What FIFTEEN Years of Being A Writer Have Taught Me


In regards to talent and skill, there's an idea that writers like Malcolm Gladwell (of "Outliers") and Robert Greene (of "Mastery") are intent on promoting, and for good reason.

It's the idea that talent is insignificant-if it exists at all-in the rise of legends like Mozart, Einstein, and Van Gogh. Rather than talent, we can attribute hard work and dedicated practice to the incredible output produced by these, and other, notable creators and thinkers.

When I first began seriously writing fiction, I was 21 years old. I had been writing short stories since I was 16, and had crafted a handful of them in college that won a couple of campus awards, but it wasn't until I was 21 and working a temp job as an assistant at a New York City magazine that I first began writing Bloodcrier, my novel about a boy with a telepathic ability that sometimes turns into a weapon, with the intent to publish.

I look back at what I produced and I see promise, but mostly I see a product that was rushed, raw, and unconvincing. Back then, of course, I thought it was a work of creative and moody genuis that would catapult me to the level of a Stephen King or a Dean Koontz.

Then I took a poetry elective that my MFA program offered on Saturdays. I don't remember the teacher, but I do remember the only advice he gave us that I really took to heart.

"When you have a poem or a piece of fiction you're not proud of," he told us (this was a guy who taught creative writing at prisons), "throw it away and start the same project completely from scratch. You'll surprise yourself with new ideas and better quality."

The idea of doing this with a novel enthralled me, even though it meant throwing away more than six months of hard work. Bloodcrier had already been rejected by dozens of agents. Hell, if anything, it would serve as an interesting experiment. And who knew? It might actually work.

So I threw away Bloodcrier and wrote it again, this time under a new title, "Ascendant." I published it less than a year ago, and so far it has sold over 2,000 copies as an eBook on Amazon.com.

But here's the thing: I didn't start writing Ascendant right away. I abandoned Bloodcrier in 2007, wrote two other novels (Trainland and Savant) and a collection of short stories (Peltham Park). I started writing Ascendant in 2011, almost 4 years after I gave up on Bloodcrier. By then I felt I had the knowledge and the experience I needed to tell this story the way I had been obsessively envisioning it since I was a teenager.

I didn't feel comfortable re-writing this book until I'd accumulated 6 years of dedicated practice to the art and craft of writing fiction. It was and remains one of the best decisions I've ever made, and Ascendant sells more than any of my other work.

Ten years (or 10,000 hours) is the amount of time Malcolm Gladwell and Robert Greene prescribe as the required amount of time to master a skill. Now, am I a master? Absolutely not, and I'm glad I'm not (yet). I love that I have so much more to learn.

But I'm definitely a much better writer now than I was back in 2006/2007, when I produced the mountain of crap originally known as "Bloodcrier." I've definitely put in at least 5,000 hours of that 10k Gladwell and Greene insist on. And I can feel the difference whenever I read my old stuff.

My point is this: Writing is not some kind of flighty art that lands on your head every once in a while, allowing inspiration to blossom. It's a tough and maddening craft that requires patience, dedication, and a tough skin against the judgment and criticism (or worse: apathy) of others.

Keep practicing and you'll get better. That's what I tell myself. Every. Single. Day.

And the better you get, the more it begins to feel like a superpower-one you can use to give life to entire worlds and complex characters and exciting situations that your readers will experience and possibly never forget.

Once you arrive at that level (and I like to think I'm close), it just gets to be fun. And that's where you want to be: so comfortable with your craft or art that you can just have fun with it while continuing to grow and produce work you can be proud of.

How often do you practice? How many of those ten years have you knocked off the list?

- Rich

Hey, just so you know, readers who sign up for my mailing list can get my fantasy novel “Trainland” for free, and will be the first to hear about giveaways and discounts on new releases. Sign up here!

Free Trainland eBook for Subscribers.jpg

This new cover for Ascendant is badass

I know, I know…looking over my posts, you’ll probably realize I haven’t posted to this blog in several years.

It’s something I’ve been meaning to address and remedy with more consistent posts.

Consider this the first of more posts to come in 2019 (and beyond) regarding the life of an author, independent publisher, and marketer. My only excuse for not developing my blog presence over the past few years has been a focus on other areas of the craft that were sorely lacking, like advertising on Amazon, BookBub, and Facebook; building my mailing list (where I tend to send out more articles than I post on my blog); and of course, writing new books.

