Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Generation without Heros

I have been wrestling with a manuscript for about a year. This story is finished, in that it has a beginning and ending, an engaging main character, sufficient world building for the reader to understand the situation, a supporting cast of entertaining minor characters, and approximately 86,000 words. But it isn’t ready for primetime.

What’s wrong? That, dear reader, is what I’ve been wrestling with for months. I’ve come to the conclusion that it lacks peril and heroism. In fiction, peril is absolutely necessary. At each break in the story, a reader must wonder how the main character will overcome the challenges before him (or her) and succeed or fail. If the possibility of failure is lacking, then there is no real peril, no real conflict, and you are left with a boring storyline.

Peril, real danger, requires heroism to overcome it. And that seems to be this novel’s failing. A hero must reach within and come up with a strength that he (or she) didn’t know he possessed.

When I was taking American history in high school, our teacher, an experienced older lady once observed, “Yours is a generation without heros.” I do remember those exact words. Since it has been some thirty years since she made that statement, my memory fails regarding her exact follow up, but it probably went something like this: The American Revolution had John Paul Jones, the Civil War had Ulysses S. Grant, World War I had Alvin York, World War II had Audie Murphy. Which heros she listed doesn’t matter, so much as the ones she didn’t list. At the time I took that class, we were at the end of the Vietnam War, and heroism wasn’t being recognized as such, hence her remark about my generation.

Recently, Bruce Crandall, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor, some forty years after his exploits saved many lives in that same unpopular war. His heroism was finally acknowledged by the medal, but the recognition by our generation is still sadly lacking. The story was all the way back on page 15 of the New York Times. No doubt, more important matters were on the minds of modern citizens, like the final resting place of the iconic Anna Nicole Smith.

Yes, I grew up in a generation devoid of heros and heroism. A writer pulls from experience, and I am having trouble with heroism in my fiction. That’s the problem of growing up in a generation without heros.

(Note: I posted this a couple of days ago on the SFReader Forum under World Events. Some of the replies were quite thought provoking.)

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2 Comments:

At Mar 9, 2007, 2:36:00 PM, Blogger Sun Singer said...

The pendulum swings when it comes to heroes. As you pointed out, heroes were suspect during the Viet Nam war. Like Iraq, the war was unpoular, an "hero" became a synonym for "agents of the establishment,"

With 9/11, the term came back into favor and we were reminded that everyday people can be heroes. But unfortunately, the term quickly became diluted and we started hearing that people who just happened to get killed somewhere were heroes even though there was no evidence of any heroic acts.

These days, the cult of celebrity often trumps the notion of the hero, but I think when it comes down to it, most people can still tell the difference.

--Malcolm
http://www.myspace.com/mythrider

 
At Mar 10, 2007, 3:58:00 PM, Blogger Pamela J. Dodd said...

I hope you are correct, but if one were to judge by the media's focus, then the cult of the celebrity would win.

Since the advent of television, I think we've increasingly turned to fictional heroes rather than real ones. And post modern heros are often anti-heroes, and I am not sure that is good. For society or for fiction.

 

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