Thursday, October 18, 2012

You Need More Scoundrels in Your Life: How to Write a Han Solo Hero in Six Easy Steps!

By Tiffany Reisz, @tiffanyreisz

Hey Readers!

Last month on Janice Hardy’s blog, we had a nice long talk comparing Luke Skywalker to Han Solo. We learned that Han Solo is the real hero of the Star Wars world because, unlike Luke, he has a compelling character arc. We learned to look at our own heroes and decides if we’d written dynamic Han Solos or flat Luke Skywalkers. But what if you’re just starting your book? How does one write a Han Solo-esque hero, a real alpha scoundrel for the ages? Well, I’ve got six easy tips to give your hero a Han!

#1 – Be a scoundrel.

The best heroes are often the worst people. Annoying, infuriating, arrogant, these are the people born for heroism. Read the Old Testament and you’ll find that many of God’s chosen heroes have some of the biggest character flaws (King David the adulterer, Jacob the trickster). Modern heroes need to be equally wicked or they won’t have a character arc in our books readers can believe in. If they start out nice and kind and giving…where do we take them? Nowhere anyone wants to go. But an asshole? He’s got lessons to learn, hearts to break, and damsels to save along the way. I have a hero in my Original Sinners series who is so much of an asshole in book one that some readers called the ending of THE SIREN a tragedy. HA! Then they read book two, see a different side of him and shuffle back to me with an apology for misjudging him. Taking your characters on a journey from scoundrel to redemption also forces your readers to reexamine their own prejudices. Everyone gets to be the hero then.

#2 – Wear a uniform.

It’s impossible to picture Han Solo without his stripy pants and vest. That’s his uniform and it’s as part of him as his wit and his blaster. In books, we need our heroes to stand up off the page. A good visual cue always helps. Give your hero a uniform that makes him stand out from a crowd. I have one hero in my Original Sinners series who always wears riding boots. Like Han, he’s a former military man. He’s also bit of a French nymphomaniac so the boots give him better traction during, you know, thrusting maneuvers. Another hero of mine wears a different sort of uniform but you better believe he stands out in a crowd. And he definitely stands out on the page.

#3 – Be bad every chance you get. And be good only at the last second.

In STAR WARS, we have a character who is good almost every chance he gets—Luke Skywalker. There’s nothing particularly interesting about a totally good character. Usually there’s only one right thing to do, but there are an infinite amount of wrong things to do. So if you have a character who always does the right thing, he’s going to be dull and predictable. A scoundrel like Han Solo is morally flexible. Nine times out of ten he takes the money and runs. But there’s always that chance he’ll surprise us, and we’re all the more delighted as readers when someone we thought of as a lost cause shows up out of nowhere, shoots the tie fighters off our back, and helps us save the world. My book series isn’t finished yet. And nothing puts a more wicked happy smile on my face than knowing my most reviled hero will humble all the haters by the end.

#4 – Have a dark past you don’t talk about.

I love a good dark backstory. I’ve had reviewers call me a sadist because of the stuff I put in my characters’ backgrounds. Guilty! Nothing makes a character more interesting than a dark past he or she tries to keep secret. What do we know about Han Solo? Not much. He brags about his smuggling credibility but that’s it for his past. Yet there are clues. His stripy pants? That’s part of a military uniform. Who was this former Imperial solider who turned against the Empire. And why? And his companion Chewbacca? Chewie would kill for Han. Where did that loyalty come from? The man has secrets, dark ones, things he done he doesn’t talk about. Give your hero a past full of mysteries. Even if you don’t solve his mysteries, the reader will have a blast trying.

#5 – Be funny.

