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How I created an authentic flawed hero for my novel while dodging cliches and stereotypes

The hero of my novel is a computer hacker called Brody. In coming up with his personality, I wanted to move away from the stereotypical nerd figure that permeates our culture. You know, a teenager who looks like Harry Potter, can’t speak to anyone in person, stays up all night drinking full-fat coke, has pasty-white skin through lack of stimulation of melanin and has no concept of fashion. If I wrote my book with this person as the main character no one would read it – it’s all be done before.

But I didn’t want to go the way of Hollywood. Hackers in movies these days are ultra-cool. Everyone wants to be like them. Geek is now chic. But it’s so unrealistic. How can someone who spends the majority of their time interacting via a computer develop such mature social skills. And even if they somehow did, a real hacker would never make the time needed to shop for the latest fashions, exfoliate their skin every morning, go to the hairdressers for a beard trim and, worst of all, put up with a fashion model for a long-term girlfriend.

Justin Timberlake makes Geek look cool

Justin Timberlake makes Geek look cool

And these days, it’s all going the other way. We have ultra-cool people adapting their wardrobe and style to look geeky. Justin Timberlake wears geeky specs. Or the other way around: Ryan Gosling actually looked like a geek ten years ago and now is one of the hottest men in Hollywood. Mark Zuckerberg still looks like a geek, thank god, but is so rich and famous that he’s setting fashion trends. Where will it all end?

And in this confused world of real geeks and fashionable geeks how did I go about creating an authentic, flawed computer hacker hero character capable of holding the attention of a mainstream readership for the length of a novel?

Well, let me describe him to you alongside my thought processes around character traits and you can make up your own mind.

Brody is in his thirties so this fact immediately elevates himself above the typical teenage geek character that fills cyber-fiction. He’s a social engineer by trade – someone who uses human interaction to trick people into breaking their normal security procedures – so for that he needs to have a personality, an ability to act, interact with humans and be able to think quickly on his feet. To support this I gave him an interesting back-story that involves lots of acting and pretense. Because he has a long standing successful track record in hacking, he’s already earned more money than he needs and so anything he spends time on he does because it interests him to do so. As he’s the hero of the book I need him to be a good(ish) guy. Therefore, he thinks of himself as a white hat hacker (someone who hacks for good, just to prove they can break in) but he often drifts into the world of black hat antics to achieve his ends, therefore his sense of right and wrong is all over the place. As I’ve said, money is not a motivator for him at all, but how he is perceived by his cyber-friends (none of whom he has ever met in person) is. His main motivation is to be recognised in the global hacking community as one of its best. He mistakenly believes that friendships online are just as strong as friendships in the real world. He uses dating sites to meet women, but because of having lived a life of pretense and not wanting to disclose he’s a hacker, Brody always pretends to be someone he’s not and, as a result of building his relationships on such shaky foundations, he can never hold one down for long. His best friend, in real life, is a pal from University who’s forever taking advantage of their friendship. Brody kind of knows this, but puts up with it to maintain a link back to the real world.

How did I do? Would this character’s interactions hold your attention for the length of a book, especially when he’s thrust into a plot which has a serial killer preying on young women?

What about you? What factors did you take into account to make your characters original and non-clichéd?

Comment below.

Tweetables

A good example of how to avoid clichés and stereotypes when creating the hero for your novel. Click to tweet.

Fictional computer hackers don’t have to be written as sterotypes. Here’s an original example. Click to tweet.

@iansuth shares the factors that he considered when creating an original, complex, individual hero for his novel Click to tweet.

5 Responses to How I created an authentic flawed hero for my novel while dodging cliches and stereotypes

  1. Gordon Graham says:

    Yes, I think that’s a refreshing sketch of a compelling character. I especially like how his sense of right and wrong is all over the place, that’s realistic. And how he maintains only a tenuous link to the “real world” outside of his cyber-buddies. If anything, I would like to see you give him some financial pressure. I mean a rich character who can just hop on a plane to anywhere anytime or buy any gear or pay off any authority has a James Bondish-appeal but what about a subplot where his own identity is stolen and his resources are being pilfered away? That introduces so much more conflict and the need to truly use his social engineering and cyber skills to survive. Just an idea. Keep up the great work!

    • Gordon, thanks for the positive feedback. I love the idea of the identity theft subplot – no room for it in this book, but as I plan on this being a series, I may well look at it for a later one! As for your thoughts of him being James Bondish down to Brody having non financial pressures, that interesting. I hadn’t visualised him like this but you’re right, someone with unlimited wealth could logically just hop on a plane or buy anything they wanted. Rest assured though, there’s actually some backstory in the book that I didn’t include in this blog post that makes him doing something like this implausible. He’s definitely no James Bond! At best, he’s a more realistic version of the new Q character from Skyfall.

  2. mgherron says:

    I really enjoyed this, Ian. I think Brody is pretty compelling — only one part came across as false for me: the part where you say he hasn’t met any of his cyber-friends in person.

    I’ve been making friends online for over a decade. Almost all of them I have now met in person. It doesn’t seem realistic that Brody, especially if he’s not totally socially inept, wouldn’t want to meet his hacker friends in person, or that his *friends* wouldn’t make an effort to meet *him*, especially as he’s a badass hacker. Of course they’d want to meet him! Even if he doesn’t live near any of them, maybe he met some of them at a hacker conference? On a holiday trip?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for this. You have a very valid point about meeting people in person, although in Brody’s case there is a plot reason for him not wanting to meet other hackers in person. It’s because he’s on the most wanted list of a Russian Maffia gang who are fed up with him exposing their zero days and ruining the ways they make money through online scams. If they tracked him down in the real world he’d be toast!

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