We live in an age of heroism. It’s in our films (seen a comic book based film lately?) and our novels and our news reports. Unlike the sixties, we have revered our troops for their bravery in the field. We take these boys (for the most part) from their video games and attempts to nail pretty girls and place them in the worst that hell here on earth has to offer. From deep within the human psyche, they find the courage to do things most of us could not even conceive. When we think of bravery, there’s a common list: police officers, firemen, soldiers, people who risk the ultimate daily for the rest of us.
When we think of bravery, it’s easy to think of the obvious. I don’t want to diminish that, but it’s not the type I want to talk about here. If you look at those comic heroes, Peter Parker? A nobody until a lab accident makes him Spiderman. Bruce Wayne? A rich orphan whose psychopathy turns him into the elusive crime fighter in an attempt to right the type of wrong that robbed him of his parents. What’s the point? Bravery is a trait inherent in all of us. It is circumstances that awaken it.
When I place my character in the right set of circumstances, it doesn’t matter who he was before. It doesn’t matter what traits he exhibited or how he manifested himself in life. In the right set of circumstances, he can find that gut entrenched trait that will cause him to rise against the largest of foes. David didn’t take on Goliath because of who he was, but because of what he had within him.
When you place your protagonist in the right circumstances, he or she will display the type of heroic behavior one would expect. We see it everyday. I have a friend battling breast cancer. Her courage amazes me. I know single mothers struggling to raise families with no help. I couldn’t do that, I say. In the right circumstances, maybe I could. Until the circumstances are right, we don’t know. Until you give your character the opportunity, you won’t know either.
Brace yourself though. Once you give them the chance to shine, the book is all theirs. You’ve lost control to a certain degree. Feel good about it.
What circumstances do you provide for your characters that require the inner reserve and strength we call bravery?