By: Melanie | December 19, 2014 | (73) Comments

discussing through midnight

This meme was created for YA Midnight Reads as a discussion post of all things bookish.


What popped up in your mind when you read that blog post title?

Kickassery? Badassery? We’ve heard all the synonyms. More often than not, the word “hero” is used to describe those special characters who can knock their opponent down with the throw of their fist in an action-fueled novel. It is the word to describe those who can handle guns and lead some government rebellion in a dystopian world. It is the word to describe those who can survive the apocalypse when no one else can. It is the word used to describe a Katniss, or a Percy, a Tris, and even a Harry. These are our common YA fiction heroes and heroines that would normally pop up in your head if I asked you to name one.

So what does make a character a hero?

Joseph Campbell was an America mythologist who had a concept, often referred to as the Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell created 12 steps that make up The Hero’s Journey which proves that every mythic narrative can be stemmed back to the same great story. And it’s very true. We can evidently see The Hero’s Journey being used in all forms of literature and film today. Notable examples that evidently reflect Campbell’s theory include Harry Potter, The Odyssey and The Princess Bride. All three of those pieces of literature have a hero that go on a journey–whether it is literally on abstractly. What matters is that at the end of the journey, there is change (it is referred to as step no. 12 aka the last step to The Hero’s Journey: The Return with Elixir). My 2014 English teacher constantly told us that there was only really one rule in creative writing. And that was that something should have changed since the beginning of your story. And that is completely correct, it doesn’t have to be a huge change that alters the world, but perhaps it’s something that will change the hero for life. (I know, that sounds so dramatic.)

So, if you can see what I am trying to say, (I don’t blame you if you don’t. I have the WORST explaining skills ever known to Earth) every character is a hero in their own, special way. Each and every character experiences change throughout their journeys (as that’s a basically the non-spoken and obvious rule for writing a story) and that means they all follow The Hero’s Journey theory. And whether they make a huge change to the world, that isn’t necessary. Because each and every one of them are the heroes to their own stories, and that’s what makes it so special. They don’t need to rule a rebellion, but something like battling cancer and surviving already makes that character a hero.

So long story short? There isn’t anything that makes someone a hero, because one already is–one just doesn’t know it yet. Every character is their own hero to their own life journey. Which is why we call Katniss and Tris and Harry and Percy heroes; they’re the main characters to their stories. But it’s also important to remember a Lizzie from Pride & Prejudice, an Emily from Since You’ve Been Gone, and a Lainey from The Art of Lainey are heroines, too; even though they don’t go kicking butt and saving the world. Each hero is different; they look different, they think different, they act different; and, they are a hero for a different reason.

And as for us unfortunate (and non fictional and mundane) beings, we are heroes as well, in a strange and twisted way. We’re the main characters to our own life stories.

Do you agree with me? In a way, aren’t all characters their own heroes?

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Owner (and crazy nut) at YA Midnight Reads
Melanie is one of the totally fabulous bloggers at YA Midnight Reads. She's a 16 year old student from Melbourne, Australia. She is normally found binge watching TV series, reading , blogging, procrastinating or fangirling about how Percabeth is the best ship ever. She's also a lover of caps lock and uses it excessively.

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73 Responses to Discussing Through Midnight (48): What Makes a Character a Hero?

  1. Great discussion Mel! I love ‘The Hero’s Journey’ concept – it definitely does ring true for a lot of the popular storylines that we’ve seen around. I definitely agree that all characters are their own heroes – and they don’t need to save the world to prove it. There isn’t necessarily a stock-standard formula to make someone heroic, as I suppose it depends on the situation a person/character is in and how they behave in response to it.
    Eugenia @ Genie In A Book recently posted…ARC Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer NivenMy Profile

  2. I had never really thought about what makes a character a hero before! I do agree with your definition. Being a hero is not just limited to being the one to save the world. We all learn and change and so does every character. We adapt to situations and try to do the best we can, which kind of makes us a hero too. And you can be one in so many ways! Maybe you help someone else through a tough moment, or maybe you work hard and achieve one of your dreams. It all makes you a hero!

