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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Matthew McConaughey’s hero hot-o-meter.

On Sunday I went to the movies to watch Lincoln Lawyer with some girlfriends. Let me go ahead and admit that I am a huge, semi-crazy Matthew McConaughey fan. Ever since he said that line in Dazed and Confused about him getting older and the girls just staying young, I have loved him. Nuts, I know, but that slow Texas drawl, mixed with that ‘I just love my life’ attitude, not to mention his drop-dead smile and chiseled body, and I was hooked like a fish on a line.

I found myself pondering, after Sunday’s movie outing, what makes a hero hot? I don’t mean hot as in he is gorgeous. I mean what makes you love a hero? What makes you cry for him, cheer for him, curse him and praise him when he finally gets it right? Of course, while I was thinking about this I considered what roles Matthew McConaughey had played that I loved him in the best. I think Lincoln Lawyer may be my favorite to date, but the one thing all of his greatest roles have in common is that he is a utterly flawed hero in every one of them. He makes mistakes, he is down and out, and he comes from behind, sometimes bumpily, to take a journey, change and become a better man. The achievement of becoming a better man is what makes him such a great hero. Would I have loved these characters he played as much if they had been perfect and had no flaws? The answer is absolutely not.

Sunday was a semi-light bulb moment for me. I already clearly understood that heroes cannot be perfect, but somehow realizing just how much I love flawed heroes brought it truly home for me. In the April RWR issue Colleen Gleason wrote an article called DEUS EX MACHINA, Denouncement, and other Frou-Frou Writing Terms. In this article she talks about techniques you can and should use when you write. One of the techniques is The Hero’s Journey. She defines it as the hero going on some sort of adventure-literally or figuratively-that ultimately changes him in some way.

Back to Matthew. In all his best roles he is flawed, and he may be flawed still at the end of the movie, but he has changed in some way. He has become better, more self-aware, less money hungry, whatever.

I now realize I am the ultimate proponent of the hero’s journey. In my current work in progress, my hero is at the bottom of the rope. He’s lost the love of his life, and he has taken up every vice he can think of in order to blot her from his mind. He is very prideful and will not turn to anyone for help. I cannot wait to see how my misguided, flawed hero rights himself and changes in the way that can bring the heroine back to him.

I would love to hear what makes a hero hot for you.

Happy Writing,

Julie Johnstone
The Marchioness of Mayhem


  1. Julie,

    I agree about flawed heroes. I'm not sure it's as easy to pull off as it seems like it should be. I'm thinking of some movies or stories where the guy is just a jerk, but has a turn around out of nowhere or else the changing event doesn't seem strong enough to forge change.

    I love heroes who are good in their hearts, and it shows in certain situations. Their flaws stem from an attempt to protect themselves from whatever outward threats they sense. (This is more realistic. We all have defense mechanisms.)

    I don't believe a heroine can change a hero. She may be an inspiration, but he has to do the hard work himself. And I used the word hard on purpose. I want to see him struggling to overcome his flaws. If change were so easy, why wouldn't everyone wake up a changed person?

  2. Flawed heroes are great. Seriously flawed heroes are like chocolate. I've always had a thing for the reformed bad boys, not just in fiction, but in real life. I think, because of that, my favorite heroes to write are sometimes heavily flawed. Some might think they're too flawed, that they have too many things working against them. But that's what makes a great story.

  3. Samantha,

    I agree that the hero has to have a good heart and that the heroine cannot change him. Great points.

  4. Catherine,

    I think seriously flawed heroes are great. They have to do more hard work and I think that oftentimes can get the reader invested more.

  5. I love flawed heroes, but I find them hard to write. Sometimes if you show your characters flaw in the first chapter, you'll hear, "Oh, he's greedy, shallow, or whatever. That's not heroic." So that's when you have to save the cat. It's hard to find the right balance between likable and flawed.