*Guest post by Lesley Ann McDaniel*
Every hero needs an Achillesâ€™ heel. But what exactly does that mean?
In one of my current manuscripts, the hero gets an opportunity to rescue the heroine in the climax of the book. What kind of hero would he be if he didnâ€™t, right? Since the story takes place on an island, it makes sense that the water surrounding it would figure into the final mÃªlÃ©e. I knew from the start that the hero would jump in to save the heroine, but when the time came to write that moment, he wouldnâ€™t do it. He wouldnâ€™t jump.
It was then that I discovered his Achillesâ€™ heel. Itâ€™s his overwhelming fear of water.
So, what exactly is an Achillesâ€™ heel, and where does the term come from?
According to Greek mythology, Achilles was an exceptionally brave warrior. When he was born, his mother tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the River Styx, which presumably held magic powers. Unfortunately, the heel she held him by remained dry and, therefore, vulnerable. All an enemy had to do was aim for the one part of Achilles that was still mortal.
So any weakness, whether in a person, a thing, or an idea, can be referred to as an Achillesâ€™ heel.
As writers, how do we apply this to our characters? Think of it as their greatest fear or weakness, like Indiana Jones and his fear of snakes.
Why does this matter? Because itâ€™s an effective way to raise the stakes for our characters, and a reliable tool to prevent a â€œsagging middleâ€ in our stories. Knowing a characterâ€™s Achilles heel lets us create more difficult decisions for him, if we do it right.
In the example of my poor water-fearing hero, his choice has been elevated from â€˜save-the-heroine or not-save-the-heroineâ€™ (a pretty ho-hum choice) to â€˜face-my-darkest-fear or continue-to-be-a-cowardâ€™. The moment is more powerful because he has to face his greatest weakness.
Hereâ€™s how to effectively utilize a characterâ€™s Achillesâ€™ heel:
- Set it up early in your story.
As with every story element, this shouldnâ€™t announce itself as a set-up. Reinforce this component of your character, but donâ€™t project the pay-off. Let the readerâ€™s curiosity build.
2.Â Your character must acknowledge his weakness early on.
He can either deny it, decide heâ€™s fine with things just the way they are, or maybe even express a desire to overcome it someday.
3.Â If your character has a nemesis, that nemesis has to take advantage of your characterâ€™s Achillesâ€™ heel.
4.Â Let your character face his weakness in an interesting, unexpected way.
Ideally, this would come at the 2/3 inciting incident, or the climax. Maybe both, as long as the second event is even more creative and unexpected.
5.Â Â Your character doesnâ€™t necessarily have to overcome his greatest fear, but he does have to face it.
Be creative. Whatâ€™s the most interesting Achillesâ€™ heel you can come up with?
LESLEY ANN MCDANIEL writes romance, romantic suspense, and young adult fiction. Her new book, â€œLights, Cowboy, Actionâ€ will be released through Heartsong Presents in June, 2013. Contact her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.lesleyannmcdaniel.com.