I’ll keep this one short for now, just wanted to show off this new cover created by the fine people over at Damonza.com. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!


Wondering Which Post-Apocalyptic Novel to Read Next?

Image courtesy of  Bustle.com

Image courtesy of Bustle.com

Interested in a post-apocalyptic novel to read before the end comes for us all? Check out these articles about current and upcoming books.

The Dead Days Journal: Dark & Intricate New Post-Apocalyptic Novel Showcases Clashing Perspectives on Just What It Takes to Survive

Masterfully crafted by Sandra R. Campbell, ‘The Dead Days Journal’ is an upcoming epic adventure where a once unbreakable father and daughter are pitted against each other when the Apocalypse finally arrives. This bold story of love and family rages in a playground of broken allegiances, affinity for an enemy that defies existence and one journal that tells it all…

Annapolis, MD -- (ReleaseWire) -- 02/10/2015 -- While post-apocalyptic fiction has become something of a staple among the fantasy audience, both readers and critics are crying out for wholly unique new narratives that don't succumb to recycling of the 'same old' concepts. Thankfully, author Sandra R. Campbell has stepped up to the plate with gusto, announcing an upcoming novel where the apocalypse thrusts familial bonds into realms as tumultuous as the new world.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/2464747#ixzz3RORtAUjn

'The Country of Ice Cream Star' And 8 Other Books That'll Make You Scared For The End Of The World

When describing The Country of Ice Cream Star, Sandra Newman’s newest novel, it’s hard to know where to start. Do you begin with the narrator, a ferocious 15-year-old leader whose name gives the book its title? Or do you lead with the author’s invented language, a bold, futuristic, and all-together remarkable creation? There’s so much compacted into the audacious 640-page work that narrowing it down to just one element is impossible. Yet in any description of the book, one thing must be made clear: that Ice Cream Star, despite its post-apocalyptic setting, is not your typical dystopia. It’s so, so much scarier.

Because in the world that Newman so thoroughly created, it’s 80 years in the future, and a plague has swept the world and killed everyone over the age of 20. Civilization’s started up again, but it’s run by bands of teenagers and children, all of whom know they won’t make it to adulthood because of the “posies” that’ll take each of them down, one by one. Ice Cream Star is the leader of her tribe, the nomadic “Sengles,” and when her older brother starts showing the disease’s tell-tale symptoms, she sets out to find a rumored cure.

Read more: http://www.bustle.com/articles/63319-the-country-of-ice-cream-star-and-8-other-books-thatll-make-you-scared-for-the

Click here to check out my bookshelf.

Click here to check out my bookshelf.

The New Cover for OUTBREAK, My Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Novel on Amazon

See below for a description of the book and links to where you can order it. Or click the picture below to go to Amazon.

When the virus decimated the human species, Kip and his family lost everything except each other. Then Kip's mother got infected and perished, and now Kip's father is sick with sepsis - curable, but only with antibiotics they no longer have in supply.

Desperate to save the only family he has left, Kip will have to venture outside his house for the first time in years. His destination is a pharmacy a dozen miles away. But he will have to make the journey on foot through a town infested by those who survived the virus and became something else.

Something terrifying, inhuman...and hungry.

Kip only has a couple of days to complete the mission to save his father. But he soon discovers that “the infected” aren't the worst creatures in his ruined town. When he meets another band of survivors, he will learn the hard way what the town’s new occupants do to scavengers like him.


The 4 Bad Guy Types: How to Create the Right Villain

How does Voldemort embody the "Cult Leader" archetype? Read on.

How does Voldemort embody the "Cult Leader" archetype? Read on.

This is a companion post that is meant to be read along with my post on the 4 Superhero Types. I argued in that post that all superheroes fall into one of four categories: The LiberatorCrusaderRenegade and Guardian.

Here, I'll argue that all villains also fall into four different categories, or “types.” These are: The Evil MastermindCult LeaderAssassin and Soldier Villain.

