If you Google, "What makes a good hero?" in fiction there are a fair amount of hits that come up with lists of qualities and requirements: values, flaws, skills. But I've been thinking a lot about this lately, spawned primarily by things I've been watching that have extraordinarily complex, unexpected, and powerfully moving characters who -- while not necessarily written as a traditional hero, prove heroic nonetheless. Often in spite of themselves. And something occurred to me that to my mind is maybe the most crucial thing a character needs to become the Hero.
The heroes I'm seeing lately are very much flawed, have mastery over impossible skills, have a strong sense of value (although often within their own parameters and only by a Venn diagram sort of thing do they occasionally cross into what the rest of us would consider of value). But for me, that is not what ultimately leads them to the role of Hero.
Instead, it is the Time we are with them, the Time they are with partnered characters within the story; the time they spend being who they are in the world, interacting, failing, trying, insisting, persisting, the time they spend existing and putting the pieces together that ends up creating a hero within.
They need time to be. To grow. If the story moves to fast, if intimate connections are not made, if the pace races and there is no Time allowed for depth, despair, transcendence, then all their flaws, skills, and values will be merely traits, bullet lists of 'who am I', but nothing more.
It is the Time spent on pulling these characters from two-dimensional thoughts and ideas and finessing them into three-dimensional, realistic flesh and blood. When their hearts beat, their flaws matter. When their flesh bleeds, their values are relevant. When their spirit yearns, soars, breaks, their skills, their temperament, their views collide with ours and demand that we see beyond the list of 'who am I' and into the humanity beyond. Only then, with Time spent peeling back layers, revealing vulnerabilities, truths -- only by passing enough Time with them for them to become a comfortable familiarity (even if we still sometimes hate them -- or even because of that), only then are they suddenly able to take us by surprise and rise to the level of Hero.
Yes, there are characteristics required to craft a hero. But only Time will breathe life into them and cause us to catch our breath, grasp our heart, and recognize a true Hero among us.