We are a people in search of a hero, always. And readers are a people in search of a heroine, always. One of the biggest problems I see in manuscripts—confirmed by editors when they pass on projects—is the protagonist. Your protagonist should be compelling and courageous. Heroes are, by definition, heroic. Your heroine should push herself to be braver than she thinks she can be, braver than readers think she can be, braver than you think she can be.

There are all kinds of courage. Here are some thoughts on heroes, heroines, and the nature of heroism from authors who’ve given us some of the most memorable protagonists….

“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”

―Peter S. Beagle 

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”

—Mark Twain

Over time, it’s occurred to me that my protagonists all originate in some aspect of myself that I find myself questioning or feeling uncomfortable about.”

—Julia Glass

“Bravery never goes out of fashion.”

—William Makepeace Thackeray

 “You have to go out of your way as a suspense novelist to find situations where the protagonists are somewhat helpless and in real danger.

—Nelson DeMille

“I wanted to be my own heroine.”

—Jesmyn Ward

“Without heroes, we are all plain people, and don’t know how far we can go.”

—Bernard Malamud

“Alpha heroes, even uberalpha heroes, still win readers’ hearts. I like a masterful hero myself, but I also enjoy the idea that sometimes the heroine can be in charge.”

—Emma Holly

Self-trust is the essence of heroism.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Characters stretching their legs in some calm haven generally don’t make for interesting protagonists.”

—Darin Strauss

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

—Anais Nin

“I’m not at all interested in the brave who fight against the odds and win. I am interested in those who accept their lot, as that is what many people in the world are doing. They do their best in ghastly conditions.”

—Kazuo Ishiguro

“I’ve found in the past that the more closely I identify with the heroine, the less completely she emerges as a person. So from the first novel, I’ve been learning techniques to distance myself from the characters so that they are not me and I don’t try to protect them in ways that aren’t good for the story.”

—Beth Gutcheon

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”

—C. S. Lewis

“I’m not nearly as outrageously brave as many of my rascals that I write. But I think the rascal spirit must reside in me somewhere.”

—Christopher Moore

“[A] hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”

—Joseph Campbell

“My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great ones. Some succeeded; some failed; most had mixed results … but it is the effort that’s heroic, as I see it. Win or lose, I admire those who fight the good fight.”

―George R.R. Martin

“My childhood was spent embracing one literary heroine after another. I identified passionately with each one and would slavishly imitate them.”

―Sophie Kinsella

“See, heroes never die. John Wayne isn’t dead, Elvis isn’t dead. Otherwise you don’t have a hero. You can’t kill a hero. That’s why I never let him get older.”

―Mickey Spillane

“There is perhaps no more rewarding romance heroine than she who is not expected to find love. The archetype comes in many disguisesthe wallflower, the spinster, the governess, the single mombut always with one sad claim: Love is not in her cards.”

—Sarah MacLean

“The life of the hero of the tale is, at the outset, overshadowed by bitter and hopeless struggles; one doubts that the little swineherd will ever be able to vanquish the awful Dragon with the twelve heads. And yet … truth and courage prevail, and the youngest and most neglected son of the family, of the nation, of mankind, chops off all twelve heads of the Dragon, to the delight of our anxious hearts. This exultant victory, towards which the hero of the tale always strives, is the hope and trust of the peasantry and of all oppressed peoples. This hope helps them bear the burden of their destiny.”

Gyula Illyés

“My favorite literary heroine is Jo March. It is hard to overstate what she meant to a small, plain girl called Jo, who had a hot temper and a burning ambition to be a writer.”

—J.K. Rowling

“Heroine: a woman of heroic spirit; the principal female person who figures in a remarkable action.”

—Mindy McGinnis

“Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

—F. Scott Fitzgerald

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

—G.K. Chesterton

This post was originally published at Career Authors

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