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Looks like we’ll be sticking with the Mariah Carey song, “Hero.” There’s an amazing line that she uses in this song from so long ago: “When you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong. Then you’ll finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you.”

The unexpected hero is the one who would not under any circumstances ever want to be a hero or a heroine. She would say no to saving the world as emphatically as a fifth grader would say “No” to drugs.

These types of heroes are becoming more common in literature, because readers want to feel greater than ordinary, and let’s admit it, we writers want to feel the same way.

Many examples of these unexpected heroes exist in film and literature, and a great and popular example is Katnis from The Hunger Games. She does not want to change the world, but trying to protect her sister catapults her into a life that she cannot escape, the life of a revolutionary.

What are some essential elements of the Unexpected Hero?

This type of hero does not typically come from an affluent upbringing, and if he does, there are quirks about him that make him less than acceptable by the status quo.

These characters are typically frail, weak with a sword, and not very big in stature, but they are extremely likable. They are like Piggy from Lord of the Flies. He wore glasses, Jack hated him, and Ralph protected him, but we loved him as the reader.

These types of heroes would never go to battle unless prompted to do so. This is one element that makes these characters tough to write. They have spent their lives shying away from adversity, so when your story begins, fleeing is a habit.

As writers, we have to be clever in introducing the catalyst for this character’s propulsion into the narrative that we are creating. Katnis goes to the Hunger Games not because she wants to, but because she did not want her sister to go.

Be creative. What pushes your Unexpected Hero out of her comfort zone?

To give your character the fortitude to press onward, there must be something stable within him that pushes him forward. He may be a conflict dodger, but he has to have something internal, and perhaps even external, that he uses to his advantage.

Katnis was stubborn and she was amazing with a bow and arrow. Merging these two elements together gave her something to work with as she slowly learned to accept her role as heroine.

Maybe your character is nerdy and frail, but he is an excellent computer hacker, understanding algorithms to the nth degree! Maybe he’s a great dancer which catches the cute girl’s eye.

There are a lot of routes that you can go from this, but these are some of the essentials for the unexpected hero.

I hope this helps. Thanks!


  1. R. E. Hunter

    This is exactly what I have planned for my protagonist in my first novel. He just wants to be left alone to live his comfortable life. But when a friend needs help he goes out of his way, and that gets him into trouble that starts the whole ball rolling.

    1. William Stadler Post author

      RE that’s pretty cool. The idea is that it’s not really what he wanted to do, and seems like that’s exactly what you’re going to portray. Thanks for the input.


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