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I think it comes down to establishing that a potential hero or heroine is pursuing actions that are noble. And when I say noble I mean noble in the sense of advancing the greater good and not in the sense of being identified with gentry. Our heroes need to be engaged in noble activities. Or, at the very least, aspiring toward them. Otherwise we find it hard to empathize with them and their struggles. Their story must develop a noble narrative.
Honesty and integrity are two critical components of a noble narrative. We will tolerate a lot of mistakes by heroes provided they are made in ignorance. But treachery or deceit quickly erode the foundation of trust that a noble narrative is built upon. Our heroes must be honest with others as well as with themselves.
I believe both the hero and the anti-hero (better term is probably Byronic hero) must have a noble narrative. The difference is the anti-hero tends to make a lot more mistakes along the way or perhaps lives by a philosophy that justifies what others consider morally ambiguous actions. We tend to respect people of principle even if their principles are not in alignment with our own.
This noble narrative is one of the meaningful cross-overs between fiction/fantasy and real life. I think self esteem is built on a foundation of creating our own internal noble narrative. And I think it's important to make sure we are always heroes in our own mind (or at least anti-heroes). When we are unable to construct this noble narrative, we fall prey to self-loathing or self-deception. This is a path that rapidly descends into darkness.
The manuscript for Hemlock and the Maker's Fire (Book III) stands at about 23,000 words. I am making slow but steady progress now that I've integrated writing into my weekly routine as a scheduled activity. I'm excited about the book but it is still several months away from being a completed first draft. I appreciate the patience of everyone who is interested in reading the next, climactic installment of Hemlock's story. I believe it will be worth the wait!