We interrupt this blog to bring you an urgent public health message. Is a female character you care about suffering from… Hero Proximity Syndrome?
This relatively common but rarely discussed syndrome afflicts female characters, particularly Attractors (commonly known as ‘love interests’), in a variety of movies, but is endemic in action, adventure, crime and SF/ fantasy narratives.
It can be readily diagnosed, even by the amateur writer, by asking yourself one simple question: does your female attractor abruptly lose her ability to take care of herself in dangerous situations when the hero of the story is also in that scene?
Note that a female character who has no capacity to defend herself, think and plan for her own safety, and perform simple life tasks even when the hero isn’t around isn’t suffering from HPS, but from the far more dangerous Useless Female Syndrome. In this case, the prognosis is often terminal – not necessarily for the character, but certainly for the chances of your movie being liked by female audience members.
No, a diagnosis of Hero Proximity Syndrome should only be reached when the character shows some ability to defend herself and act logically when she’s on her own, only to become dependent and lacking in initiative the moment the hero arrives.
But what can be done to defeat this terrible affliction? After all, no character can be entirely independent of the hero, or your movie risks developing the even more dangerous disorder, Weak Hero Syndrome. However, there are some simple actions you can take to manage the situation and alleviate the symptoms.
Firstly, you can have your female character take some logical, appropriate action which fails through no fault of her own. Faced with kidnappers, she threatens them with the family hunting rifle – which unknown to her, they’ve already found and unloaded. To find her child, she activates the location app on the child’s phone – but the kid lent it to his best buddy, who’s innocently going about his business with no idea he’s misleading the police chase. She still needs the hero’s help, but at least she’s doing her best.
Secondly, the hero and the attractor can have skills, backgrounds and contacts that both contribute to solving the problem the movie poses. There’s a nuclear bomb to find: she’s a cop, he’s a physicist. A fearsome predator terrorizes a village; he’s a skillful hunter, she’s a cryptozoologist. They both need each other in order to succeed.
Thirdly, have the female character participate in her own rescue. It’s fair enough that’s too scared to resist when five armed men storm into her house – but when the hero appears and draws their fire, have her kick the nearest intruder in the balls. There’s a difference between “needing some help” and “helpless”.
By following these simple rules, we can eliminate Hero Proximity Syndrome in our lifetimes. Thank you for listening.