Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Theme-Character Integration Part 16 - Building a Hero Character From Theme

Theme-Character Integration Part 16
Building a Hero Character From Theme
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous Parts in the discussion of skills necessary for integrating Theme and Character into one, flowing, indivisible, continuous idea stream, are indexed here:


The posts titled Integration focus on doing two, three or even four things at once, so interpenetrating that even literary scholars can't tell there are several separate skills in use.

Attaining this level of integration in your story-thinking requires not just writing that proverbial million words, but thinking about the Events of the day, news events, personal developments, overheard in the elevator snatches, reactions to others being promoted around you, -- everything, moment to moment.

One way of knowing you ARE a writer before you've ever written an essay, never mind a story, is simply that you observe your world and create the missing pieces behind what you see.  Some people do this as young children, others learn even in their twenties.  It is how you amuse yourself.

You can always tell a person is a fiction writer because they are never bored, and never idle.  Sitting in the Mall people watching, stuck in a dentist's waiting room, trudging down the side of the road to get gas for the car that just stopped, -- anywhere and everywhere, the writer probes the people and situations for "Who" snd "Why."

"Who" is the Character for a story -- an artificial person composed of at least three conflicting attributes.  The Character's "story" is about how that specific individual resolves that impossible 3-way Conflict within.  The Plots of the Character's life-story (series of novels) are generated by the World (outside reality) reacting to the Character's efforts to resolve the Internal Conflict.

The Internal and External Conflicts are United by Theme.

In real life, the nested Russian Dolls motif manifests, not just in the lives of obscure individuals, but on and on, bigger and bigger until you come to the old adage, "People Get The Government They Deserve."

Or you study Primate Behavior on the Ph.D. level, and you see how humans default to the Primate Tribal structure in everything we do, including boss and bully each other around.

Part 15 of this series on Theme-Character Integration is about Bullies, and how to formulate a Bully Character:


Ordinarily, one would think that the "Hero" is never a Bully -- that a "Bully" can not morph into a Hero.

Let's use the definition of Bully that pinpoints the behavior of intimidating or hitting someone weaker.  The Bully picks on weaker Characters -- psychology says -- because there's less risk of getting hurt (emotionally or physically).  In other words, the Bully shuns risk.  This behavior has been identified among Primates of all sorts -- other animals, too.

THEME: Bullies Are Necessary For Tribal Survival

The argument might move along the lines of how the weaker, injured, malformed at birth, elderly, are a burden on the Tribe's Resources and thus must be eliminated.  It has also been recorded that in some species the elderly or injured go off to die alone, without being forcibly rejected.

The counter argument in the Conflict would then focus on the Character Flaw that makes a Bully --- cowardice.

THEME: Heroes Are Necessary For Tribal Survival

What, exactly, is a Hero?

Bravery is often derided as stupidity -- and mostly, Hero type Characters will wade in where Angels fear to tread and die fighting.

A Novel Series could make the thematic case for the Hero being a creature who should be ashamed to show his face in public, and would never be chosen as a Mate.

I played with that idea as the basis Value System of an Alien Species the two novels, HERO and BORDER DISPUTE.


Those two books, now in one Kindle volume, were published in Mass Market (my first to be directly distributed in supermarkets), and are now posted in Kindle Unlimited and ebook.

Heroism is even more fascinating than bullying as a human behavior, and the attitude of the rest of the population (the population under the "norm" of the curve)  Both Heroism and Bullying are fringe behaviors.

But the most fascinating aspect is how the "ordinary" folks (usually under the "norm" of the distribution curve) become Heroes in extraordinary circumstances, and in such circumstances tend to survive more often than those who practice Heroism as a way of life from the early teens.

In other words, the person who "rises to the occasion" and performs Heroically, is more likely to survive to tell the tale, while the habitual-hero is more likely to be labeled a braggart for telling his tale or a stupid fool for getting himself killed with ill-considered action.

The difference lies in the Values espoused by the Tribe.  The Tribe's Values form the bare bones of the Theme from which you form the Main Character.

