If you’re reading something and you’re not sure who the hero is, it’s the character who changes the most. [But this is a little complicated.]
The hero is usually the most active one in the story.
A hero springs into action with the arrival of some outside force — that includes the reluctant heroes.
Heroes aren’t necessarily strong and brave — heroes make some sort of sacrifice. Sacrifice is the true mark of a hero, especially when it’s on behalf of a group.
There will be a confrontation with death at some point in the story — either actual death or death in a metaphorical sense. [This is called the Battle sequence, even if it’s not actually a fight.]
The dramatic movement that audiences enjoy more than any other is death and rebirth. In some way in every story, heroes face death or something like it: their greatest fears, the failure of an enterprise, the end of a relationship, the death of an old personality.Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey
Other characters in a story can act heroically — not just the designated hero. Even villains and baddies can very effectively portray heroic qualities. Every rounded character should manifest a touch of each archetype (The Shadow In The Hero).
Heroes have character flaws so that human readers can identify with them.
Flaws also allow room for the character arc, and should be based on that.
Heroes in fairy tales often start out with some sort of death in the family, or human loss.
With modern heroes it’s often the hero’s personality that is being restored to wholeness. (The ability to love/trust etc.) [This is known as the redemption arc, which has its problems.]
There are willing and unwilling (reluctant) heroes.
There are group-oriented heroes. When we first meet them they’re part of a clan. They have to go away from the clan to achieve something heroic, then at the end they rejoin the clan. The group-oriented hero often has to make a choice between returning to the ordinary world of the first act, or staying in the special world of the second act. (In the West, hardly any heroes stay in the special world, but this is more common in Asian and Indian stories).
Loner Heroes belong naturally in the wilderness. In the beginning they are estranged from society. Their journey is one of re-entry to the group. Common in Westerns, but also in any other kind of story in which the loner/hermit/retired person is called back into society or when an emotionally isolated person is challenged to re-enter the world of relationships. Some go back to being alone (Hud) and some remain as part of a group (or in a relationship, after a Manic-Pixie Dream Girl comes to rescue them).
Catalyst Heroes is Vogler’s word to describe the character who acts heroically but don’t change much. They exist to bring about change in others. Catalyst Heroes are useful in ongoing TV shows, in which characters can’t change much without altering the entire show as it goes through an unknown number of seasons. (Superman and The Lone Ranger)
For more on particularly female heroes, see The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness by Maureen Murdock.
– from The Writer’s Journey by Christopher VoglerHaving a hero isn’t always positive. It has the reputation of being a good thing, but it can actually backfire and become pretty limiting. Here’s how:
When we have heroes, we look up to them. This is all well and good, but the problem is — in a subtle, sneaky way — simultaneous to looking up, we’re putting ourselves down. We become the subordinate one. The hero is the one who’s supposed to remain on the pedestal and take care of his or her holy business, while we remain down on the ground, consumed in worship.
– The Problem With Heroes from The Good Men Project