Letting Your Readers Celebrate – Reward the Hero

You bow to no one

In an earlier post I mentioned the need to express triumph and satisfaction in a story’s ending phase. When the heroic character (usually the protagonist) achieves a major goal, we need to provide a feeling of triumph that overcame seemingly impossible odds. Because of this achievement, readers want this character to be recognized and rewarded.

In this tip, I would like to go into more detail about the recognition aspect.

In many stories, the protagonist has to break away from the crowd and act alone, which makes his or her sacrifice, suffering, and courage all the more compelling, and that, in turn, magnifies the reader’s emotional need to properly reward the character.

Unfortunately, when the hero takes the lonely road to achieve the goal, it is possible, even probable, that no one will know what the hero did to save everyone.

And it seems self-serving for the hero to come home and blow his own horn about his achievements.

This is why authors need to make sure someone significant in the story, especially a character with higher standing than the protagonist, recognizes the protagonist’s courage and sacrifice in a direct manner.

For example, I was reviewing an early draft of Precisely Terminated by my daughter, Amanda L. Davis. In this amazing story, the heroine, Monica, goes through incredible suffering and employs tremendous courage to save the lives of millions of people. Yet, because she did it alone, at the end of the story, only one other person knew what she did, and no one thanked her.

Because of this lack of recognition, I felt empty and unfulfilled. I told Amanda she needed to add at least a word of thanks from someone who mattered to Monica. So she went to work and came up with this:

She looked again at Simon. With his hands stuffed in his pockets, he gazed back at her, tears trickling from both eyes. Exhaling heavily, he shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” Her voice rose barely above a whisper. “For what?”

He shuffled across the bridge, knelt in front of her, and looked into her eyes. “For everything. I have mistreated you, manipulated you, and ordered you around like my own slave. I should be shouting your praises from the rooftops.” He took one of her bandaged hands and kissed her fingertips. “You, my dear, are a heroine, the savior of all Cillineese. You have given us hope. We see now that the Nobles’ hold is vulnerable. You have loosened its grip of terror. Now all we need to do is find a way to strip their fingers away from our necks for good.”

When I read this, I pumped a fist and whispered, “Yes!”

You see, such recognition channels a reader’s emotions into the story. Readers know instinctively that good deeds should be rewarded, and when one significant character delivers that reward, even through simple verbal recognition, readers feel that their own desires to thank the character have been fulfilled.

This need is beautifully illustrated in the film Return of the King. The four hobbits have endured horrific suffering and achieved world-saving goals, but until this point in the film, their sacrifices have not been properly recognized:

How many viewers pumped a fist and whispered, “Yes!” when they saw this scene? I was among them.

It is true that real heroes sometimes don’t receive the recognition they deserve, and you might want to write about a lonely hero who suffers and sacrifices without reward. Such a story can be compelling, and the lack of hero recognition can provoke strong emotions in readers. Yet, I would urge authors to reward the character in some way. Public recognition might be inappropriate, but at least show that the hero has gained recognition and reward from above, maybe through a beam of light from heaven or a scene of resurrected glory.

For example, in the film Les Miserables, very few people knew about the heroic sacrifices made by Jean Valjean, and he died without public recognition. Yet, the screen writers knew they had to reward him for the sake of the viewers.

Here is the final scene. The short-haired woman who comforts the dying hero is, herself, already dead, and the barricade gathering represents a joyous celebration in heaven.

I am sure there were very few dry eyes among viewers who suffered through the story with the hero.

Any questions or comments? Please post them.

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14 replies

  1. The music in the first scene makes it even more poignant. And now, I think it’s time I actually watch les mis.

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  2. This aspect of storytelling isn’t often talked about, I find. Thanks for the tips!

    How would you deal with rewarding the hero in a series? In my first book, the two heroes are recognized at a ceremony, but the ending of book two will be a cliffhanger bringing them to the cusp of their darkest moment yet. Book three will likely end similarly, if not with worse circumstances, and then the fourth and final book will have a full, satisfying conclusion. Is it all right to end the middle books in that fashion?

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    • In a series, I usually allow the protagonist to accomplish some kind of significant goal, though not the big overarching goal of the series. With each book’s goal, I try to provide at least a shred of recognition or reward.

      Even in a dark moment, one character can encourage the other by reminding of past difficulties and how they survived and conquered. This is still recognition, even if it’s not a new one.

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  3. I loved Precisely Terminated! And the scene at the end of Return of the King is great too.

    Side note: I just finished Beyond the Gateway. It was great! I loved the romance at the end. I can’t wait for book three! Please don’t take too long…

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  4. I love that scene in Lord of the Rings :).

    I think with reward much of it comes down to the character’s personality and where they are at in their life. Depending on who they are and what life experiences they have had up to that point, they may not feel rewarded without public recognition. Or they may only be wanting to prove themselves to one person, or they may only need the inner fulfillment of knowing they won or did something good. The last one can be a good lesson for readers, I do see a lot of people feel awful because they don’t feel like a public hero, so to speak. Showing a character that is happy to have done even a little bit of good, even if no one else will know, can give people a fresh perspective on things.

    A mix of reward and unintended consequence can be good too. Think in terms of soldiers today. They fight to defend our nation, they are rewarded by the fact that they are keeping their loved ones safe and many are grateful to them. But the undesired consequences are still that they may come home injured, have a hard time finding jobs, or face hatred from those who don’t understand what it is like to be a soldier.

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  5. That’s good advice! Thanks!
    Interestingly, I’ve read Precisely Terminated, and I didn’t know that that the author was your daughter! I like her book.

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  6. I love your advice it has been really helping me in my writing journey. I had never thought about that aspect of story writing before, but you’re right. It is always expected and satisfying for the character to get recognition for his or her success. Personally, I really enjoy when the character is rewarded and recognized at a personal level by one or two significant people, apposed to public. I think that it gives more meaning and helps the reader to connect more intimately with the success and character, especially in a series. Thank you so much for all your time and tips!

    P.S. I know this is a bit off topic, but what is your opinion on switching point of views in a story. Such as, if I wanted to portray more than one character’s view and story, as you have done frequently in several of your books, such as in the Tales of Starlight and the Dragons of Starlight series, but also switch point of views in the midst of it. My question is: do you think that it would be awkward and unfitting if I had one of my character’s constantly in first person and the other in third person point of views? And do you have any advice for how I could do that effectively without making my writing sound sloppy and awkward? Or would it be best to stay with the constant third person view for each character?

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    • Coral,

      I’m glad this tip was helpful.

      I think it’s all right to have first-person POV for the main character and switch to third-person POV for other characters as long as you don’t switch in the middle of a scene. If you insert either a scene break or a chapter break before switching to another character’s POV, then the switch won’t make your writing sloppy or awkward.

      I did this with my yet-to-be-published novel The Scent of Her Soul, and I think it works well.

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  7. Thank you! I truly appreciate your advice!

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  8. This is a good tip. I’m struggling with ending my story with the hope that I want there. This could help. 🙂

    Interesting that you mentioned Presicely Terminated, since I am currently rereading it. I love the depth of emotion that Amanda put in there.

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  9. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think Lord of the Rings or Le Mis would have become classics if their heroes hadn’t been given a little glory. Your tips have been really helpful. Thanks a bunch!

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  10. Hmm. Do you think that if one of the protags was a villain through most of it and then he had a change of heart which saves the other protags, is that worthy of a reward? And if so, do you think marriage to the protag he saved would be fitting?

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