If you want to know how to write a hero, then follow this simple rule: don’t create a hero, but a character that learns how to become a hero.
In another post, I’ve written about the movie Wreck-it Ralph uses his characters’ weaknesses to make them compelling. Something similar applies to how to write a hero: your character shouldn’t be an omniscient, omnipresent, handsome, perfect and unbeatable hero.
If you write something like that, you haven’t created a hero that everyone looks up to, you’ve created a douche that everyone envies.
So how to write a hero?
The book is meant to use archetypes from works of art (like movies, books etc), religion, and ancient tales or traditions, to explain the difference between the behavior of a mature person (a man) and the behavior of an immature person (a boy).
The book talks specifically about men’s psychology, but I think that this could easily apply to women (and by consequence female characters) as well.
The grandstander bully
Bakugou, at the beginning of the anime, seems to check all the requirements to be what Moore and Gillette call “the grandstander bully”.
This is a person who believes to be more important than what he actually is. Maybe this belief comes from some inherited birthright or from excessive ego boosting, but it doesn’t just result in confidence, it results in arrogance.
The bully believes to be invincible, invulnerable and simply better at anything he does. Whenever someone tries to explain to him that he is not as special as he thinks he might react violently and refuse to listen.
In the very first episode of My hero academia Bakugou does exactly that. He stands up in front of the whole class and boldly declares to be better than anyone else and, because of that, he is going to enter the most prestigious school in Japan: U.A.
He appears to be confident in his own quirk and in his own abilities, but something like 3 seconds later he throws a tantrum because he finds out that Deku is aiming for the same school.
Bakugou deems Deku worthless (the nickname he gave him, “Deku”, means “useless”), but he is still shaken by the idea that someone other than him has high ambitions.
Another characteristic of the bully is his inability to work with others and value the risks that he is taking. Since he believes to be invincible, he doesn’t see the obstacles in his way as real threats, but he sees anyone else by his side as an obstacle.
The very first lesson at U.A., Bakugou is required to be cautious and work in a team. Can you guess what he is going to do?
He decides to ditch his teammate and face directly the enemy without a strategy in mind. This is his first battle with Deku and he shows to be more than just talk. He uses his quirk in a creative way to deliver powerful attacks and has great combat skills.
But ultimately, his inability to cooperate is his doom, since Deku and Uraraka manage to win through team effort.
The death of the bully
According to Moore and Gillette, in order to become a mature hero the bully needs to die (not literally…).
“He has fought the dragon and been burned by it”
Basically, a character that acts like the grandstander bully needs to face humiliation to understand what humility truly is.
Too often when we think about how to write a hero, we think about an underdog finally reaching his true potential, becoming stronger and saving people in the process. Usually, the story ends with the underdog being given recognition for his courage and his talent. But what happens after that?
While our underdog might be a good guy at heart, we forget that the power that he has achieved could corrupt him.
This is what happens to Bakugo during his childhood: he finds out to be special because of his quirk and goes from underdog to Kanye West immediately. Gladly accepting compliments and going on and on about how special and gifted he is.
Bakugou “dies” (again, not literally…) when he gets kidnapped by the League of villains. The villains take him thinking that since he wants to be powerful he will gladly accept to be part of their group because a criminal life would allow him to not be restrained by rules.
But since Bakugo is not part of the Uchiha Clan he is not particularly inclined to the betrayal. So he decides to give them the middle finger and stick to his moral code.
While he is chained, unable to use his quirk and at a clear disadvantage he feels helpless and humiliated for the first time in years.
When Deku and the others come up with a plan to rescue him, everything depends on Bakugo’s willingness to let others help him. As we’ve seen in the flashbacks of his childhood, little Bakugou considers someone offering help a treat to his image. If a person thinks that the great Katsuki Bakugou needs help, that person thinks that he is not invincible.
So the success of Deku’s plan depends on whether or not this guy who always refuses help is going to make an exception. As the group takes off flying through the sky, Kirishima (Bakugo’s best friend) extends his hand offering to take Bakugo away from danger.
For a few seconds, we don’t know which part of Bakugou will prevail: the bully that slapped Deku’s hand when he was trying to help or the smart strategist who always knows how to use the most of his abilities. It’s a battle between pride and humility.
Fortunately, since the bully inside him has died, Bakugou makes the right decision and accepts the help of his friends.
Bakugou has still a long way to go before he can become a mature person, but killing off the bully inside him was the first and the hardest step to take.
After this, his behavior changes in subtle but significant ways. He doesn’t throw a tantrum when he finds out that he didn’t pass the test to get a license, and he expresses his feelings of guilt and regret for the first time while fighting Deku.
Also, the fact that he accepts to keep the secret of the One for all without conditions means that he decides to put the wellbeing of his friend and his mentor before his pride.
Moore and Gillette write that the hero is an essential part of our society. The hero is what makes a person try to be stronger, more independent, more reliable.
“Our is not a age that wants heroes. Our is an age of envy, in which laziness and self-involvement are the rule. Anyone who tries to shine, who dares to stand above the crowd is dragged back down.
The problem is that once the bully takes over, those noble qualities get obscured and the talent, the passion and the hard work of that person don’t get noticed. My hero academia shows those two sides of Bakugou: he is a great fighter and a cunning strategist, but also a proud and impulsive risk-taker.
An example of this is Bakugo’s refusal to accept the 1st place at the school tournament.
The “hero part” of him says that he doesn’t deserve a medal since his opponent didn’t fight him seriously.
But the “bully part” of him reacts violently and makes him look unreasonable.
It doesn’t matter if your character starts out as a bully like Bakugou, or if he starts out as a nice guy like Deku.
The most important thing to keep in mind on how to write a hero is that a hero is not made by his power or his strength. A bully can become a good person (and a good character) despite his power by learning to respect others and accept his own limitations.
If your character’s sole purpose in life is to show the world how great he is, then he might need to be scolded in order to understand why he was wrong.
The reason why a flawed character like Bakugou is so compelling is that they exist in real life, whereas perfect characters don’t. A hero is supposed to be noble, strong and admirable, an example of how to be perfect. But nobody will be able to see themselves in a character like that.
No one will watch your character and think “How relatable! That person is strong, gracious and kind just like me”. We know our biggest flaws better than anyone else, and seeing characters like Bakugou overcome those same flaws can be inspiring. That’s why we love them.