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

By Ian Sutherland | Writing

Jun 27

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.

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About the Author

Ian Sutherland is a British crime thriller author. Leveraging his career in the IT industry, Ian’s thrillers shine light on the threats we face from cybercrime as it becomes all too prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Ian lives near London with his wife and two daughters.

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