How to Write Classical Heroes in Literature: 9 Tips for Writers
Do you want to write a captivating hero in your story?
Writing heroes can be a challenge. But if you understand the fundamental aspects of classic hero archetypes, you’ll have an easier time creating compelling characters in your short stories and novels that your readers will root for and remember.
In this article, you’ll learn nine tips to make writing great heroes easier. You’ll learn about the classic heroic figure archetypes, explore examples from literature, and be given great tips for crafting epic hero characters.
Read on to learn more!
What are Classical Heroes?
Classical heroes in literature are complex figures who are often tasked with overcoming challenges and adversity.
They possess strength, courage, and intelligence that allow them to make tough decisions when faced with difficult situations.
Examples of heroes such as Beowulf, King Arthur, and Odysseus embody these traits with their daring deeds of bravery.
From Greek Mythology to Shakespearian plays to classic superhero comic books to modern movies, their challenges can range from completing a quest to fighting evil forces to simply bettering themselves.
Their actions during challenges help define the storylines they inhabit and illustrate their character’s strengths and weaknesses.
As a reader, it is always inspiring to witness these main characters triumph in their struggles against all odds!
Why are Classical Heroes Important?
Classical heroes are extremely important in literature as they represent the best of humanity, the person we all aspire to be, particularly when they overcome fatal flaws.
They stand for courage, strength, integrity, and virtue, inspiring readers to aspire to greatness. They help illustrate the universal human struggle between good and evil and demonstrate how moral values can triumph in adversity.
They also demonstrate that, like them, each of us has a tragic flaw – something that holds us back from achieving our own greatness – and it is often through extraordinary circumstances that we can rise above our failings to become the heroes of our own stories.
Compelling heroes like Hercules and Achilles teach us about resilience and experiencing adversity as an opportunity to grow.
These characters’ epic hero journeys also help readers explore their inner battles, allowing them to identify with these archetypal figures.
While ancient myths may be rooted in traditions of antiquity, they can still deliver relevant messages that we can apply in our present world today.
Twelve Common Classical Hero Archetypes
Let’s look at each hero archetype and learn about their extraordinary abilities and how they act heroically in fantastic stories.
There are many hero types beyond simple mythological figures, and often, the best heroes display traits of multiple archetypes.
The Warrior is a brave, strong, fearless character who fights to protect something they value.
Examples of this epic hero archetype include Lancelot in Arthurian legends, Wonder Woman, Conan in Hyborian legends, and Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings.
This figure is an older, wiser, and often magical figure who typically guides the protagonist on their quest, often placing themselves in harm’s way to do so.
Examples include Mary Poppins, John Keating in The Dead Poets Society, Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, and Ben Kenobi in Star Wars.
This hero faces an uphill battle as they fight to find acceptance in a society that shuns them and doesn’t understand them or their abilities.
Examples include Don Quixote, Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, and The Grinch.
This innocent and naïve hero character explores the world around them with optimism but must face brutal truths along the way.
Examples include Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Alice in Alice in Wonderland.
This anti-hero bucks the status quo and challenges traditional values to make a statement about what is right and wrong in their world.
Examples include Robin Hood, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Tyler Durden in Fight Club, and Rorschach in The Watchmen.
This romantic hero strives for love and often has to overcome impossible odds to win.
Examples include Jane Eyre, Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones, Romeo and Juliet, and Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind.
A humorous yet, at times, surprisingly astute character who finds themselves at crossroads between folly and wisdom, often coming out ahead due to their wit and luck.
Examples include: Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Hamlet, Major Major in Catch-22, and Peregrin (Pippin) Took in The Lord of the Rings.
This is the steadfastly loyal and trusting character who places friends and family above all others, even if it means putting themselves in harm’s way.
Examples include Mrs. Weasley in the Harry Potter series, Oscar Schindler in Schindler’s List, Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings, and Maria in The Sound of Music.
The Tragic Hero
The tragic hero is a character who, despite their best efforts and intentions, ultimately falls victim to an external force beyond their control or succumbs to their inner demons.
Examples of tragic heroes include Achilles in The Iliad, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Oedipus in Oedipus Rex, and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby.
This character is the one at the top, responsible for the safety and well-being of all those in their care while also relying on the conviction to mete out justice when required.
Examples include: King Arthur in Arthurian legends, Mufasa in The Lion King, Vito Corleone in The Godfather, and Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.
