Do you understand the definitions of hero, victim, survivor, and villain? When writing fiction, one needs to be aware of exactly what the definitions of these words are.
Who is a hero? According to the dictionary, a hero is a man or woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his or her brave deeds and noble qualities. A hero is one who overcomes obstacles to save the life of someone else or to make the life of someone else better.
Many of the superheroes portrayed in comic books show what the characteristics of a hero should be. No, I don’t mean that a hero needs to have superpowers or wear a crazy costume. A hero needs to have consistent morals and not use deception to reach his goals. A hero will take responsibility for what he does, even if his actions are wrong. He will cherish those things in life that are valuable to him and take extreme measures to protect them.
A modern day example of those who committed heroic acts would be the people who rescued the thirty-three miners trapped deep in a collapsed mine in Chile in 2010. The trapped miners, while I am sure they were brave individuals, were not heroes; they were victims who became survivors. The ones who rescued them would be the heroes.
Do you want your hero to be a likeable person? Then he will have humility and probably not want recognition for the heroic act or acts he has done. Your hero could have a job where heroic acts are part of the job.
People in these professions – firefighters, paramedics, policemen – normally don’t like to be called heroes, but the lives they save while being put in dangerous situations make them just that. The hero in your story could be a person in one of these professions.
The job of a firefighter is to put out fires, but they also rescue people from these same fires. Firefighters who run into burning houses or buildings to rescue those trapped inside would be considered heroes even though they are just doing their job. They will overcome the obstacles of the burning building, the falling timber, and possibly a collapsing structure to rescue anyone left inside.
In May 2013, four firefighters died while battling a hotel fire in Houston, Texas. They entered the burning structure because it was thought that civilians were still trapped inside. A burning roof collapsed on these firefighters and cost them their lives. Their focus of turning the victims into survivors made these firefighters the heroic victims.
Paramedics are also put into situations where they would be considered heroes. Each time they answer a call, they must look at it as potentially dangerous. Only about 20-25% of the calls turn out to be truly dangerous, but it is something they must be prepared for. At times they go into situations where they have to restrain people who are violent. Someone high on drugs could try to assault them. They could be jumped on by someone who thinks he is a zombie. There is even the possibility they will be shot at or attacked with a knife or other weapon. When they go to the scene of car wrecks, they risk getting hurt by the tools they use to save the victims. Depending on how the car is situated, they could be hurt by the car itself. The main focus of the paramedic is to make the victim a survivor.
Policemen who go into hostage situations, work to defuse bombs, or go to robberies in progress knowingly go into situations where their lives could be lost to save others. Many times policemen, paramedics, and/or firefighters will all work together.
Your character could be in a profession where the main focus isn’t rescuing people, but in any profession, circumstances could arise in which they could be considered heroes. A teacher (music teacher, dance teacher, school teacher, etc.) with a love for teaching could be considered a hero if a more lucrative career or opportunity was passed up so that he or she could continue to teach others how to better themselves.
A hero is someone who isn’t afraid to give her life so that others might live. In Newton, Connecticut during the Sandy Hook school shooting, Victoria Soto hid her first-grade students in a closet and told the gunman they were in the gym. She was then gunned down. She was a victim of the shooter, but she was also a hero who saved the lives of all her students, none of whom were harmed.
Your hero could also be an animal. Dogs have been known to wake their owners from sleep to alert them to the house burning. They have also protected their owners from wild animals.
A victim is one who suffers physical or mental harm from some sort of accident (car wreck, fall down the stairs, etc.) or by the intended actions of another person (being talked about by another person, being shot, stabbed, raped, etc.). Pick up just about any newspaper and there will be story after story about victims of different crimes.
There are victims of diseases – cancer, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, etc.- but many of these victims refuse to give in to the disease and let it slow them down. These people are survivors.
Anne Frank is a famous victim of the Holocaust. At least fifty women became the victims of the serial killer Ted Bundy in the 1970s. When captured, Ted Bundy rightfully became the victim of the electric chair.
A survivor is simply one who survives despite a terrible accident, such as a mine collapsing on top of him, a car wreck, or being shot. Other people or a disease may try to destroy his or her life. Everything may seem to work against someone staying alive, yet this person continues to live.
Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, is a famous survivor of the Holocaust. I was the victim of a potentially fatal car wreck, but I’m now a survivor. My daughter, once the victim of an abusive husband, is also a survivor.
A villain is a person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime. Through their deeds, villains create victims who need to be rescued by heroes so they, the victims, can become survivors.
Adolf Hitler is a famous villain that has probably been heard of by everyone. Jack the Ripper, a well-known and feared villain during the 1880s, killed many prostitutes in London, England. Any man who physically and/or mentally abuses his wife would be considered a villain.
The crime does not have to be gory or bloody. Your villain’s wickedness or crime could be extortion, bribery, or telling lies.
When writing, make it clear which of your characters is the hero, which one is the victim, which one is the survivor, and which one is the villain. Throughout your story, it may be your intention to keep your readers guessing the specific role each character has, but by the end of the story their parts need to be clear. If you have trouble telling them apart, then so will your readers.