In fiction, the Reluctant Hero is a protagonist who has to be jolted or dragged out of their comfort zone (even if it’s an unhealthy/unsafe one) at the beginning of their story. And even then, it takes them a while to fully commit to the journey. It doesn’t matter that they weren’t fully satisfied with where they were in life when we first meet them. True, they might not be happy being stuck where they are, but ordinary, predictable days are far safer than venturing out into the unknown where there is the risk of failure or even worse…success.
When I think about favorite characters who fall into this category, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, El from Sara Ella’s Unblemished trilogy, Nym from Mary Weber’s Storm Siren trilogy, and Fawkes from Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes immediately come to mind. Each of them start out reluctantly, but through the course of their story learn to face their fears, recognize their strengths, and overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them.
“We are plain quiet folk, and I have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable things.”Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit
One of the things I’ve noticed about Reluctant Heroes is they have what it takes to be a hero right from the start. What they don’t have is the confidence to begin their journey on their own. When you boil their struggles down, fear is generally the biggest obstacle they have to overcome on their journey: Fear of making a mistake. Fear of not being qualified. Fear of being outed as an imposter or a fraud. Or fear of succeeding once, but not being able to replicate the outcome again.
What helps them? Finding a close band of friends who not only encourage them in their journey, but who challenge them and—where necessary—speak truth into their lives when they let their fears be the loudest voices in their ear.
The physical act of writing is largely a solitary one. After all, no one can write our stories but us. But the journey of becoming a successful writer is one that can’t be undertaken alone. No matter what type of hero we identify with. We all need a little help and a nudge in the right direction from time to time. But some of us may find we need a little bit more encouragement than others.
Please note that being cautious isn’t the same as being cowardly. Sometimes what others deem to be “slow” is you making sure you’re moving forward in the right direction. It means you want to be certain of your commitment to a project before you decide to jump right in. Just know there’s no such thing as a “perfect time” to do something. Sometimes you just have to make the leap.
The Reluctant Hero as a Writer
Writers who identify with this type of protagonist may like the idea of having written, but sitting down to write the full book, craft a query and synopsis, and then send it out into the unknown for it to be judged by perfect strangers may feel like far too big a mountain to tackle. And so they cling to the familiar and comfortable, ignoring the yearning they feel calling them to something bigger…something more costly. Which is why these writers often need someone else to come alongside them and give them a gentle (or not-so-gentle) push out the door.
If this sounds a bit like you, I have three tips that I hope will help aid you on your way.
- Remember you don’t have to do everything at once. By focusing on one small piece of a project at a time, big tasks become more manageable. Instead of writing a book, why not try a short story and then submit it to an anthology or magazine like Havoc? The more you write and publish small things, the more confidence and experience you’ll have to tackle bigger projects down the road.
- Look for a mentor or guide. This can be a critique partner, a developmental editor, or a writing coach. Yes, there may be a cost, but if you consider the long-term gains you’ll gain in your overall career, you’ll soon discover the investment is well worth it. Having an experienced writer come alongside you will help you see where your current strengths are and where you need a little more practice.
- Ask questions! Don’t worry if they’ve been asked a million times before. The entire purpose of the writing community is to share information with each other and assist our fellow writers along in their journey. And by asking that question for yourself, you might also be helping someone else who hasn’t built up the courage to ask for themselves yet.
- Bonus: Befriend a “Romantic” hero. These are the idealists. The writers who see the world for what it can be and are determined to improve the world through their storytelling. Their vision is contagious, their willingness to put themselves out there is inspiring, and their compassionate nature towards others will make it a lot less scary to take those first steps down the winding road of toward publication.
Got your notebook and snacks ready? Good! Let’s answer some questions!
- Who are some of your favorite reluctant heroes in literature, TV, or film?
2. What is it about their story that resonates with you?
3. If you feel like you’re the reluctant hero in your writing journey, who are some of the friends and companions that are willing (and who you trust) to encourage and call you out when needed?
Write bravely and with courage!
Jen signing off.
A little about Jen:
Before launching my freelance editing business in 2017, I spent 10 years working as a copyeditor and managing editor in magazine publishing. I’ve worked as a ghostwriter, have edited training materials and informational resources for internationally respected Non-profits, and have been published in magazines, anthologies, and other publications—including the Christian Writer’s Market. I’ve also been a finalist and semi-finalist for the Oregon Cascade and ACFW Genesis writing contests for my unpublished YA fantasy writing.
My clients include award-winning, traditionally published authors, as well as previously unpublished writers who have gone on to successfully self-publish their work or receive full submission requests from agents/editors.
You can learn more about me at www.thewriterswellspring.com or by following me on Instagram: @thewriterswellspring or @j.e.lindsay.