    This is such an incredible post! I’m glad you made me think about this topic 😀
    Jolien @ The Fictional Reader recently posted…#FridayReads December 19th, 2014My Profile

  3. I love this post, Mel!! The concept of what makes a hero and why we root for them is so fascinating! Fundamentally we as readers definitely need to see that change, no matter what or how it is portrayed. I really love the smaller heroes too, and backwards..lithe anti-hero. Knowing why they got to be the way they are…well, that’s fascinating to me too!
    I do consider myself the hero of my life story. And I don’t think that sounds pretentious because, like you said, a hero doesn’t have to save the world or be the best. It simply means they have character enough to grow and change throughout their life / novel. 😉
    Excellent post!
    Diamond Dee @ Dee’s Reads recently posted…Book Review: Exquisite Captive by Heather DemetriosMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Why thank you so much, Diamond >.< Yes, if we go according to Campbell's Theory, he also talks about every story having these archetypes. And according to Carl Jung who theorised about these archetypes, there is a balance in us. So we are both animaga and animagus, we are both good and both evil, and therefore, we are both the hero and the villian.

  4. Kyra says:

    This is an utterly fascinating post, Mel! I agree that all characters are heroes in general. I think that when people think of a hero they generally think of someone who runs through burning buildings to save children, or who fights to protect the world and not of the more “mundane” things that people in reality have to deal with. I think we are all our own heroes, all trying to change into someone better and turns our lives into something that we can all be proud of. Really interesting post! 🙂
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  5. Being badass makes a hero hahaha Celaena Sardothien sums up HERO HAHAH I just love her to bits. Don’t you? Have you read the Novellas oh my gosh…I’m about to start a waterfall huhu
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    • Melanie says:

      Hah well you can look at it like that but like I mentioned in my post, I really do believe that everyone is a hero because being a hero isn’t just about heroism as such, it’s about a broad span of things including things like emotional bravery, too.

  6. I think being a hero is just a matter of doing the right thing for the benefit of yourself and those you love. It doesn’t necessarily have to be taking down a villain or something, it could even be small things like getting help for mental illness. I consider lots of ‘real-life’ contemporary characters to be heroes because of the selfless or brave decisions they make
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    • Melanie says:

      Yes, I do believe everyone has a hero inside them, and some might take longer to realise it. But when that person goes on a path for change (like in Campbell’s theory that I mentioned in the post), they slowly do become that hero, because a hero is not just badassery.

  7. Tanja says:

    Oh this is so amazing! We discusses Campbell’s concept on one of my lit classes and yeah it’s really interesting. But I love your part here. I mean your teacher seems amazing and I’d love to attend her classes. So yeah I totally agree with you, it doesn’t have to be big to be a hero, everyone already is. Great post, Mel 🙂
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  8. I totally see what you are saying. Almost everyone is the hero in their own story, even if it’s not obvious heroism. I never really thought about it like that.
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  9. Hey, I noticed you are using the ajaxify comment thing. How did you get it to load the comment? With my plugin, it doesn’t load the comment, it just says the comment was posted and you have to reload the page to check.

  10. Christy says:

    This has really never crossed my mind before but I completely agree with you, a hero isn’t limited to those kickass characters that have a hand at saving the world. To me each character that grows in some way, is a hero. And I feel like everyone is a hero to someone else, whether they realize it or not.
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  11. Strength. Not just physical, but emotional too. He/She doesn’t have to be able to literally kick everyone’s ass in the blink of an eye for me. Strength is more than just that. 🙂
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    • Melanie says:

      Yes, I like your thinking. Like I said in my post, I totally believe that everyone is a hero–because we all have that inner strength, we just need to bring it out.

  12. I’m with you Melanie, I don’t think there are a specific set of traits that make a hero as I think heroism comes in so many forms it’s difficult to define. I think there are large acts of heroism and really, really small ones, but they’re the actions of a hero all the same. Loved this post!
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  13. Lola says:

    I never really thought about this and I don’t use the word hero often in my reviews. I like how you say “Every character is their own hero to their own life journey.” I just love this sentence as it emphasizes that everyone is a hero, not only those who achive big changes. Even small chnages can be important. Great post!
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    • Melanie says:

      Thanks, Lola. Yeah, I don’t really call people heroes in my reviews either because I feel like I’m not really saying anything much because EVERYONE is a hero anyways, heh. 🙂

  14. That’s how I look at it too. For me, a hero is someone who shows strength of character regardless of what their hurdle is; be it slaying the big bad, battling a life threatening disease, or just getting up every day to support their family. Excellent discussion topic!
    Carmel @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Audiobook Review: The Raven Boys by Maggie StiefvaterMy Profile

  15. ” There isn’t anything that makes someone a hero, because one already is–one just doesn’t know it yet.” I couldn’t agree more! Everyone character is a hero in his or her own way. They don’t need to make a huge difference to be a hero/ine. Lovely post, Mel <33
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  16. Hilary says:

    It also goes two ways I guess. The heroes that you’ve listed out who are paradigms of heroism (Tris, Percy, Katniss, Harry etc.), we almost always seem to forget that they’re human too. They make mistakes. They make ridiculous decisions that make us want to pull our hairs out.