Oddly, a Bully may be regarded as a Hero for covering up his cowardice.

An ordinary person may become a Hero by being the only one of the Tribe who acts to resolve an Emergency.

It's one of the oldest campfire stories, The Hero's Journey -- Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars film, who thinks of himself as just another farm boy responds to the destruction of all the certainties in his life by taking action based on the rural-values and skillsets he perfected down on the farm.

THEME: You, Too, Can Conquer Any Challenge

These Hero Characters are just YOU (the reader/viewer) in some extraordinary (for your life) circumstance.  YOU CAN DO IT TO.  That's a theme that always resonates.

THEME: Love Conquers All

You can do it, too.  If you truly love, you can conquer.

What does it mean to "conquer?"

Conquering means vanquishing, putting some challenge or obstacle behind you, and facing smooth sailing ahead (Happily Ever After.)

The Hero Character is (unlike the Bully) never calculating the odds.

Read some self-help books on successful businessmen.  Most all of those books point our that successful people never consider what will happen if they fail.  The trick to being successful in business (which us Primates have structured as inter-Tribal warfare; or football) is to keep your eye on the goal and never "look down."

Brian Boytano, the Olympic Gold Medal figure skater in 1988, is an example (one among many) who explains in training for the Olympics, he kept visualizing himself on the medalist platform with the anthem playing.  It is an old technique, but is re-invented by many each generation -- visualize success, never let the inner eye waver from that goal.

The Hero thinks like that, inside the mind, but usually (for the ordinary person who rises to an occasion, maybe once in a lifetime) the Hero doesn't talk like that.

The Hero is not "self-effacing" or "modest," just uninterested in himself.

The Hero can't imagine that anyone else would be interested in what he's thinking.

The Bully, on the other hand, is just as focused on his/her goal, just as driven, just as ruthless, but defines success differently than the Hero.

The difference between Hero and Bully is about attitude toward personal risk.

The Hero and the Bully both manage risk, but to different ends.

The Hero doesn't worry about "risk" in the sense of visualizing or feeling how Failure would be.  The Hero calculates risk, and assumes some loss, some pain, will occur -- lost money or lost blood -- there will be losses.  Just minimize them, take the damage and move on toward the goal.

The Bully focuses on the pain of loss, tries so hard to avoid any loss at all that avoidance becomes the goal.  With that psychology of avoidance of a consequence, the Bully can never experience Winning.  Emotionally dead to the experience of life, the Bully can feel peak emotion only when inflicting the pain of loss upon another.

This contrast between Hero and Bully is an oversimplified description of complex and common attitudes.  For real humans, not fictional Characters, both the Hero and Bully psychology co-exist, intermingle, and often cause behavior (both good and bad) by their interaction.  (Mixed motives are common.)

For the sake of Building a Hero Character out of Theme, we have to simplify life into a statement.  That's how Fiction reveals truths that are stranger than Reality -- distill out a threat, an element, a component of "life" and showcase that Truth against black velvet with a single, pure white light sparkling off it.

Fiction is an art that uses emotion as its pigments and a carefully "staged" reality as the backdrop.  I suspect the reader/viewer supplies the light, which is why no two readers read the same book.  The book the writer wrote is not the book the reader reads -- because the Characters and Events are "seen in a different light."

Consider how the envelope THEME of Romance Genre is "Love Conquers All."  The THEME for your novel, to be Romance of any sub-genre, Paranormal or Science Fiction, has to be a sub-set of "Love Conquers All."

We all know and love dozens (if not hundreds) of novels using the THEME "Love Can Conquer A Hero."  Almost all the "Get Spock" sub-genre of STAR TREK fanfic is about how love conquers Spock.

Whatever the opposing force in conflict with the Main Characters - Love has to Conquer that force.

Which brings us to Worldbuilding.  To make an intangible like "Love" into a force to be reckoned with in everyday Reality, you must build a World where the physics, math and chemistry are designed (from the speed of light on up) for a human emotion to interact with manifest events.

