A hero is often someone who is doing his job in such a way that he has no regard for his safety and doesn’t mind if no one notices. A villain is someone who often thinks he is doing what is right because it supports what he wants. An expendable is often someone that has no consequence. It doesn’t matter if he ever existed. Not all heroes act heroic all the time. Not all villains act evil all the time. Sometimes expendables are sympathetic characters. Average writers make heroes good all the time and make villains truly evil. Expendables are throw-away characters that are used and soon forgotten. Good writers can give depth to all three types of characters.
If you believe no one is expendable and every life is valuable, imagine how long even short stories would be. I’ll give you an example:
General Morgan picked twelve men and women to be his adjutants to help him plan an attack on the enemy that might end the war. Sam Hill was a major general who had graduated from West Point in 1999 at the top of his class. He had seen service in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2003, in Iraq from 2003 to 2009, and again in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012. He rose through the ranks quickly and by 2019 was considered one of the brightest generals in the army.
Sam had wanted to be in the army since he was a child because his father and two uncles had served in Vietnam and a few cousins served in both the army and air force. One of those cousins was Eddy Reynold who flew missions during the first Gulf War in a stealth fighter.
The back story for all twelve people could go on and on for pages. That’s why those I would consider expendables should have brief backgrounds at the most. General Sam Hill could be called a 1999 West Point graduate or a Middle East war veteran. He doesn’t need a complete biography. Neither do the other twelve characters. General Morgan is the hero in the story while some villain, call him General Hassan, is the one the general opposes in a decisive battle. The people around him are expendables too and need no long biographies. Readers want action and not a lot of exposition or else they will stop reading the story.
There are heroes and anti-heroes. I would consider an anti-hero a hero that is not understood by most people. President Trump could be considered an anti-hero by those who don’t understand him. They don’t know why he does things the way he does them or why he tweets so often and gives people nicknames. To those who hate him he is a villain. He fits the description because he does what he considers right as long as he gets his way. But he is a genuine hero to millions because he takes on the swamp and does what he can for Americans even if his enemies lie about him. I consider him a hero just like Abe Lincoln was a hero. Abe was an enemy to millions because he opposed slavery and over 100,000 troops laid their lives down so he could get his way. Most of those troops could be considered expendables. But he is accepted as a hero by most people except maybe millions of people in the South whose ancestors died in the Civil War.
Even some of the worst villains in history are considered heroes. I remember writing an editorial letter in Springfield, Missouri for the local paper about how Vietnam would have become a Communist nation years before it did if JFK had not sent troops there to replace the French. A man called me and thought I was right about JFK. But he also thought Hitler was the best person to ever rule Germany. He was a WW I veteran of the German army. I thought it was interesting that my neighbor was also a WW I vet and would have fought against him. Even in Russia, Stalin is still considered a hero even though his body count is higher than Hitler’s. Old people have pictures of him.
A hero is sometimes hard to recognize. Teachers are not often thought of as heroes to their students. I consider Mrs. Steinbaugh a hero. She was my music teacher at Chester Elementary over half a century ago. But I can thank her for making me a lover of classical music and inspired me to become a composer. I’m working on an opera titled “Peter and the Wolf” which I think she and her husband might love. I hope I can do a fine enough job on it to make it a favorite in opera houses around the world. In the opera, Peter is the hero and the Wolf is the villain. But he isn’t evil. He is cold and business-like. He wants things his way and in the end is banished by a three judge panel in the third act. His property is given to Peter.
Writers need to make their heroes complete characters. Indiana Jones is a wonderful complete character. He is a respected teacher of archeology who is a womanizer who doesn’t mind drinking and getting into a fight every now and then. It’s too bad the TV show “The Indiana Jones Chronicles” was canceled because it made the character more complete. I blame Ross Perot for its cancelation because his infomercials prevented the program from coming on a few times.
Villains should be complete characters too so readers will understand why he does what he does. Darth Vader is a great villain because he started out good and turned to the dark side. But he redeemed himself by saving his son Luke’s life in “Return of the Jedi.” But he is a villain people love to hate.
Expendables are needed to help heroes and villains do what they need to do. If Hitler and Stalin hadn’t had millions of expendables to do their bidding, they would have ended up in prison or executed for treason. If Eisenhower and other generals and admirals in WW II hadn’t been aided by millions of expendables, Hitler and his expendables might have conquered the world.
Another popular hero is James Bond. He is a complete character taking on villains that are often not fully formed characters. Ernst Blofeld is a villain that sometimes is more like an expendable because various actors have played him and he seems to be just evil. Often characters that seem expendable are colorful and not easy to forget. Pussy Galore is an expendable but Honor Blackman who played the character is known for that role.
Flawed heroes are more relatable to readers. Luke Skywalker is a hero that is worshipped almost like a god. Indiana Jones on the other hand is someone you might want to have a drink with and listen to his stories. Flawed villains like King Ahab in the Bible is at times pathetic. The man who told Joseph where to find his brothers before he was sold into slavery is an expendable that has no name. But if it weren’t for him, the Jewish race might have starved to death because a famine the hero Joseph prepared Egypt for might have ended up killed by his brothers.
Expendables are the rungs of the ladders both heroes and villains climb to reach their goals. They are needed, but are more utilitarian than memorable. Readers shouldn’t feel sorry they didn’t last to the end of the story. Readers want to cheer for the heroes and boo the villains. If a hero eats a puppy, it better be because he is starving and will die if he doesn’t feast on the canine. If a villain saves people from a house fire, readers expect him to make up for the good deed by doing something like slash the tires of the fire trucks that race to the house.
Jesus is the only hero with no flaws. Then again, he is God in the flesh. Satan is a flawed villain that has weaknesses. Vanity was one of his biggest flaws because it made him challenge God and got him thrown out of Heaven along with a third of the angels. Normal heroes don’t need to be perfect. They should be worthy of praise even if a reader has reservations about his worthiness. Rasputin can be considered a villain. But he was loved by his daughter who might have thought he was a hero. Even Lenin, the one that made Russia the evil Soviet Union, is pictured with a cat and I love cats. Remember to make your heroes and villains worth remembering and make them full characters; flaws and all. Then maybe readers will want to find out what happens to them in later books. So be a hero to readers and not a villain that deprives them of future pleasure.