Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need

sleepless womanGet your mind out of the gutter, people. Most every writer I know tosses and turns late at night and dreams about what their stories need.

I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light. He’s gotta be strong. And he’s gotta be fast. And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.  He’s gotta be larger than life, larger than…

Oh. Sorry about that. I guess I got a little carried away. What was I talking about? Oh yeah. Heroes.

HH is for Hero

Every story needs a hero with a compelling quest that propels the reader through the book right along with him (or her). The hero needs to be likable, or at least interesting, and he has to have something at stake, something that compels him to act, and change in ways he didn’t think possible. The more valuable that thing it is to him, the higher the stakes, and the more we care. We feel his frustration and pain. We become so invested in his journey that our heart pounds right along with him. Every emotion courses through our veins as if we’re connected by some imaginary intravenous tube plugged directly into his wildly beating heart. 

The example that immediately comes to mind is Will Smith’s character (Chris Gardener) in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. The number of setbacks this guy suffers is heart wrenching, all the more so because of what he has at stake, not just his livelihood, but that of his young son. When he finally overcomes those obstacles you want to jump to your feet, scream, “Hell yeah!” and high-five anyone in close range. The character in the movie Rudy is another good example. When Rudy finally realizes his dream of playing football for Notre Dame, you want to clap right along with his friends and family looking on from the stadium. The reader’s (or viewer’s) emotional attachment should deepen with each stage of the hero’s journey.

In the book The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live By by Carol S. Pearson, she defines four stages the hero goes through in the course of the story. These four stages correlate to the four-part story structure discussed by Larry Brooks in the book Story Engineering. (I’ll cover that on A to Z “S” day). For now, let’s look at Harry Potter as an example to highlight the four stages of the hero:

  • Orphan – Harry was orphaned when his parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort. He has an unusual birth as the son of a muggle witch and pure blood wizard. He was the boy who lived. Unfortunately, he had to go live with the despicable Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia where he was forced to wear hand-me-down clothes, sleep under the stairs, and serve the Dursley family.
  • Wanderer – He’s whisked away to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry where he learns about a secret magic world he didn’t know existed. He also learns that he’s a wizard, but fumbles along the way as he discovers the talents he was born with. He is uncomfortable with the attention and questions whether he is worthy of praise.
  • Warrior – He’s growing more comfortable with who he is and the power he has to make a difference. He finally accepts the call to challenge Lord Voldemort.
  • Martyr – {spoiler alert} He realizes that in order for Lord Voldemort to die, he must also die, and he sacrifices himself to save others.

The final stage of the hero’s journey doesn’t need to lead to death and martyrdom. There are many types of heroes. Here are a few:

  •  Everyman Hero – an ordinary person who is placed in extraordinary circumstances and acts heroically.

Example: Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness)

  • Medieval Hero – a person of common birth and good moral character, including obedience to a lord who will wage war for a greater good or to avenge someone’s honor.

Examples: Marcus Decimus Meridius (Gladiator), William Wallace (Braveheart)

  • Classic Hero – a person of royal or exemplary birth who possesses extraordinary talents, strength, and courage. Typically orphaned or separated from family. A traumatic event will propel them on a quest to save all at their own peril.

Example: Harry Potter

  • Romantic Hero – an unconventional person, rejected by society, whose journey is typically an emotional one.

Example: Mr. Darcy (Pride & Prejudice)

  • Modern Hero, also known as the Anti-hero – a person who does not possess typical heroic characteristics. They have a very tight circle of concern and will go to great lengths for that person or persons. The action can be viewed as heroic within a very narrow scope, but they will fight to achieve their goal regardless of the cost to others.

Example: Walter White (Breaking Bad)

Can you think of other examples for the hero types listed above? Can you think of other hero types? What do you look for in a hero? What is your favorite type to read about? Authors, what is your favorite type of hero to write about?

I also wanted to share an interesting article I found on Harry Potter’s hero cycle titled J.K. Rowling and the Mythic Hero Cycle.

“Holding Out For A Hero”

Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?
Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life

Somewhere after midnight
In my wildest fantasy
Somewhere just beyond my reach
There’s someone reaching back for me
Racing on the thunder and rising with the heat
It’s gonna take a superman to sweep me off my feet


Up where the mountains meet the heavens above
Out where the lightning splits the sea
I would swear that there’s someone somewhere
Watching me

Through the wind and the chill and the rain
And the storm and the flood
I can feel his approach
Like the fire in my blood



19 thoughts on “Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need”

  1. My favorite would have to be the Romantic Hero. I’m drawn to heroes who have been jaded by difficult pasts but are still good people deep down. I enjoy reading the story journey that brings them back from the edge.

    1. Thank you Rosie. The other day my son said, “Can you think of a better story than Harry Potter?” JKR wrote a brilliant story. I read somewhere that she spent 5 years planning the books before she even wrote the first one.

  2. Wow, this is such a great post–really in-depth. Another good book is Story by Robert McKee. It’s also meant for screenwriting, but is great for fiction writing as well. He gets into the beat concept in this book.

  3. I love heroes and heroines of all kinds. Those who overcome despite difficulties. Which makes me think that in our own way we are heroes when we face difficulties and somehow manage to overcome them. Also reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a 1000 Faces .. I’m also reminded of heroes with feet of clay …
    Thanks Melissa, great post!
    Garden of Eden Blog

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