THEME: Souls Are Real

So therefore Soul Mates can exist, meet, fight, recognize and merge to create new life.  If Souls aren't real, then that process can't happen.

So if souls aren't real, something ELSE is going on -- because we all know of the Great Loves that have moved History.

"What else is going on instead of the reality of Souls?" is the "light" in which the reader sees the story.

The reason "Happily Ever After" is so routinely scoffed at is simply that the reader is seeing the Romance story of Love (a tangible force) Conquering anything, "in the wrong light."

Creating your Hero Character (male and female) to be visible to the non-Romance fan Reader/Viewer in a light that reveals the reality of Souls means creating a Hero Character these readers are accustomed to becoming.

Remember, above we thought about the purpose of the fictional Hero as a vehicle to convince a reader, "You Can Do It, Too."

Literary critics call that "Identifying" with the Main Character.  "That Character Is Me."

Then the reader experiences the story as if it were real.

We call that, "A Good Read."

If you want to deliver "a good read" to the fans of the novel series we looked at in Reviews 45 and Reviews 46



- Military Science Fiction and Private Eye Detective fiction (both closely related fields to Romance), you need a Hero just like the main characters in those novels.

Those are the Characters the anti-Romance readers identify with.

So I recommended reading some of those novels, studying what makes them work, and how what's missing from those novels (Romance; though there's plenty of sex, plenty of hooking up) attracts a specific readership.

That is your virgin readership -- hit it off with that readership and double the sales of Romance Genre.

Those novels are set in Worlds crafted such that Souls Are Not Real.

Love is important, but life without Love (just with sex) is actually very livable and plenty rewarding enough --- and the theme of which these Action/Adventure Worlds are built is:

THEME: You Can Do It, Too

Even if your real life is a complete shambles, divorced, fired, penniless, rock-bottom, You Could Be A Hero If Only ...

We mentioned the long-running TV Series, NCIS, a few times, and the Hero Gibbs (widower, multiple divorces, current casual relationships, living only for his job).  The Star, the Main Character, hasn't 't "got a life."  And the team members he keeps on staff don't have lives, either.  They have hobbies and side-hustles (like writing novels), but they have no Love.  They have plenty of Emotion, and Bonding, but no actual Love as we mean it in Romance -- the Love that Conquers.

Captain Kirk, of Star Trek fame, likewise -- and Spock.

These screen Hero Lead Male Characters often "get the girl" but they are empty husks.  They may have some "buttons" (things that make them mad, or sad), and they may have some buried Angst just for decoration, but they are deliberately designed by the Producers of these shows to be cyphers.

These are empty-shell Characters any viewer (sometimes male or female) can pour themselves into and BECOME long enough to experience success at something.

The empty-husk Hunk is a requirement for TV Series because it widens the audience.

By the time in the story-arc where enough is known about the Character that he is not an "empty husk," the viewership drops off and the show is cancelled.  There are too many in the audience who don't find the Character interesting.

In other words, in formulating your Hero Character from your Theme, be sure that you know what makes that Character's Soul strive to live, but the less of that the reader knows, the wider your readership.

Television Characters (and best selling novel Characters) are built around a theme:

THEME: No Human Is Significantly Different From Any Other Human.

In other words, people are all alike.  Or in historical or time travel novels, human nature never changes.

A sub-theme might be, "All Humans Are Empty Husks" -- or "Everyone Is A Failure; some are just better at hiding it."

Study the main Characters in the Military and PI fiction I have been highlighting in the Reviews posts.  They won't seem realistic or real to anyone who perceives the World as inhabited by Soul Mates.  Figure out what the difference is between a World these action Characters are native to and a World potential Soul Mate Characters are native to.

That difference is your Theme.  It is of the form: "Souls Don't Matter."  Or maybe: "Not Every Human Has A Soul."  Or possibly, "A Person Can Seem Normal But Barely Have Connection To Soul."

Using what you've learned of Story Arc and Character Arc, start your Main Character at a point where his life is like the NCIS Hero, Gibbs, or like Dev Haskell Private Investigator.

