Fiction writing: The reluctant hero

Recently, one of my students brought to class an excerpt from a novel he was working on. At more than one point in the story, the main character stands up against the bad guys, members of an outlaw gang.

“Why does he do that?” I asked, to help the writer uncover his character’s deeper motivations. “As we learned earlier in the manuscript, all the main character really wants to do is live on his farm in peace and quiet. Why would he risk confronting outlaws?”

“He doesn’t. Not at first,” the student said. “Not until the romantic interest, the woman he cares about, is threatened.”

“Ah,” I said. “Your protagonist is an example of what’s called the ‘reluctant hero,’ a character who, more than once, refuses the call to adventure before standing up for what is right.

Armed with that additional information about his character, the writer could now create a story with more depth. The concept of the reluctant hero is described in detail in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler.