The Art of Writing an Epic Hero
Lex of Lex Thomas | The Children’s Book Review | September 6, 2016
Hero wanted …
Five years ago, my writing partner and I were severely hero-averse. We didn’t want to add another YA story to the shelves in which the main characters easily overcame incredible obstacles in their way. We wanted our readers to to be unsure if our main characters would even make it through the next chapter. So, the universe of our YA thriller series, Quarantine, became one where nobody got an even break. If a character scored a major victory, one way or another, they’d end up paying for it. Good or bad, no one was safe, which forced every character to eventually show their true colors. It’s one thing to do something heroic, it’s entirely another to be a hero every minute of every hour, especially when locked inside a high school for years on end like our characters. As far as we were concerned, there was no such thing as a hero in the classic sense, some noble-purposed warrior who didn’t think twice facing down armies or monsters.
So how is it that the main character of our latest book, Quarantine: The Giant, is an epic kind of hero? Is the Quarantine universe any less brutal than it was in previous novels?
Nope. In fact, it’s arguably more dangerous and unforgiving than ever. Did we sell out? Nope. There were no dump trucks full of cash promised to show up in our driveways (one of us doesn’t even have a driveway). So, why on earth would we suddenly decide to give a supporting player in our series the spotlight? Well… maybe a hero’s not such a bad thing after all.
You learn things when you write a book. You learn more things when you write a trilogy. By the end of the Quarantine trilogy, we felt that we knew our fictional universe intimately. Rules, truths, tone with which we’d struggled along the way had crystalized, and when we found ourselves considering another Quarantine story, it finally felt like play. Our universe had become a sandbox, but to keep it fresh, we needed a main character unlike the ones we’d written before.
After Quarantine: The Burnouts wrapped the trilogy, we started receiving emails from readers asking what would happen to Gonzalo, a minor player in the first book who makes an appearance in the third. More and more messages popped up in our inbox, asking the same question: would Gonzalo find the girlfriend he was searching for in The Burnouts? Would his story have a happy ending? Would he be okay?
Whoa, we thought, people really like Gonzalo.
What was it about this guy, out of all the characters in the series, that made fans want to know more? Honestly, it wasn’t so hard to figure out. It was something we’d known about Gonzalo all along — he was a badass. Almost seven feet tall, silent, and with a fire ax as his weapon of choice — he was the one dude in McKinley High whom everybody feared. If there was anybody close to Hercules in our universe, it was this guy. But did we really want to go there? Did we really want to have the kind of heroics we’d been so allergic to when we’d started the series?
Here’s our dirty secret: we’d always wanted to see more of Gonzalo in the trilogy, but with our commitment to deeply flawed main characters, we had to use him sparingly. He was a wrecking ball who could lay waste to pretty much any enemy. While that’s fun for a video game, it doesn’t do much in the way of dramatic tension. But there was one setting in the Quarantine universe that remained untapped — the infected zone outside of McKinley High rumored to be roving with feral infected and vicious, armed-to-the-teeth teen-hunters. This brutal wasteland could offer endless, formidable foes for Gonzalo. Now, we had a mythic landscape and a hero worthy of it, and most importantly, he had an impossible quest ahead — one that made this giant feel tiny. So, we went full force, and from chapter one, Gonzalo was in way over his head.
As it turns out, writing an epic hero proved to be a blast, partially because Gonzalo was a character who was so strong-willed that we could throw him into the hottest fires, but mostly because writing outside of our comfort zone was a thrill. We were upholding the rules of the Quarantine universe, still as relentless as ever, but we were expanding its possibilities, giving it new life. Five years ago, we wouldn’t have seen this in the cards for Quarantine, but these are the kinds of lessons that writing brings. Audience reaction, heroes, insurmountable odds, they’re elements as old as the craft of storytelling, and powerful if not taken for granted. Quarantine: The Giant would have never existed had we not listened to our fans and learned to become fans again ourselves. It was simultaneously the simplest and the hardest thing to do, but the lesson was invaluable: even when it’s harder to believe in pure-hearted heroes than ever, that doesn’t mean we need them any less.
Written by Lex Thomas
Publisher’s Synopsis: In the violent early days of the quarantine, Gonzalo joins a gang of thieves who live in the ductwork of McKinley High School. There he falls in love with Sasha, but as he grows too big to fit, he is forced to leave without her.
A year later, he scours the infected zone for her. No matter how many murderers, puncture wounds, or militia he has to survive, Gonzalo can’t give up on Sasha.
In the fourth installment of the Quarantine series, Lex Thomas delivers two intertwined stories about love and longing, which merge in a conclusion where the fate of the entire infected zone hangs in the balance.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab TM | 2016 | 978-1512401035
About Lex Thomas
Lex Hrabe and Thomas Voorhies began writing together as screenwriters in Los Angeles when they realized they liked the same mind-blowing movies. Lex received a B.A. in Drama and English from the University of Virginia, and lives in Virginia with his wife and two daughters. Thomas graduated with a B.A. in Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, and writes and paints in Los Angeles. They now collaborate from opposite coasts, under the pen name Lex Thomas.
You may also enjoy reading this article by Thomas of Lex Thomas: Screenwriting Vs. Writing Young Adult Novels