By Steven Savage
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Before I proceed, a little announcement - Way With Worlds is going biweekly. It's too much hassle for me to write it weekly, even with the large amount of issues to cover.

Time for another "Yin and Yang," this time looking at the "violent hero" archetype/dichotomy. IE, the idea that somehow a character can be both heroic and violent and there's no potential conflict.

This is a difficult dichotomy to study as popular media often glosses it over. We've got explosions, actions, ki blasts, hordes of dead extras, and so forth, and the person leaving such destruction in their wake is usually the hero. It's a popular idea - the hero can be as violent as he wants, no problem.

Unfortunately, when you examine it, this brings in loads of trouble for good continuity. So, let's dive in.


What's the problem? The good guy kicks backside and wins, end of story, right? That's how it works, case closed.

Actually, not.

If you're going to write a realistic continuity, a consistent continuity, you have to deal with four factors:

  1. Violence has results in the world, at times unpredictable.
  2. Committing violence has results for the committer.
  3. People assess risks - including that of other people, and a violent person is a risky person.
  4. Violence takes up time, energy, and is risky.

The problem, simply is, heroes who use violence are often poorly written, ignoring the results, causes, and implications of violence. Its too easy to put in a bunch of flying bullets and energy blasts as "that's the way it usually is" - but inserting a bunch of action and violent tendencies into your hero for no reason but to have them ignores continuity, it ignores whys and hows.

Your standard violent, bodycount-laden hero story usually forgets a few continuity-based things:

  1. The violence is going to have other repercussions in the world - damaged property, newscasts, anger, vengeance, etc.
  2. The act of violence affects the actor, as does encountering violence. I strongly recommend, if you are going to write extended violence, read up on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and veterans of wars.
  3. People aren't going to ignore a violent whirlwind of destruction even if it calls itself a hero. A violent hero also may not have many friends as he/she is in danger. Ask yourself, simply, if you knew a superpowerful hero always having gun-blazing adventures, would you want them over for dinner?
  4. You can only spend so much time and energy kicking rear end. You have to sleep, you have to eat/recharge/re-equip/whatever, you also have to avoid getting killed yourself.


First of all, don't assume hero means "lots of violence and stuff." It just may not fit your characters and your world.

Secondly, remember those four factors above:

  1. Make sure violence has realistic repercussions.
  2. Make sure you deal with the heroes reactions and reasons for violence.
  3. Make sure people react realistically to violence.
  4. Make sure that the cost of violence is shown, and avoid improper displays of damage, strength, endurance, bullet-count, etc.

Thirdly, I recommend a book called "The Code Of The Warrior" by Rick Fields, a fantastic study of warrior cultures in history, and how cultures coped with violence and practiced war. It's a fantastic read that will make you think about how you write - and let you into the lives of some remarkable men and women. It will make you look at violence in the context of culture.

A quick summary of the book, a good guide, is this:

People who are heroic, who fight for a reason, who make a difference do so for reasons larger than themselves - for family, honor, country, ideals. The violence they inflict is there for a reason, and they accept it and understand the implications and take the responsibility. A hero who fights knows the results of their actions, accepts them, and makes choices and accepts responsibility - and ultimately accepts the possibility of their own death.


The worst violent-hero trap I've seen is what I call the "Uncaring Heroic Badass." It grates on me especially, and as of late, I've seen the pattern a little too much.

The UHB is easily recognizable - grim, deadly, antisocial, unlikeable, and a deadly killer. Yet, somehow, he or she is the hero and were supposed to like him/her, even though the person is a complete destructive jerk.

Really, the UHB seems to be a power trip to me, composed of two parts:

  1. I can kick anyone else's rear end, and no one can stop me. Wow, don't you want to be like me?
  2. I don't care about anyone or anything. I have no social ties and mock them. Aren't I cool for having no concern, care, or attachment to make me weak?

Most of the traits of the UHB, written realistically, would paint such a character as more of a psychopath/sociopath than anything else.


You can write a hero who uses violence - but do it realistically, have there be repercussions, and understand the reason and culture behind it.


http://www.bitbooks.com/ - I'm not sure how it's going - it seems to work well, but I haven't been able to get a response from the webmaster on questions. Still, it's a cool-looking, simple site that archives links to online fiction. Worth investigating at least.