Then change some parameters, the certainties of his/her existence, as in the opening movie in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker loses everything, including the Identity he thought he had.

Cast your Empty Husk Character loose into a continuum where Love is real, tangible, and clearly affects Events (not just character motives, but what seems to be Luck, or random Events).

Be extra sure not to let the reader know even 10% of what you know about that Character - keep him Empty and lure the reader into becoming that Character.  Fill your Empty Husk with details that show-don't-tell how this Character is just like your reader -- and therefore, your reader can flow along on the Character's journey to repossess his Soul, cleve to his Soul Mate, and create a full, rich, colorful and individualized life.

In other words, to convince the fans of Destroyermen Novels that they, too, can bond with their Soul Mate and celebrate the uniqueness of every individual human, take them on a Hero's Journey from where they are now to where you envision we could all be.

The more detail you add to your Empty Husk Character beyond the requisite Three Main Traits to create a Character, the more distant he becomes from your reader.  By the point where you reveal your Character's Soul to the Reader, the array of traits you have revealed is vast, and define's your Character's essential uniqueness.

THEME: All Humans Are Unique

THEME: All Humans Are Alike

What is "the truth?"

Is it that no two Souls are alike, and therefore the signature of Love in this reality is the uniqueness of human individuals?

We breed dogs to conform personality and talents to a breed's recipe.  We have retrievers who play fetch, and Pit Bulls that defend territory, sheep dogs that herd.  Can you breed humans like that?  Have we done such breeding without knowing it?

Maybe you have a Character who succeeds by applying the adage: All Humans Are Alike  -- and you pit that Character against another whose whole life is founded on artistic fascination with human uniqueness.  Can they be Soul Mates?

Would they have to resolve this disagreement, prove once and for all that no two humans are alike (or no human differs in any way that matters)?  What experiment, bet, etc. would settle the argument?  Having children together?  Adopting and raising children together, apart, with other partners?

A secret experiment raising isolated groups of human children in environments designed to determine if they are "all the same" or "each unique" and what environmental forces "cause" conformity or divergence.  What happens when the experiment is discovered?  How is it discovered (a child escapes?).  What if all the children were embryos created from the two experimenters' DNA?  What if they were all clones, with identical DNA (we can't do identical copies yet, so it's really Science FICTION.)

Would the identical children find Soul Mates among themselves?

Could Souls "Walk In" to such cyphers?

Is there a war among disembodied Souls for "possession" of certain humans?

Are all Souls either "in" or "out" of body?  Or, are there intermediate states of habitation -- partially in or out? 

Answer those questions and generate whole lists of themes from which to fabricate your Worlds and Hero Characters.

Remember, the general reader can't accept the Happily Ever After ending as realistic -- but being unique humans, those readers each has a different reason for not accepting what seems obvious to us.  These are often the very readers who will either insist that all humans are alike (and any ordinary person can be a Hero given the right circumstances), or they will insist the Soul Mate concept is nonsense.

Is Soul real?  Does Soul make a difference in the real world?

The answers to those questions are Themes.  Each answer can be used to generate Characters who are Heroes or Bullies -- and pit them against each other.

The end of the novel, the Happily Ever After, requires the two Soul Mates each, individually, arrive at answers that satisfy them, as individuals -- not answers that are cosmically correct.

If you, the writer, have done your job well, the skeptical reader will experience the Characters' sense of satisfaction vicariously.  That experience could be the opening which will allow in the notion that Love does indeed, and in reality, Conquer All.

You know you've delivered that emotional wallop when you cry your eyes out writing the last few paragraphs.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. I have reservations about your comment on absence of Love (Romance) on NCIS. In the course of the series, we've seen McGee and Jimmy (the assistant medical examiner) fall in love, get married, have children. Given the genre of the series, these are necessarily subplots, not main plots, but they are there. And we saw Tony give up his NCIS career to move out of the country and become a father to his newly discovered child (not romance, but familial Love -- although, granted, this event removes him from the series).

  2. May 14, 2019 I will post a blog entry discussing Margaret Carter's observation here above. Thank you, Margaret!