Tweet of the Day: Character or Ciphers? Which Are You Casting in Your Story?
Heroes are often outsiders, people with little socioeconomic power or rebels against the status quo. But once they defeat the bad guy and are given a position of power, the story is over. Few writers can make the transition from loner hero to a person with responsibility. If a new threat emerges, the hero comes from behind the desk, drops the crown and gear up with the old armor. Either you are a badass, “on the field,” or a has been, “behind a desk.” I have yet to read a story where the plot transitions from an outsider perspective into an insider perspective, at least well enough to keep the reader’s interest.
However, I recall that the first and second edition rules of Advance Dungeons and Dragons (a pencil & paper roleplaying game) included rules for hiring henchmen, acquiring followers and building, “strongholds.” The strongholds could be anything from a castle to a wizard’s tower with a few churches and thieves’ guilds thrown in for good measure. The idea behind these rules is that as the heroes progressed in levels they gained fame and fortune. In turn they became important members of the community. Heroes are heroes because they get things done. They drive away bandits, slay goblins, destroy demonic cults. Who better to lead the local guard, protect the local lord, and police the countryside. And heroes attract followers, people who want either to follow in their footsteps or share in their riches. That means a bigger set of responsibilities beyond simply swinging spells and swords. The game doesn’t set up this as an end to the adventures but as the natural evolution of them. The heroes become invested (often literally) in the life of not only the nearest village but of the kingdom.
The key to the situation is realizing that the stakes do not disappear or that the tension slackens after the hero has reached a level of success. In fact, such successes can bring on a new set of challenges. Now they have to administer their lands, wage war, arrange marriages, survive assassination attempts. It requires a certain managing of expectations of the audience by the author. The trick is to set it up as an evolution of the premise rather than an abandoning of it. Just like the rule set, if the audience knows that at some point the protagonist could move on from merely a soldier to a general they might not only expected but demand it.