1. The Evil Mastermind

Personality model: Independent/Strategic
Superhero counterpart: The LIBERATOR

Probably the most clichéd villain in all of film and comic book history, the EVIL MASTERMIND often looks exactly the way his name sounds, like a big, evil, walking, talking brain (Think Pinky & The Brain, or Stewie from Family Guy, Voldemort fromHarry Potter, the protagonist ofMegamind–the list goes on and on…).

My favorite EVIL MASTERMIND villain would have to be Hannibal Lecter. In my opinion, no one else can hold a candle to HL when it comes to pure, calculating evil (except Marlo Stanfield–more on that later).

I’m not alone in praising Dr. Lecter: to date, there have been five films with Lecter as one of the villains, and there’s a TV show coming from NBC.

Instead of listing all of the great EVIL MASTERMINDS and describing what they have in common, I’m going to give you three reasons Hannibal Lecter has become such a cultural icon.


1. He has superpowers. Yes, yes, I know Silence of the Lambs wasn’t a superhero film, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hannibal Lecter possesses extraordinary abilities, not just of the mind, but of the senses. When Clarice first visits him, he can tell exactly what kind of skin cream she usually wears and what she is wearing that day (“You use Evian skin cream, and sometimes you wear L’Air du Temps, but not today”). Then we see his detailed drawings of famous buildings (“They’re what I have instead of a view”) which indicate that he has a photographic memory. And, of course, he’s a brilliant psychiatrist who uses his knowledge of the human mind to find peoples’ weakness and exploit them using language (Remember when he made Multiple Miggs swallow his own tongue?)

2. He plays a mentor to the main character, thus earning her trust and ours.Hannibal Lecter would never hurt you or me. At least, this is how we feel when we watch Silence of the Lambs. We strongly sympathize with Clarice Starling throughout the film. She’s smart, pretty in a desperate way, eager for advancement in the FBI so she can honor the memory of her slain father. Plus, there’s her uber-symbolic story about saving the lamb from being slaughtered. We love Clarice and we want to protect her, tell her it’s OK, help her to become the agent she was meant to be. Hannibal Lecter does all those things. He becomes her father, and because of that, we feel like he has taken us under his wing as well.

3. He’s got a fatal flaw. Hannibal’s fatal flaw is pride. It’s the reason he gets caught in the first place. In Red Dragon (the film version) Lecter works with FBI agent Will Graham to create a psychological profile of himself. He even leads Graham to believe that the killer has removed parts from the victim’s body because he is a cannibal. Graham then finds a book of recipes with Lecter’s notes indicating that he has killed people and used parts of their bodies to cook his meals. Lecter obviously believes he is smarter than everyone else, and this leads to his capture.

If you’re creating an EVIL MASTERMIND in your screenplay, novel or comic book, keep in mind that this role has been done to death. I had to create a brilliant, sociopath school-shooter in my novel TRAINLAND, and I relied heavily on characters like Hannibal Lecter, but I made sure to give my character his own unique set of “superpowers,” his own style of mentoring Danny (one of the story’s protagonists) and most importantly, I gave him a unique fatal flaw (not pride–you’ll have to read to find out).

In comics and video games, the EVIL MASTERMIND’s ultimate goal is power. A great example is Sephiroth from the Final Fantasy series, most notably FFVII. His primary objective is to become a god that rules over the entire planet by merging with the planet life force, known as Lifestream. This is symbolic of the EVIL MASTERMIND’s reliance on the abstract (intricate plans and strategies, an intuitive understanding of technology, science and human nature) to achieve his malicious goals.

Other notable EVIL MASTERMINDS: Lex Luthor (Superman), Doctor Octopus (Spiderman), Magneto (X-Men), Dr. Doom (Fantastic Four)

2. The Cult Leader

Personality model: Cooperative/Idealistic
Superhero counterpart: The CRUSADER

The CULT LEADER is the most intense of all villains, and probably the scariest. His goal is not to kill you (or, in Hannibal Lecter’s case, study you and eat you) but to convert you into one of his disciples. The emperor in Star Wars is a great example; he has devoted his life to studying the Dark Side and tries to convince Luke Skywalker to give in to his anger and join them. It almost works.

Two things to keep in mind when creating a CULT LEADER villain:

1. He has to have followers. A CULT LEADER without followers is about as scary as one of those raving religious nuts you see in New York City subway stations. In Star Wars, Palpatine is the ruler of an empire; Isaac Chroner in The Children of the Corn [film] convinces an entire town’s worth of children to murder their parents, and partakes in human sacrificial rituals with his followers out in the cornfields.

