June 18, 2012

New Hero Brief: What Makes an Iconic Hero?

With Stone Skin Press’ first books headed for pre-release roll-out, I thought you might enjoy a look inside the process, at the brief I sent out when inviting contributors to take part in The New Hero (and its later follow-up, The New Hero Volume 2). I’ll be breaking these up into blog-sized bites over the next few days. Please note that this is not a call for contributions; the books are finished and ready for the printer, the invited authors having delivered some exciting work featuring their new and newish iconic characters.

Unlike other anthologies united by theme or genre, The New Hero books ask writers to present material from any genre using a common structure. Here is how I presented that to the authors. Long-time readers of this blog may recognize the key concepts and examples.

The New Hero is an anthology of original fiction featuring new iconic heroes, edited by Robin D. Laws and published by Pelgrane Press.

It will consist of 14 stories, each 4500-7500 words long.

Each story features an iconic hero of the author’s creation, in any genre. The hero is presented with a problem, faces various entertaining complications as he or she engages with the problem, and solves the problem, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion. The reader is thus left hungering for more stories starring your newly introduced iconic character.

What Makes a Hero Iconic

While a dramatic hero follows a character arc in which he is changed by his experience of the world (examples: Orpheus, King Lear, Ben Braddock), an iconic hero undertakes tasks (often serially) and changes the world, restoring order to it, by remaining true to his essential self.

Prevailing creative writing wisdom favors the changeable dramatic character over his serially unchanging iconic counterpart, but examples of the latter remain enduring tentpoles of popular culture. It’s the clear, simple, elemental iconic heroes who keep getting reinvented every generation. Each such classic character spoke to the era of its invention, while also evoking an eternal quality granting it a continuing resonance. We are going to create a new set of heroes who speak to the contemporary world while evoking the inescapable power of the iconic model.

An iconic hero re-imposes order on the world by reasserting his essential selfhood. The nature of his radical individuality can be summed up with a statement of his iconic ethos. It is the ethos that grants higher meaning to the hero’s actions, and a clue to his creator’s intentions. An iconic hero’s ethos motivates and empowers him.

  • Sherlock Holmes solves mysteries using rigorous deductive logic.

  • Miss Marple solves mysteries with a sharp mind, hidden behind a deceptively doddering demeanor.

  • Conan uses his barbaric superiority to overturn the false order of corrupt civilization.

  • Carnacki the Ghost Finder conquers fear with scientific methodology and technology.

  • Dr. Gregory House caustically tramples social decencies to solve medical mysteries, temporarily assuaging his self-loathing.

  • Batman brings justice to cowardly and superstitious wrongdoers, doing for others what he could not do for his murdered parents.

  • Storm overcomes the enemies of human- and mutantkind by wielding nature’s untamed power.

  • James Bond dispatches Britain's enemies with cold suavity and violence.

  • Tarzan upholds the noble values of the jungle against the predatory outsiders who would despoil it.

  • Philip Marlowe goes down mean streets, without himself becoming mean.

An iconic ethos implies both action and motivation. Each adventure featuring the hero is a satisfyingly ritualistic recapitulation of the character’s core action. By engaging in this recapitulation the hero restores the sense of order which was disrupted by the problem presented at the narrative’s outset.

This anthology provides your chance to create your Bond, your Batman, your Philip Marlowe.

Next: What we wanted to see in submitted stories—and what we didn’t.