Why Is Our Hero/Villain Famous?


Our character is famous for something. This is the reason we’re creating them. What are we hoping to achieve? Do we want someone whose name people fear to invoke? Someone to inspire others in times of trouble? Someone who is an example, good or bad, of what’s possible? These motives (for us) needn’t be dependent on stories we intend to tell. Our purpose is to have someone for our characters to admire, so what we need at the outset is a basic purpose for this person and how and why they are so revered or loathed. This can be a one liner in our notes: “He said a prayer to Lord Vallen, who at the Battle of Westin saved King Harin at the cost of his life and in so doing restored honor to the tarnished knighthood.”

Whatever our character’s fame, there are bound to be details about them, their life, their story, and even what they did that people are wrong about. Maybe others have wishful thinking that someone was a certain way. People idolize heroes, ignoring ugly details, such as adultery or alcoholism. People demonize villains and ignore that they might’ve been truly devoted to their children. These exaggerations are part of humanity, at the least. When inventing your person, decide what people have right and wrong about them. Are there little known facts that might (or might not) change how they’re viewed?

Dead or Alive

Decide if they’re dead or still alive. If deceased, are they really dead or just presumed so? How did they die and was this satisfying in some way to the audience or characters? They could be incorrectly identified as dead and just be missing. If so, decide who the last person to see them was. Maybe they faked their death. We should have a reason and decide on the circumstances of that. What will cause them to return?

Are they imprisoned and is that known or not? If jailed or exiled, decide where, for how long, and why. The prison may have special properties or a unique location. How do they feel about being jailed (i.e., is it justified and do they agree?)? Maybe there’s a release date everyone’s worried about and preparing for. Have people become complacent about the threat this person poses so that they’re easy prey when he returns without warning?

If the character is still alive, are they retired in old age, or out and about still doing things to add to that fame? Are they okay with that fame or hiding from it? Does anyone think they’re past their prime? And how does our person feel about being viewed that way? Do they resent it or agree, perhaps sheepishly?

Our world has history and some if not most of these figures will be long gone (or at least thought to be—immortality, or the near equivalent, gives us options). Characters we’ll never use except as a reference don’t need much development, so when filling out the template in Appendix 3, don’t spend too much time on each section. It’s living people that benefit from more thought.

We might decide someone is too much fun and we’ll keep them around, changing their status to living, but this can cause a problem if we’ve tied the events of their life to the events of our world history and can’t change it. But we can always write a story set in the past.