I write fantasy, horror, adventure and science fiction. As is true for every genre, there has to be a hero(ine) who triumphs at the end. I've discovered a flaw in my writing skill.
In simple words - my lead characters suck. Oh, they really suck. How much do they suck?
Many of my fans and test readers LOVE my secondary characters and say "eh" to my lead. Even my editor (the woman who corrects my writing mistakes) tells me: Your lead was a little boring but I loved what you did with (insert lesser character name here).
My original writing of THREE STEPS: THE JOURNEYS OF AYROLD had the lead character basically stumbling through the pages blindly doing what he was told. Uh, this is the lead character? It took a lot of rewriting to get my character to finally come to life and have a little backbone. In the first draft of ANCIENT BLOOD: THE AMAZON, again my heroine was a wimpy and lame 'leader' of the team of scientists. My co-author rewrote her to give her a spine and a little gumption. By the end of the book, Ana literally flew off the pages. My Amish novel currently being hawked by an agent had the lead boy, Daniel who, like others before him, just blindly followed directions. My editor really loved his school mate and felt that character was more fleshed out than the lead who she found to be a bit ambiguous. In my current work-in-progress, my heroine I've discovered is just like all her predecessors.
I was close to three-quarters of the way through the final edits with a projected release date being June 30, 2014, when I realized, my lead, Jewyl, was a waste of words on the cyber paper. My test reader fell in love with her sidekick, Chardo and his antics and ambivalent sexual ways. In fact, it was my discovery that the leader of the group wasn't my heroine but another character completely. He, in fact, was taking charge and controlling most of the situations. So, the projected release date will come and go. I would rather than a strong lead character than make a deadline.
So what makes a hero(ine) in a story? I was going to use LORD OF THE RINGS as an example but that would be a poor choice since there were many heroes - even ones you probably wouldn't consider. Think about it - Frodo was the lead, but not the only lead. Sam played a part. Merry and Pippin played their parts. Ganldalf was important, as was Aragon, Legolas, Gimli and so many others. Did you consider Gollum a hero? Each of these characters was a hero in some way and a lead character.
So, by looking at the cast of LORD OF THE RINGS, one is able to see that being a hero has many different qualities. I would say, it isn't always about being the lead character that they whole story revolves around but it could.
Off hand I would offer the following as the guideline for a hero(ine): The character who steps up at the proper time (moment) to be the catalyst to the ending. And therein lies the crux of my issue.
My weak, wimpy, lackluster characters need to step up, be noticed, so that when the time to shine is thrust upon them, the reader knows the character has the skills and knowledge to perform faultlessly.
In other words, to have a long lost heir to the kingdom be the innocent blacksmith's apprentice, that person must have the knowledge to be a king. Of course, having him thrown into a sword fight untested would be totally inappropriate. This lad would have learned some sword moves and techniques while testing the new swords or repairing broken ones. Obviously he would have to be able to read, therefore he secretly reads when he is alone. The same holds true for horseback riding and other talents. He must be a very observant youth to watch those in stations above him, perhaps a knight or some lord.
So I don't have to completely rewrite my current work-in-progress, but I do have to make sure that Jewyl is somewhat in control of most situations. In other words, I really need to get to know my character better so I can relay the proper information so when she is placed in the situation for her to be a heroine, the reader has slowly been fore-shadowed that she can do it.
I'm sorry Chardo, but as a secondary character, the sidekick, you have to take a backseat in the story. You can have your moments to shine but you can't be the star.
Until next I ramble on...