    You are absolutely right. The potential to being a hero is within us. We sometimes forget that but it takes people like you to remind us of that 🙂 Thank you Mel!
    Hilary recently posted…Review: I’ll Give You the Sun-Jandy NelsonMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      😀 Yeah, like admittedly, I’ll say Katniss, Percy, Tris and Harry if someone were to ask me to list some heroes, but then again, it’s important to remember that they aren’t the only type of hero you can have

  17. What an interesting topic discussion! I’ve not given it much thought but I agree with you…they are all heroes in their own rite. I believe this is true for all of us as well 🙂 We are all heroes of our own stories and lives (ok- some people are villains but you get what I’m saying…I think?)
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  18. I love that you included Lainey because I loved her transformation (and the book) so much. I agree that a hero doesn’t have to kick-ass or battle an illness. Anyone can be a hero 🙂
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  19. I agree. I also read the Joseph Campbell and his treatise on heroism. We are not only the hero of our journey but also the villain. 🙂
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    • Melanie says:

      Yes, we are! Yes, if we go according to Campbell’s Theory, he also talks about every story having these archetypes. And according to Carl Jung who theorised about these archetypes, there is a balance in us. So we are both animaga and animagus, we are both good and both evil, and therefore, we are both the hero and the villian. Thank you for bringing that up! I should have mentioned it in the post

  20. This is a really interesting post Mel, and I completely agree with what you’ve discussed here. 🙂 Like you pointed out, I also think that as long as a character changes for the better that they’re a hero in their own right. Thanks for sharing – this really made me think! ♥
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  21. Absolutely agree! Everyone is an everyday hero as long as you are humane and seek to be the best person you can be. The only people that I wouldn’t classify as heroes are the people/characters that are honestly TSTL. But I’m sure they’re still heroes in other people’s eyes. Wonderful discussion Mel, thanks for making us all feel special hehe xx
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  22. Yes, I agree with you 100%! I confess, when I read the title of your post I had hoped this is where you were going with it 🙂 Because it is so, so true. Just because a character isn’t wielding swords or saving a rebellion doesn’t mean they aren’t impacting so many people, and themselves most importantly. I see any character who grows and becomes a better version of themselves to be a hero, whether it be freeing a kingdom or just overcoming a fear or being kind to another character. GREAT post, I could not agree more!
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    • Melanie says:

      Haha, I might have made a few people worried with that post title. I suppose in a way it makes people want to click on the post, eh? 😛 Thank you, Shannon

  23. Valerie says:

    WELL SAID THERE. I completely agree with you because being a hero doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing something huge and self-less, etc. etc., but it’s more of a change in yourself (a good change, technically). BUT HA your explanation doesn’t rule out bad change. Is a person still considered a hero if they change in a negative way? 🙂
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    • Melanie says:

      Ooh that’s very interesting Val–I think, those people had the hero in them, but they didn’t welcome it. If we go according to Campbell’s Theory, he also talks about every story having these archetypes. And according to Carl Jung who theorised about these archetypes, there is a balance in us. So we are both animaga and animagus, we are both good and both evil, and therefore, we are both the hero and the villian. So I guess, that person gave into the villian inside them.

