys. And of course, for me, it is the grey characters who are the important ones, as it is they who force the black and white characters to evaluate their own motives and goals -- and where they draw their line determines how much of a hero they really are or can become.