If He wears a White Hat, Is He the Hero?


Ashley, our cat, is a spinabifita cat. Because of nerve damage to her spine, her abdominal muscle strength is limited, and she is prone to serious constipation. Thus she is on a special diet. On occasion, her constipation will cause her to lose her appetite. At other times, her delicate digestive tract will overcompensate leaving her with diarrhea. We have learned that she does best overall if her input of food is more or less constant. Binge eating makes things worse.

She eats mostly canned food with supplements of mineral oil, prune juice and whole milk. Things are best when she eats a quarter of a can per meal, but when she is very hungry, we will allow her a third of a can. Unlike some of our previous cats, she does not like dry cat food. She will only eat it if she is despirately hungry.

This means that some days we are encouraging, or even bribing, her to eat, while other days, we are chasing her to her dry food dish after she has consumed a third of a can of wet food. At times, she will stand before her empty dish, meowing as if to say, “I haven’t been fed, and I’m hungry.” When I remind her that she just consumed a third of a can of food in one sitting, her meow seems to say, “Some other cat ate all my food.”

Thus we have a family joke that Ashley’s food is being stolen by another cat called La Bandita.

Ashley is a “tuxedo cat”, all black with a white muzzle, a vertical white stripe between her eyes, a white bib, a white belly and white paws.

Today my wife asked me how I would identify La Bandita if I saw her. I answered, “Simple. Ashley is a black cat with white markings. La Bandita is a white cat with a black tail, black cape on her back, black ears and a black mask over her eyes.”

Writing coaches tell us that the best heroes have their faults and the best villains, as dastardly as they may be, have some good characteristics.

So how do we tell the hero from the villain? If the hero is good tainted with some bad, and the villain is bad with moments of redeeming goodness, could we be at risk of having two different ways of describing the same character just as happened above with the cat? We had better not be too quick to judge a character as hero or villain.

There are types of literature, such as melodrama, where the story works best with a totally wicked villain being overcome by a totally good and pure champion.

There are also stories that hold our attention because we have our doubts about the characters. Is John really the hero, or will he kill the heroine in the end? That villain is so wicket, he or she deserves to roast in. . . wait a minute. Look at that act of kindness committed by the villain. Why, that villain may, in the end, save the day.

Melodrama aside, we want to read about characters who are human. Humans are a mix of good and bad. Everyone has done or will do something that benefits humanity. On the other hand, the Bible reminds us that all are sinners because we fall short of the glory of God.

I wrote a story about a man who thinks he is heir to Poncho Villa and thus feels obligated to fight for and create Neuvo Mexico, an independent, Spanish-speaking nation on land that is now New Mexico and Arizona. I made Poncho slightly crazy. I made him evil enough to shoot lawmen for their weapons, to steal trucks, to collect protection payments from ranchers and businessmen, to kidnap beautiful woman and even to have a kangaroo court convict the heroine and sentence her to death. Then he has the nerve to offer her a pardon if she agrees to become his first lady when he becomes president of the new nation. Of course, first he wants to “plumb the depths of their feelings for each other”.

Eventually the hero rescues the heroine, but to make Poncho real, I did give him a soft spot in his heart. He makes sure his recruits, many of whom are destitute, are well fed. When he tires of the young ladies he has carried off, he arranges to have them returned home safely. He is genuinely concerned about unethical bankers foreclosing on the land of poor, Spanish-speaking ranchers. At one point in his ravings, he mentions an Anglo who had recently been cleared of charges of murder and comments that he would have felt obligated to have conducted a military raid to rescue the Anglo had the courts not freed the man.

By the end of any story, accomplishments separate the hero and villain. The color of a man’s hat does not determine his role in the story. In fact, the man we may think is the villain at the beginning of the story may become the hero by his actions. We all appreciate the author who is good enough to make all the characters real. All characters should have the potential to do good and be victorious, but the author must show us that the character’s sin nature also sets him or her up to be a villain. Sorting out which cat is white and which is black is part of the fun of writing a good story.

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About Reynold Conger

Reynold Conger is a retired scientist, engineer and teacher. Now writing fiction. His books are CHASED ACROSS AUSTRALIA, MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR and REDUCING MEDICAL COSTS (AT THE COST OF HEALTH). He has also started a series of novelas called THE RICHARD TRACY SERIES. Residence: New Mexico, USA Hobbies: gardening, animals and running. website www.ReynoldConger.com
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