  24. Nirvana says:

    I definitely agree that isn’t just strength that makes a hero. YES, WE DO LOVE CELAENA SARDITHION, but emotional strength counts for as much too. I didn’t see Hazel Grace kicking butts but she’ll still stay a hero for me :’)
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  25. YES I AGREE. I once heard the advice that every character you write should be written as if they were starring in their own story. And I get that. Everyone is the star of their story and they have to own that. I like reading badass characters BUT I like reading the quiet but strong ones too. Subtle heroes. *nods*
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  26. SO TRUE. Actually, this is a really interesting topic, because for my Extension 2 English major work, you eventually find out the main character is a villain. But they’re still the hero because it’s their story?? I don’t know. I’m confusing myself now. But yeah, I think it’s really intriguing to get into the mind of a villain 🙂
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    • Melanie says:

      oooh yes! Like, if we go according to Campbell’s Theory, he also talks about every story having these archetypes. And according to Carl Jung who theorised about these archetypes, there is a balance in us. So we are both animaga and animagus, we are both good and both evil, and therefore, we are both the hero and the villian. So yep, the MC is both the hero and the villian in the end. Weird, but it kinda makes so much sense!

  27. Benish Khan says:

    This is a great discussion topic to talk about & it really makes one think. Heroes aren’t always limited to saving people, it can always be how a person grows in character as well. Fab post Melanie<3
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  28. Lexa Cain says:

    I agree – I think it’s important for the hero/heroine to go on an inner journey as well as an outer one. (And you don’t have the worst explaining skills in the history of the world. lol)
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  29. This is an awesome post, and I agree with you 100%. Character change is so important in a story, and every story that has that, has a strong hero. My English teacher stressed that a lot, too, when we were writing short stories earlier in the year. Sadly, we don’t write that many short stories, but at least I can carry the lesson that characters should always change in some way to the stories that I write on my own.
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  30. I agree something should happen to change the character throughout the book or what’s the point? Yet you’re right I always do think of the ‘hero’ being the one to save the world or have morals and rush in to save the day, but as long as the character changes something for the better, even themselves they are the hero of their own story. 🙂
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  31. Alise says:

    Man, this is a tough one. Asking the real questions huh, Melanie? 😉 ” Every character is their own hero to their own life journey.” Love this, you can totally relate it to life too. I definitely agree with you, although I’ve some books where the hero and heroine aren’t the greatest they definitely could be considered the hero in their own stories. Nice topic!
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  32. I remember that after reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, every time I read a book or watched a movie I would start to see all the stages: call to action, mentor, training sequences, transformation….
    I agree with you that there can be all different kinds of hero, and not just the stereotypical one: perfect, self-sacrificing, etc…
    And I also love characters who change and grow!
    Amazing topic 🙂
    Jen @ YA Romantics
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  33. Lovely post Melanie and you’ve nailed it. Every person IS a hero in their own life. All the characters make mistakes but with a few page turns, they’ve moved on. We can do the same at any point in our lives.

    I haven’t heard to Campbell’s theory before but I do love it!
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  34. Pingback: Weekly Recap| Dec 14-20, 2014 | Oh, the Books!

  35. LOOK AT ME COMING LATE TO THE GAME. I’ve had this post bookmarked for two days now but have crashed after work on both days BUT I’M HERE NOW. At 7am nonetheless. Crazy.

    Beautiful post, Mel! I agree with everything that you’ve mentioned. It doesn’t necessarily require a battle for a character to be a hero. We face substantial mini battles in our daily lives all the time and the way we react to them, the way we allow them to change us just that little bit, affect us in the little ways, is kind of what makes us heroes!
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  36. Really thoughtful discussion here Mel! I totally agree that heroes will experience some sort of journey and even though they weren’t a classical hero at the start, it’s how they choose to handle and grow through whatever they experience that can really make us root for them. I think some common traits of heroes are perseverance, loyalty, and being inherently good. Awesome discussion topic!
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  37. Years ago, I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which basically takes Joseph Campbell’s work and distills it for writers. I think most of the examples were from popular movies: Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion King, etc. You can really see the “change” in those examples… whether it’s a change in the character themselves (e.g., Simba grows up and finds the strength to confront his uncle) or just a change in perspective (e.g., “There’s no place like home!”).

    We shouldn’t forget about antiheroes, either. They can be amazing main characters.
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  38. Oh my goodness I am feeling all the feels right now! You said it perfectly Melanie! Battles aren’t always the same size but they are battles nonetheless. Everyone goes through them and everyone comes out of them as better people, as heroes. 😀
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  39. I think everybody can be a hero. If you try to make the world a better place, even if that means putting yourself on second place, you are a hero. If you conquer your fears, you are a hero. I don’t like the whole ‘hero-sacrifice-thing’ where they throw themselves into dangerous situations to save the world. Like.. you can at least have some SENSE of self-preservation.
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