This is a hard one for a lot of writers but you’ve gotta give your hero a sense of humor. Humorous characters exude confidence, sex-appeal, and humanity. When’s the last time you heard a woman say, “I want to marry a man who is totally humorless”? A character who cracks a joke during a tense moment seems tough. A hero who teases the girl about her crush on him seems confident. A woman who summons her sense of humor when heartbroken seems undefeatable even in defeat. Even at her lowest moment in THE SIREN, my female lead is making dirty jokes to prove that while bruised, she’s not broken. It’s easier to make a character funny than you think. When the woman of his dreams finally declares her love for him, take a lesson from Han Solo. Don’t say, “I love you too.” Say, “I know.”

#6 – Get the girl (or guy) in the end.

Your Han Solo hero goes through hell in your books. He or she starts out a wreck of a human being, a scoundrel with no redeeming qualities but a sexy smile and a quick wit. He gets shot at, yelled at, kicked out, thrown out, beat up, tortured, and sometimes frozen in carbonite. After all that, the very least you can do is let your hero get the girl in the end. Yeah, maybe there’s another guy out there who was nice and kind from page one. But he was nice and kind from page one! He’s already okay! Your Han Solo hero has done the hardest thing any human being on Earth (or in space) has to do—change, REALLY change, for the better. His soul has been forged by a dozen trials of fire. He’s earned a happy ending. Give it to him. Or her. And yes, you better believe these lessons apply just as well to female characters as male. My leading lady Nora in my Original Sinners series has a lot of Han Solo in her. And if Nora was here, she’d make an “I had Han Solo inside me…then we broke up” joke just about now. Since she’s not, I made it for her.

That’s it! How to Write a Han Solo Hero In Six Easy Lessons!


Tiffany Reisz's books inhabit a world where romance, erotica and literature meet and do immoral and possibly illegal things to each other. She describes her genre as "literary friction," a term she stole from her main character, who gets in trouble almost as often as the author herself. Reisz's debut novel, The Siren, was published by Mira on July 24, 2012. Reisz describes it as "not your momma's Thorn Birds." Reisz lives in Lexington, KY.


  1. Hmm...should I make my young mute kind of a scoundrel? Enough to not make him passive due to lacking a tool in the game of intrigue and thrillers? (his voice)?

    -talking to himself-

  2. Just a great example to work with and one that most readers can easily see exactly what you are describing.

    Looks like I may need to change my story a bit. The hero can remain overall good, but I need a contrasting scoundrel supporting them to make the story more well-rounded.

  3. I haven't written many scoundrels, but I can see the appeal. You're right that one of the most interesting things about scoundrels is they're unpredictability. So fun to play with. :)

  4. OK--I LOVED this. Han is one of my all-time favorite characters and the picture you used comes from one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie series. Han tells Greedo he has Jabba's money but, "I don't have it *with* me..." as he playfully picks at the wall and readies his gun. What a nerf herder!

    Anyway, this post hit at just the right time because I'm mulling over how to make my characters less cliche. I have my heroine in a love triangle with a shy sporty good guy that's a perfect match on paper, and then there's the sort of bad boy, but he's actually pretty noble. He just has attitude. I think I'm afraid to make him too bad because THAT would be a cliche. But I end up with wishy-washy. Han and his loveable scoundrel-ness gives me an interesting point to work from.

    I like the memorable clothing item--nice touch. And the dark past.

  5. Great advice! I have a character I can change to fit this advice!

  6. Thanks, very insightful. Now I see what's wrong with my main character that's been bothering me.

  7. Best all time Han line:

    "I know."

    (In response to Princess Leah telling him she loved him.)

  8. Love a good dark past :) great post

  9. Awesome post!

    Timely for me too. Working on revisions I realized I had cut a bunch of opening scenes for plot purposes that also setup my male lead as being a cocky jerk. Since they're gone, before finding new ways to establish that personality I've been debating instead going with a softer-nicer impression. This reminded me of the characters roots... scoundrel all the way!