A creative genius with a vision few share or fully comprehend – this hero is driven by the need to better their world in some way, often putting work above all else.
Examples include Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dr. Jekyll in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein, and Tony Stark in Iron Man.
The everyman hero of classical literature is a character who is seen as an average, ordinary person with whom readers can sympathize.
Examples include: Jonathan Harker in Dracula, Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Charlie Brown.
Nine Tips for Writing Classical Heroes
Whether crafting superheroes or normal people, use the hero types described above to draw on the conventions of classic heroes and make your characters recognizable while also drawing parallels between fiction and real life.
Give your hero a detailed backstory that explains their goals, motivations, and relationships.
Write compelling conflicts between the hero and antagonists to highlight their strengths and weaknesses.
Be sure to provide positive and negative traits for your hero to make them a believable and relatable character.
Bring out elements of mystery throughout the story to heighten suspense and create intrigue about the hero’s character development.
Make sure your hero has human flaws so readers can relate to your protagonist from a realistic perspective. Greed, lust, excessive pride, cowardice, and insecurity make for great inner obstacles for any hero to overcome as part of their life journey.
Structure the story around an epic journey – external or internal – that tests your hero’s courage and allows them to develop as a character through obstacles faced along the way.
Add A Sidekick or Mentor
Include other characters who can support and help the classical hero or heroine in challenging times as they face their struggles head-on.
Fight Fearlessly & Deal with Failure Gracefully
Let your hero character face danger courageously but also show how they handle failure when it occurs—this gives readers a chance to see the true nature of their heroism in action.
Great Examples of Classical Heroes
Hercules is a perfect example of a classic hero known for his strength and power.
Though as a demigod, he is anything but an ordinary man, his struggles and loss are portrayed in such a way that normal people can easily relate.
In the end, it’s more through sheer determination and perseverance than great strength that allows him to overcome incredible obstacles.
Hercules was tasked with twelve seemingly impossible tasks, including overcoming dangerous monsters and retrieving mythical objects. Through his never-ending dedication and unwavering courage, he completed the arduous tasks during his hero’s journey.
His extraordinary achievements are the stuff of legend, inspiring admiration and wonder centuries later.
That’s why Hercules stands as one of the oldest examples of an archetypal classical hero: a single figure taking on immense challenges posed by the gods themselves and ultimately triumphing against all odds.
Atticus Finch is considered one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch stands out for his compassion, sense of justice, and natural empathy.
He is unshakably principled and devoted to seeing things through, no matter the cost.
His bravery in defending a wrongly accused black man in depression-era Alabama in the face of intense prejudice from his friends and neighbors is an inspiring example that still resonates today.
Atticus Finch not only sets an example as a heroic figure but offers encouragement for us to live with integrity and strive for justice.
Superman is one of the most outstanding examples of a classical hero.
His story has inspired people worldwide since it first began, and his characteristics make him a true icon in pop culture.
He is a selfless rescuer, always willing to put himself in harm’s way for those he loves and for any innocent victims.
Superman possesses incredible strength and fortitude, making him an unstoppable force. But these physical attributes are nothing compared to Superman’s unwavering willpower and sense of justice and mercy.
He hasn’t let his power become corrupted by selfish ambitions; instead, he protects all citizens as if they were family and goes to great lengths to serve justice.
Superman will remain one of the most powerful symbols of heroism for generations to come – idealistic, brave, and noble.
Harry Potter is another exceptional example of a classical hero.
As the central character of JK Rowling’s beloved series, Harry experiences all the classic hero traits: self-sacrifice and bravery in dangerous situations; loyalty to friends; close relationships with wise mentors, such as Professors Dumbledore and Lupin; and the ultimate triumph over evil.
What sets Harry in a class by himself is his resilience, resourcefulness, and determination to do what is right, despite overwhelming odds and his fears.
Every reader can identify closely with him as he experiences losses, setbacks, and successes along his journey. His strength of will makes Harry an ideal classical hero for every generation!
Wrap-Up: How to Write Classical Heroes
Now that you understand how to create a classical hero in your stories, it’s time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
Try it out for yourself! Use and blend hero archetypes, create backstories and personalities for your classical heroes, and write many conflicts in your story! With these elements, you’ll be well on your way to writing a timeless story featuring a memorable hero.
Interested in writing a great story? Check out these other great articles!
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