2. He must embody an emotion so powerful that it loosens his grasp on reality. Every CULT LEADER–in fiction but probably in real life, too–must be adamant, on an emotional level, about whatever he is fighting against. A CULT LEADER who hates capitalism and writes books criticizing it on an intellectual level is not a CULT LEADER at all (a professor, most likely). But a CULT LEADER who convinces twenty people to strap bombs to their chests and blow themselves up inside twenty different shopping malls definitely fits this label. In fact, the CULT LEADER’s emotions are so powerful that no rational or logical argument can reach him. He has lost his grasp on reality, believing his mission to be absolutely vital. He has to be this way, otherwise people wouldn’t follow him.

Other notable CULT LEADERS: Voldemort (Harry Potter)

3. The Assassin

Personality model: Independent/Practical
Superhero counterpart: The RENEGADE

The ASSASSIN is either a wickedly awesome character, or a boring cliché. This all depends on how you present him. One of the most common characteristics of an assassin (beside wearing some sort of mask or hood, or face paint) is introversion, and this makes sense.

ASSASSINS are, and should be, introverts. Why? Because only an introvert (someone who becomes excited by, and feels at ease performing, solitary activities) would have the patience and dedication necessary to spend tens of thousands of hours practicing skills like knife throwing, sneaking around, planting cameras and other surveillance gadgets, and studying anatomy to best land an attack that will paralyze or kill his target.

The ASSASSIN is first and foremost, a mercenary. Unlike the SOLDIER VILLAIN, who follows his superior’s orders without question, ASSASSINS are “independent” and work for money, protection, or because they’re being blackmailed, usually by an EVIL MASTERMIND. The most interesting ASSASSINS are those who kill because they have been brainwashed, again usually by an EVIL MASTERMIND (Darth Vader is probably the best example). One ASSASSIN who works in exchange for protection is Mystique from X-Men. She knows humans will never accept her, so she works for Magneto and believes in the evil mutant cause of world domination. But she is not an idealist. She’s just looking out for herself (because, as an ASSASSIN, she is by nature “practical“).


1. Do not–I repeat–do not make the character completely silent. This is one of the most important rules you can follow in making your assassin memorable. A lot of films make the mistake of either rendering their ASSASSIN silent (except for maybe an uttered “yes, sir” or “I’ve got him in my sights” over the phone – i.e. the Jason Bourne films) or incapable of speaking altogether (Jason Voorhees, for example). There’s a reason Freddy Krueger is a much more memorable ASSASSIN than Jason; he has personality.  Silent ASSASSINS are not scary; they’re boring.

2. Do not make your ASSASSIN a purely rational being. Probably one of the worst mistakes you can make with your ASSASSIN is have him kill because it is somehow the rational thing to do. Like the contract ASSASSIN who is just doing his job (again, the Jason Bourne films and their expert but faceless agent assassins) or the ASSASSIN who is just plain following her boss’s orders, like Mystique in the first X-Men film. Let’s be honest, Mystique is not all that interesting the first couple of films (aside from her awesome superpower) because we don’t know anything about her past. We don’t really understand the pain she’s been through or her reasons for rejecting the love she once had for Professor X and the other good mutants. Unfortunately, in the first couple of films, she suffers from the “silent assassin syndrome” (see #1). 

So, if your ASSASSIN is not a purely rational being, what is she? A memorable ASSASSIN is secretly driven by intense, almost uncontrollable pain/anger/self-hatred. The two crowning examples of this are Vincent, played brilliantly by Tom Cruise in Collateral, and Agent Smith, played exceptionally by Hugo Weaving in The Matrix Trilogy. Here’s why they’re such great characters: Vincent is secretly afraid of being a nobody, of being ignored by society. As he puts it: “I read about this guy who gets on the MTA here, dies. Six hours he’s riding the subway before anybody notices his corpse doing laps around L.A., people on and off sitting next to him. Nobody notices.” Then, at the end of the movie, confronted with the end of his mission and his life, he says: “Guy gets on the subway and dies. Think anybody’ll notice?” This is beautiful dialogue. It is a perfect expression of EVERY ASSASSIN’S SECRET FEAR: That no one will care about him when he’s gone.

