How to Create a Successful Hero: The Formula for Writing Books

How to Create a Successful Hero: The Formula for Writing Books

Crafting a successful hero is central to creating an unforgettable story. Heroes are the driving force behind most narratives, acting as the catalyst for action, emotion, and change. Here’s a formula to help you sculpt a hero that readers will rally behind:

1. Rooted in Relatability:

  • Human Flaws: Perfection is a myth. Give your hero imperfections. Whether it’s a fear, insecurity, or a past mistake, these flaws make the character human and relatable.
  • Universal Desires: Anchor your hero’s desires in emotions or goals that most can empathize with, like seeking love, acceptance, freedom, or revenge.

2. Clear Motivation:

  • Every hero needs a “why.” This driving force pushes them into the narrative and keeps them moving forward. It’s essential to establish early on what the hero is striving for, whether it’s saving a loved one or achieving a lifelong dream.

3. Challenge and Growth:

  • A hero without challenges is like a fish without water. Throw obstacles, both external and internal, in their path. These challenges force them to evolve, learn, and grow stronger.

4. Skills or Talents, but with Limits:

  • While it’s essential for a hero to have certain abilities to tackle challenges, these shouldn’t make them invincible. Even Superman has his kryptonite. This vulnerability maintains tension and keeps readers invested.

5. A Moral Compass:

  • Even if they stray or are tempted to go against their values, a sense of morality or justice often defines heroes. It provides them a guiding light and helps readers respect and root for them.

6. Personal Stakes:

  • The conflict should personally affect the hero. It shouldn’t just be about saving the world but something more intimate, like protecting a loved one or preserving their homeland.

7. Surround Them with Supporting Characters:

  • Sidekicks, mentors, or loved ones can help highlight aspects of the hero’s personality. They can challenge, guide, or support the hero, providing depth to the hero’s journey.

8. Evolution is Key:

  • By the end of the story, the hero should have undergone a transformation, whether it’s in their personality, beliefs, or relationships. This change marks the culmination of their journey and gives readers a satisfying conclusion.

9. A Memorable Origin Story:

  • Everyone loves a good backstory. It offers context, drives motivation, and shapes the hero’s world-view. But remember, the hero’s past should be relevant to the current story and not just a random compilation of events.

10. Represent a Larger Ideal:

  • Beyond their personal journey, heroes often stand for broader ideals or values, like freedom, love, or justice. This larger-than-life representation makes them symbols, making their journey even more impactful.

Creating a successful hero is a delicate balance between making them relatable yet extraordinary, flawed yet admirable. Remember, readers want to see themselves in the hero, rooting for them, crying for them, and ultimately, celebrating their victories. By following this formula, you’ll craft a hero that not only drives your narrative but also leaves an indelible mark on your readers’ hearts.

Anti-Hero vs. Villain: What’s the difference?

As you shape your successful hero, understanding the dynamic between an anti-hero and a villain can add layers of depth and intrigue to your narrative.


  • Definition: An anti-hero is a central character who lacks the traditional heroic qualities such as nobility, morality, and altruism. They can be flawed, morally ambiguous, or even unlikable, but they often have a sense of justice or a goal that the reader can sympathize with.
  • Characteristics: Anti-heroes might have a rebellious streak, a cynical world view, or self-serving motives. They’re often conflicted, battling internal demons as much as external foes.
  • Role in the Story: While the hero typically serves as a beacon of hope and virtue, the anti-hero challenges conventional norms and brings to light the gray areas of morality. Their journey might be one of redemption or a dive deeper into their ambiguous nature.


  • Definition: The villain is the antagonist, often opposing the hero’s journey. They can embody pure evil, or like the anti-hero, dwell in the moral gray areas. However, their goals often clash directly with those of the hero or anti-hero.
  • Characteristics: Villains can be cruel, manipulative, and power-hungry. They might believe in their cause wholeheartedly, viewing the hero as the true antagonist.
  • Role in the Story: Villains serve as a foil to the hero, providing conflict and challenges. They push the hero to grow, evolve, and make tough choices. A well-rounded villain, one with depth and understandable motives, can elevate the entire narrative.

Blurred Lines:

In contemporary storytelling, the lines between the anti-hero and villain can often blur. An anti-hero might take actions that seem villainous, while a villain might have a tragic backstory that evokes sympathy.

For instance, an anti-hero might resort to extreme measures for a cause they believe in, while a villain might be acting out of pain from past traumas. This creates a rich, multifaceted narrative where readers are forced to question their own moral compass and decide whom to root for.

Incorporating an anti-hero or a layered villain can add depth to your narrative, challenging traditional notions of right and wrong. It provides readers with a more immersive experience as they grapple with their feelings toward each character, making your story memorable and thought-provoking.

A Word of Caution: Avoiding The “Edgy” Pitfall

While the allure of creating an unconventional hero or villain is tempting, many amateur writers make the mistake of trying too hard to be “edgy.” This can result in characters that feel forced, inauthentic, or too complex for the sake of complexity.

Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

  1. The Dark Anti-Hero’s Descent into Villainy: While it’s compelling to witness a character’s moral decay, it’s vital that their descent is earned and justified. A sudden transformation can feel jarring and might not resonate with readers.
  2. The “Surprise” Villain: Turning your hero into the story’s antagonist can be a masterful twist. However, if not carefully foreshadowed and built up throughout the narrative, it can feel like a cheap shock tactic rather than a well-executed plot turn.
  3. The Cruel Villain’s Redemption: Redemption arcs can be powerful, but redeeming a particularly heinous character requires careful handling. It’s a fine balance to strike, ensuring the redemption is believable and doesn’t excuse their previous actions.

Remember the Protagonist’s Likeability Factor: This doesn’t mean your protagonist needs to be flawless or constantly cheerful. However, readers need a reason to root for them, empathize with their struggles, or at least be intrigued by their journey. If readers find themselves entirely indifferent or actively disliking the protagonist, they’re less likely to invest their time in your story.

In essence, while experimenting with character archetypes can lead to rich and unique narratives, it’s essential to do so with care. Always ensure that character development is earned, believable, and grounded in the story’s context. Prioritize authenticity over shock value. Keep the reader’s experience at the forefront; you want them engaged, not alienated.

Check out this next: how to write a deuteragonist.

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