  10. A good article, but I think this only applies to a certain character type, not every or maybe even most heroes. It's not true that generous, kind, nice heroes have no arcs. I can think of plenty of potential arcs for such a character off the top of my head. And there isn't only one good option in a situation. Some of the most compelling conflicts are those with no easy right answer. Watching a good character try to make the right choice when there is no clear right choice is no less compelling than a rogue turning good.

  11. "Usually theres only one right thing to do, but there are an infinite amount of wrong things to do".
    How true!
    But my problem is when the hero is a scoundrel, the antagonist has to be truly loathsome so you can tell the difference between them. Then again, compared to Vader, Solo was an angel. At least he didn't go around blowing planets up.

  12. I'm so excited! My hero hits four out of the six already--no uniform, and no love interest, but he's a brazen and (I think) funny jerk!

    7d, I do agree with you. I just finished Eragon; good kid, he just has to learn to be less stupid...but that being said, I must confess I was deeply intrigued by his companion Murtagh: the scoundrel with the dark past!

  13. *catches herself gaping and clicks her jaw shut*

    One character of mine has downright bewildered me about why she's so easy and fun to write, though I wouldn't want to hang out with her as a person. In fact, I'd probably avoid her in person.

    But looking at this… She's a Han Solo–type hero.

    Even if her "uniform" is Hello Kitty.


  14. Loved this! You did a great job of capturing the essence of why we love these characters and what it takes to write them. ;)

  15. I love bad boys but only in fiction!

  16. I LOVE Han Solo. "I love you." "I know." Love those lines.

    I always liked Han Solo better.

  17. My first crush was on Han Solo, now I know why every hero I write has a bit of a swagger to him. ;)

    Great post!

  18. If you really want to make it interesting you start with a good guy and a sweetheart and let them both become assholes before they straighten out and find each other again. That's a double arc and to use E.M.Forster's vocabulary, your characters become very round.

  19. Good post, but I think Han Solo could be defined as an anti-hero. Anti-heroes struggle with being good. Heroes like Luke Skywalker struggle with things like distrust, insecurity, rejection, temper, and such. I don't think either one is better or worse. I think they're two kinds of main characters. I have both kinds in the book I'm working on. Some people have a tendency to be more good from either personality or background, but that doesn't mean they don't have their struggles too.

    Stori Tori's Blog

  20. So true, so true. Scoundrels are so much more fun to write and what better example to use than Han Solo? Great post!

    P.S. Second favorite scoundrel is Doc Holliday in Tombstone...

  21. Oh, I love me some scoundrels.

    I have always enjoyed writing characters who have grey morals. You never know what they are going to do. Some of my favourite literary characters are thieves. Their entertaining and unpredictable, yet still have those redeemable qualities.

    I can think of two authors who pull this off wonderful. Megan Whalen Turner in her Queen's Thief series and Lynn Flewelling in her Nightrunner series. Both the main characters are thieves but they both have their wonderful redeeming qualities. Their enjoyment of stealing isn't seen as a bad thing in the character's eyes. They solve their problems with their useful skills. Stealing is how the cope with the world and view things as well. Gen, while he becomes a king in the later books, is still a thief at heart. He sneaks around his own castle. And then Seregil lives a double life in the city he lives in. Yet readers adore both of them.

    I've taken inspiration from both of these talents authors for creating one of my own lovable thieves. He's brutally honest to a fault. Doesn't matter who he is talking to, you'll know what he thinks of you after a conversation. This often gets him into a lot of trouble when he is voicing his opinion to the person who caught him stealing. Yet he isn't going to stop stealing. It's how he copes with the world around him and with his past as well.

    On the flip side. Characters whose morals are always on the right side can be interesting as well. Take Captain America. His morals are very clear right from the very begining. And nothing stops him from upholding those morals. During the movies, and I'm sure the comics as well, he's made to question those morals and to uphold them as well. It all depends how you treat the character and plot the novel as well. If those morals are never challenged, you get a boring character who doesn't change by the end.

    It's the treatment and development of the character that can make stories even more interesting.