The other example, Agent Smith, is just as good. When we first meet Smith inThe Matrix–throughout the whole first half of the film, actually–he is nothing more than a stuck-up, robotic jerk of an ASSASSIN with no emotion and no desire other than to capture Morpheus. Then, amazingly, we hear him say these lines:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

– Agent Smith, The Matrix

It turns out that Agent Smith is actually a highly emotional ASSASSIN. He hates humanity, calls us a virus that should, like any virus, be eliminated as quickly as possible. And he’s highly analytical and rational about it, too, which only heightens how scary his angst really is. Thanks to the quote above, Agent Smith immediately goes from being an uninteresting, robotic assassin to a badass, angsty, supervillain ASSASSIN worthy of resurrection from death for two more films!

3. Finally, do not make your ASSASSIN physically weaker or less skilled than your hero. This could cause a major problem for your storyline. Even at the end of the journey, your hero should never be noticeably stronger or more skilled than the ASSASSIN. This is because ASSASSINS devote their lives to the art and craft of death-dealing. They are experts and exercise every day, eat the right foods, read the right books, and train with the right masters. Unless your hero is also shown doing these things, for years on end, he or she should never *magically* have more skills than the ASSASSIN just because he managed to stick around until the end of the plotline.

LEARN FROM STAR WARS. Luke Skywalker does not defeat Darth Vader or the Emperor at the end of the original trilogy by blasting them with the force. Sure, he survives a lightsaber battle with his dear old dad, but you could chalk that up to Darth Vader’s advanced age. HOWEVER, Luke does not heroically blast the Emperor or Darth Vader with force powers. He doesn’t beat them down using force-heightened reflexes. He defeats his enemies using his own ability: HEART. He manages to convince Darth Vader to go back to the Light Side and turn against the Emperor.

It’s truly one of the most beautiful moments in film. Why? Because it’s 100% believable, among other things. A lot of action movies make the mistake of buffing up the hero at the end without explanation (NOTE: The Jason Bourne films don’t fall prey to this problem; Jason Bourne actually IS more skilled than those hunting him). The only way to buff up your hero, if this is the path you want to take leading up to the final battle with the ASSASSIN, is to do what the writers did in Rocky. Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, doesn’t just magically beat his opponent at the end because he’s talented; he trains and trains, then trains some more, taking breaks only to man-hug his best friend in the ocean.

Other notable ASSASSINS: Darth Maul (Star Wars), Deadpool (Marvel universe), Bane (Batman), Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men)

4. The Soldier Villain

Personality model: Cooperative/Dutiful
Superhero counterpart: The GUARDIAN

The SOLDIER VILLAIN was perfectly realized in the Terminator films as an efficient killing machine programmed to follow orders without question or hesitation. That’s the essence of the SOLDIER VILLAIN right there: he’s just following orders. We’ve seen this villain countless times, especially in action and sci-fi films. Who doesn’t remember the merc in The Rock telling Nicholas Cage “I’m gonna gut you like a fish.” SOLDIER VILLAINS can range from being complete idiots (Byron Hadley from The Shawshank Redemption) to geniuses who are completely capable of thinking like EVIL MASTERMINDS, and may even become EVIL MASTERMINDS at some point in their careers (Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel from The Rock).

SOLDIER VILLAINS should not be confused with ASSASSINS. Though their duties and actions may at times seem similar, both types are actually very different from each other. SOLDIER VILLAINS are “cooperative,” meaning that they gladly serve the group of which they are a member (unless they’re fed up, in which case they’ll look for another group to join). This group could be the army, a gang, a crime family, etc. SOLDIER VILLAINS are not loners like ASSASSINS; they are lost when alone and need the structure imposed on them by their gang.

Also, the SOLDIER VILLAIN is “dutiful.” Whereas ASSASSINS are concerned with tactical success and physical finesse, SOLDIER VILLAINS are concerned with getting the job done right, as quickly as they can, so they can report back to their superiors. For this reason, the knife or the head twist is more suitable for an ASSASSIN (quick and quiet) whereas a SOLDIER VILLAIN would prefer a gun (loud but it gets the job done).

