We writers worry about all sorts of things: traits, arcs, themes, motives etc. But even when we’ve got all of those things sorted, bridging the gap between the black ink and the reader’s heart can still require something more… That little je ne sais quoi a reader can’t always put their finger on.
Well, I can, and I want to let you in on the secret.
It’s all about The Hero Lens.
What is the hero lens? The Gestalt of book writing. It’s what makes the whole more than the sum of its parts.
Your hero is a funnel… a telescope, a strangely muscular pair of hero-shaped glasses, a… I’ll stop. The point is, your hero is the lens through which your reader experiences your novel. Everything your hero does, sees, feels and thinks encloses your reader in a book-shaped bubble. Your hero is the lens the reader looks through when reading your story.
The lens is made up of four parts:
These four things are entirely unique to your hero and they separate her from every other hero in literature. It’s not traits or motivations that make your hero unique; those things are universal. What makes your hero unique is how she embodies those traits and how she reacts to her motivations. For example, is turquoise more blue or more green? I bet half of you said blue and the other half green. The answer is irrelevant. What it demonstrates is how important our perception is. It’s important for your hero too.
Rather than telling the reader that the hero feels angry, let the reader get to know your hero implicitly. To do this, let the world unfold as your hero experiences it.
Top Tip: While it’s tempting to lace your book with backstory and world-building details to help shape your reader’s perception, only include backstory when it’s relevant to the plot or when your hero comes into direct contact with it. Backstory can jar a reader out of your story because it usually refers to information from the past.
Let me give you an example of the hero lens at work. Here are two heroes; both of them are experiencing the same town parade:
“The villagers weave through the street brandishing placards like rifles. They’re soldiers marching into their last battle. The war-drum beat of their feet grinds into my ears, rattling my teeth and making my blood boil.” (Sacha Black, 10 Steps To Hero, p.154)
“They move like a current, each person flowing past the next. Supposedly united in their cause, but as they chant and sing for solidarity, it sounds like the melody of mourners. I see the tiny fractures, the gaps they leave between each other, the scattered looks, the fear of isolation. Each of them is drowning in a swelling crowd, and yet, despite the mass of bodies, they’re all fighting alone.” (Sacha Black, 10 Steps To Hero, p.154)
I didn’t tell you anything about the heroes before you read those two passages. But even in those short snippets you can tell hero one is angry and hero two is much more melancholy and sad. That’s the hero lens at work. Notice how I also didn’t use the word angry or sad to create those perceptions.
To make the differentiation between the emotions stark, we need to look at the sentence level and examine the differences.
Hero one: Anger as an emotion is sharp, explosive and hot. Which is why in the first snippet the sentences are shorter to reflect that sharpness. Likewise, the metaphors and similes are more violent – comparing the footfall to war and the drum beats and placards to rifles.
Some of the words that specifically invoke anger include: rattling, blood boil, grinds, brandishing and war.
Hero two: The emotion for hero two is different. Sadness aches and blurs and sometimes isolates a person when they withdraw into themselves. That’s why in the second hero’s paragraph, the sentences are longer. The increased use of commas is on purpose. It makes the sentences blur into each other. This also helps to imbue the sense of melancholy and depression. Instead of comparing the parade to war, hero two compares it to death and mourning and being alone.
Some of the words that specifically invoke sadness include: scattered, drowning, fractures, alone and supposedly united.
Top Tip: Next time you’re writing a scene, think about the emotion your hero is feeling in that moment. Consider how that emotion impacts the way your hero sees the events unfolding. What could you change at the sentence level to reflect that emotion?
Traits and motivations aren’t what set your hero apart from anyone else. What separates her is the way she embodies those traits and her expression of them. How her personality influences the way she sees your story world. Let your hero’s traits and emotions influence her description of the world around her. And allow them to extend right down to the details of your word choice and punctuation. Doing that will help you to add depth to your character.
Your hero is biased, your story should be too.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about the hero lens, you can in 10 Steps To Hero: How To Craft A Kickass Protagonist.
Sacha is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain. Her blog for writers, www.sachablack.co.uk, is home to regular writing, marketing and publishing advice sprinkled with dark humour and the occasional bad word. In addition to craft books, she writes YA fantasy. The first two books in her Eden East Novel: Keepers and Victor, are out now. You can find her manning the helm at The Rebel Author Podcast, and on social media: