I wanted to step away from some of the more politically and emotionally charged articles and reblogs I’ve been doing lately, vital as they are, to touch on some lighter writing topics. With that in mind, in today’s Looking at Character, we are going to examine the ups and downs of a favorite character archetype: the Everyman Hero. Few kinds of protagonists can score higher in the reader relatability department than the Everyman, because at the heart of it, he/she is a normal citizen, just like most of us.
That very fact makes the Everyman Hero both easy and hard to write for. Obviously, most authors know very much what it is like to be an everyday person so there are fewer chances to make mistakes at the base character level. You know what a normal person is capable of, you have an idea of just how varied their background and personality can be, and you have a good idea of how they might react when faced with unusual situations. It sounds like an ease to add to your story.
The thing is, all of those things can also lead to complications. Especially if your story deals with fantastic elements, you may have difficulty coming up with realistic reasons for the Everyman Hero to be involved in the larger plot or to justify his/her ability to not to participate in the plot, but to even survive it. This can tie into the overall need for character agency in our protagonists and the possibility of the Everyman Hero to mutate into the Load, something that can be very jarring when said of a major protagonist. It could also lead to issues of straining the suspension of disbelief (‘How did that toll booth worker fight off two werewolves with a roll of silver dollars? She should be torn to pieces!’) when you have the Everyman Hero triumph in situations that would stymie even an archetypical action hero.
These aren’t impossible problems to overcome. The most obvious means to deal with this is to make the Everyman status a beginning point and allow the protagonist to progress along and grow as strange things happen around them, getting by first by luck and talent and eventually becoming something greater than how he/she started. A more subtle approach is to simply remain thoughtful and open-minded as you approach strange situations involving the character. Everyman doesn’t mean dumb and everyman doesn’t mean incompetent. All it means is the character is relatively ‘normal’. Human beings are capable of some pretty impressive feats, so an Everyman Hero can do the same things when needed.
However you want to work it in, the Everyman Hero can be an excellent character type to use in a variety of situations, most especially if you need a highly relatable character to provide your readers a viewpoint into an otherwise arcane or complicated setting or plot.
If you have any suggestions, ideas, or critiques, feel free to put them in the comments below!