If you’re a writer trying to create one or more SOLDIER VILLAINS, I highly recommend that you watch The Wire. In Seasons two and on, there is an EVIL MASTERMIND called Marlo Stanfield (the greatest villain in film/TV history, in my opinion) who employs two of the deadliest, scariest SOLDIER VILLAINS you can imagine in a realistic setting (Chris and Snoop). These two SOLDIER VILLAINS are terrifying and memorable for many reason, the most important of which is that they are completely believable. You can totally imagine misfits like them existing in poor areas and doing what they do out of necessity.

If you like the idea of “typing” heroes and villains, click here to read my post on superheroes.

The 4 Good Guy Types: How to Create the Right Hero

Here’s something I’ve discovered after more than a decade of research into pop culture and the social sciences, and it can be summed up neatly into one sentence.

There are four types of heroes, and four types of villains.

Don’t believe me? Read on, and afterward, I dare you to create a new category or find a hero that doesn’t fit one of the four. As for my theory on villains, that post can be viewed here. 

Here are the four hero archetypes and their respective mottos:

 1. The Liberator - “Free your mind.”

Personality model: 


Villainous counterpart:

The Evil Mastermind


A LIBERATOR is a hero who identifies an enemy or an oppressive condition, then tries to overcome it using research and strategic planning. When Gandalf found out Frodo had the One Ring, he went to the ancient tomes and to Saruman for knowledge on how to get rid of the problem. He’s a wizard, which involves learning spells by consulting scrolls and magical texts. He’s the man behind the plan when it comes time to take the ring to Mount Doom.

When Batman is faced with a problem, he uses technology – a direct result of humanity’s drive to amass knowledge about the rules of reality so he can change it – to bug a skyscraper with cell phones, create antidotes to weaponized substances and design his own armor and vehicles.

Professor X realizes the need humanity will have for a group of mutant protectors and creates a “school” that will train them for battle while uniting them under a common banner, that of the X-Men. This is his strategy for a future that is balanced among the three groups: good mutants, bad mutants, ordinary people.

LIBERATORS rely on ideas and reason, not emotions or physical prowess, to come up with intricate plans to defeat their enemies, and are therefore “independent”  (they’ll follow any good idea regardless of social approval),  “idea-oriented” and “strategic.” Technology or magic, as the physical embodiment of their ideas, is almost always a weapon in their arsenal.

As a result of being “idea-oriented,” friends, allies and loved ones come in second. This doesn’t mean that LIBERATORS see people as being expendable, like their villainous counterpart, the MASTERMIND, but it makes the LIBERATOR more inclined toward solitary study and a “loner” style of fighting the enemy (Batman, for example, or even Ironman, who appears extroverted but actually spends a lot of time alone with his machines).

They are long-term thinkers. LIBERATORS are not concerned with helping a woman avoid a mugger or sending a thug to jail, though (for dramatic effect, mostly) they may at times perform such services. Mainly, they are concerned with complex frameworks that take into account the long-term consequences of their actions. In Watchmen, Ozymandias (whom I didn’t include here because he is not exactly a hero and not quite a villain) hatches a plan to avoid nuclear apocalypse that is so complex, and involves so much time and so many millions of dollars, that he makes most LIBERATORS (and their villainous counterparts, MASTERMINDS) look like third-graders.


2. The Crusader- “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Personality model: 


Villainous counterpart: 

The Cult Leader

A CRUSADER is a hero with a highly-developed emotional core who believes in the value of human life down to the individual. Rather than spend their time in the world of ideas like the LIBERATOR, or managing logistics like the GUARDIAN, CRUSADERS devote themselves to public displays of heroism so they can set an example to the ordinary people of the world. They “cooperate” with the good and denounce the bad, and follow strict, publicly-approved codes of moral conduct.

They are driven by “faith,” especially faith in mankind, which guides their decisions instead of scientific knowledge or logical explanation. Peter Parker has faith in his friend Harry to not become a villain like his father. He has faith in New York City’s goodness and keeps submitting photos of Spiderman to The Daily Bugle, even though the paper makes him out to be a villain. He never gives in to cynicism or rage (imagine what Wolverine would do if a newspaper started spreading photos of him as a villain terrorizing the city).

