where the writers are


In the old days all the lead characters in our books were heroes.


And now we find our hero crossing the swamp in a leaky raft...

Spying on her violent neighbors, from a creaky elevator shaft, our hero held her breath...

Our hero escaping her kidnappers, only to run into a pack of wolves...



I write for teens, and most of  the kids in my novels have been

broody, narcissistic, obsessed—not with saving the world, but themselves.


You can be a hero if you save yourself, depending on how you do it and who you take with you. I think I had one character who was a hero because she finally had the courage to face loss. I had dozens of characters who were not heroes because they did not seem to learn much from the circumstances they faced. 


I always want to write a fairy tale with a happy ending and end up writing dark things.


I once  spent three years trying to write something inspiring. It was going to be about a girl who saved childhood from going extinct. It ended up being about a broody, narcissistic, self-obsessed kid.


My editor would pencil in

helpful comments—

When will she stop worrying about the size of her nose  and think about her mother's suicide?


Books always suck the moment you try to write about anything.


Test this out: Try to write beautifully.

Try to write something funny.

Try to write about a hero.


On the other hand, if you start off with a realistic character—give her a decent name, take her shopping for clothes and then turn her loose in a bad situation, she will become a hero if you let her.


Lock her in a bus with a crazy person overnight, get her stuck on the mountain with a flat tire after dark, or simply hook her up with a vampire she is sexually attracted to but can't you know what.


Once you do that, all you have to do is simply show up—preferably three to four hours daily, and watch how she gets herself out.

You have to step aside to do that, and trust that you raised your character well.


If she's a really great hero, she will show courage and fortitude and she will rise to each challenge you give her with a minimum of angst and tears—but just enough so we know that her path is not easy and her prize is hard-won. If she's a phenomenal hero, she will either undergo a genuine change of character—or her acts will

cause a seemingly impossible situation to turn around.


Courage is a component of heroism, and so is sacrifice. If a suicidal and clinically masochistic man ran into a burning building to save his own cat, because he had the desire to die and/or feel pain, and it was his cat, after all—how heroic would that be? But kudos to the guy who is terrified of fire and runs in to save the kitty that belongs to his bitchy landlord.


How much you go through and at what cost and who you help—these things are incidental and contribute greatly to the meat and action of the story. But what are you committed to--and when  will you finally duck your head and run? The answer to those questions will reveal your true character—or at least your lead character's true character!


And speaking of breaking points—if we've done our jobs as writers, our hero's breaking point is the exact spot where our reader's hearts will break. Because even the least heroic among us know what it is like to ache for a hero—and to ache to be someone's hero, and we know how bad it feels to see a hero



Luckily we are not expected to become heroes alone. Even the characters of our books can not be heroic completely on their own steam.


There will always be a sense of grace attached to your hero, something subtle will settle in half way through the book, and after so much time and effort on his or her part, something indefinable will empower the hero to move mountains.


Every truly heroic moment that I've witnessed occurred when someone was willing to kill off their most petty and small and whining voices, and let the force of grace step in. We become heros not because we save lives or reach our goal—but for having died trying. We don't need to literally die. But in literature it is death if our characters don't die a little on their way to rebirth.