When Peter Parker rejects Mary-Jane so his enemies can’t use her to get to him, he is exemplifying the CRUSADER’S prioritization of another person’s well-being over his or her own safety. His mantra, “With great power comes great responsibility” might as well be the motto of the CRUSADER.

Another example is Storm, from X-Men. Despite being a low-profile character in the movies, Storm is devoted to protecting her team and fostering harmony. Her ability to control weather is a form of sorcery that is more emotional than rational. She may not display the idealism of other CRUSADER heroes (at least in the films) but she is devoted to her team and never second-guesses the morality of the good guys.

Wolverine: “Magneto’s right. There’s a war coming. Are you sure you’re on the right side?”

Storm: “At least I’ve chosen a side.”

Morpheus is the best example of a CRUSADER driven by faith to complete a spiritual mission. His belief that Neo is “The One” has no basis in scientific fact. Thomas Anderson (Neo’s real name) shows absolutely no sign of being any different from any other ordinary citizen (his name’s Thomas Anderson. I mean, come on!) And yet Morpheus has faith in him. Morpheus is guided by a prophesy tailored especially for him by “the Oracle,” an aspect of the film so religious in its implications that the writers had to show her baking cookies and shuffling around her kitchen to give her character some sort of grounding in reality.

CRUSADERS are “value driven,” which means their emotionally-founded values always win out over more logical, less compassionate options. Morpheus believes in Neo despite criticism from his fellow rebels, and signs that Neo is not The One, because he values the Oracle’s advice above anything logic or reason could throw his way. (Click the link below to continue on to RENEGADES and GUARDIANS)

3. The Renegade - “No code of conduct, no law.”

Personality model: 


Villainous counterpart: 

The Assassin 

RENEGADES live in the moment. You can often find them at bars, drinking away their pain or trying to look tough, or in their dreary, unfurnished apartments, where the only thing of value is a hanging photograph of someone they once loved and lost. Try and reason with them, and they’ll spout one-liners and insults.

They are by far the most cynical of any of the heroes, seconded only by LIBERATORS. However, unlike LIBERATORS, who are generally optimistic about life and the goodness of mankind, RENEGADES are often doubtful about whether or not regular folks like us are worth saving.

RENEGADES have their own way of doing things and are “practical” in the sense that they value what works over what is right. A true RENEGADE will sacrifice others to meet a goal, if that’s what has to happen for the mission to be a tactical success. They’ll sacrifice themselves, too, if they have to, and will do it without a single complaint.

A true RENEGADE hero doesn’t care about doing the right thing, though he’ll do it because deep down he loves his friends. To save Rogue and destroy Magneto’s tower, Wolverine places a hand on her face and transfers his regenerative abilities to her–even though it almost kills him. RENEGADES don’t care what it costs to make a mission succeed, probably because they hardly care about anything at all that they haven’t already lost in some tragic personal event they wish they could bury in the past.

Daredevil is the perfect example of a RENEGADE driven by the need to dull his pain (as most of them are). According to IGN.com in this article, “There’s just something deeply appealing about a man whose Catholic guilt forces him to don red tights and venture out into the streets each night to battle ninjas and psychopaths.” This is the true appeal of the RENEGADE; we know that behind his tough-as-nails attitude is a child looking for a way to heal his pain and emotional insecurity.

RENEGADES will sometimes agree (always grudgingly) to become part of a crime-fighting force of heroes, though they’ll never fit in as well as the other three types, and will often see the others as “goody-two-shoes.” Constantly in the shadow of GUARDIANS and CRUSADERS, RENEGADES must carve out their own niche. Catwoman, an iconic female RENEGADE, was at one point a prostitute and cat burglar. It was her mysterious nature and cold arrogance that allowed her to embed her nails into Bruce Wayne’s heart (she eventually becomes a hero in the DC universe, which is why I’m including her here). It’s no secret that LIBERATORS are fiercely attracted to RENEGADES and vice versa (Batman/Catwoman, Wolverine/Jean Gray, Neo/Trinity).

RENEGADES rely on physical prowess and tactical genius to defeat their enemies. Wolverine has his agility, super regeneration ability and, of course, his adamantium claws with which to survive even the most brutal melee fights. Catwoman uses her agility and an arsenal of homemade goodies to prowl through the night and get what she wants. In the comic books, she is also a master of burglary, deception and blackmail. Daredevil can’t see, but that doesn’t stop him from using his other senses to become the master of his physical surroundings. Tactical intelligence does not require long-term planning or social fluidity. It is the way of the body and the senses, the way of the RENEGADE.

Other notable RENEGADES: Batou from Ghost in the Shell, Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII, Han Solo from Star Wars.

4. The Guardian - “To serve and protect.”

Personality model: 


Villainous counterpart: 

The Soldier Villain

A GUARDIAN is that superhero that women dream of having as a husband (though it’s the RENEGADE with whom they picture having the affair). GUARDIANS exist to serve the masses and offer protection from enemies, often fascist or communist in ideology.

Superman, despite having godlike abilities, chooses to protect human beings on an individual level rather than group them into armies/think tanks, as a LIBERATOR might do, lead them into battle against evil, as a CRUSADER might do, or train them in the killing arts like a RENEGADE might do.

Superman does this because it’s the best way to inspire people to maintain the status quo, which is what the Guardian is all about. As mentioned above, the CRUSADER inspires people to be good to each other. The GUARDIAN inspires people to believe in law and order.

GUARDIANS are the keepers of justice, bound by their devotion to protect the innocent, which they do by establishing and maintaining order. Thus, they are “cooperative” like CRUSADERS, but not nearly as idealistic. To them, fighting enemies isn’t about coloring morality black and white and then choosing white, it’s about protecting the status quo so ordinary people can go on with their lives.

Captain America represents another facet of the typical GUARDIAN: the need to be part of a fighting force and unite with others. Unlike Superman (who, because of his god-like power, doesn’t really need to be part of a team), Captain America began his career as a skinny kid with a big heart whose goal in life was to defend his country as a soldier. He gets his wish and becomes a symbol of the American fight against fascism and communism, two systems that always lead to war and suffering.

Along the same lines, Wonder Woman does for women what Superman and Captain America do for humans and Americans, respectively. According to this scholarly article (bet you can’t say that five times fast), “Wonder Woman was created as a distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men.” Her feats of heroism are meant more to inspire women to unite and be strong (typical GUARDIAN ideals) rather than fight against evil (men are not inherently evil in the Wonder Woman universe; they’re just jerks).

Wonder Woman was a tough one to include here, the reason being that GUARDIANS at times appear to be just like CRUSADERS. However, one thing to keep in mind is that CRUSADERS are more idea-driven and people-driven, whereas GUARDIANS like Wonder Woman fight out of a beilef that they are “duty-bound” to complete certain tasks. 

SIDE NOTE: Many incarnations of Wonder Woman depict her as more of a RENEGADE, focusing on tactical warfare and martial arts. She can go either way, which is the beauty of superheroes capable of adapting to different social climates.  


Since this article is targeted mainly at writers of fiction, screenplays and comic-books, I’ll conclude by saying that the process of creating any hero is one fraught with difficulties and pitfalls. If you’ve been reading comic books and watching action films all your life, you might be able to get away with relying on your intuition and what “feels right.”

But if you’re just starting out, or if you’re someone making the switch from writing literary, non-herioc stories to hero fiction (like I did in grad school), you should keep in mind that the most identifiable, popular and inspiring heroes are the ones whose actions we can predict most of the time. The only way to do this is to understand their personalities.


1) Is she a loner? (RENEGADE, LIBERATOR)

2) Can I picture her joining a church or a book club, or helping the poor? (CRUSADER, GUARDIAN)

3) Is she a bookworm or a tech wizard? (LIBERATOR)

4) Does she talk a lot about ideals like beauty, harmony and peace? (CRUSADER)

5) Does she believe that the strong have a duty to protect and serve the needy and the weak? (GUARDIAN)

6) Does she use bionic implants, smart armor, high-tech cars or gadgets, or high-concept surveillance technology to monitor enemies and exploit their weaknesses? (LIBERATOR)

7) Does she seem moody and irritable most of the time? (RENEGADE, LIBERATOR)

8) Does she ride a motorcycle or a fast sports car? (RENEGADE)

9) Does she stay away from alcohol and avoid tattoos? (GUARDIAN)

10) Is she sweet and outgoing around allies and friends? (CRUSADER)

All right. This post has gone on long enough. I’ll leave you with a question: