A minor theme in the original plan for this story was “heroes are chumps.” The example the heroine used to argue this point was executed as the reward for all his good deeds.
I saved the world, and all I got was this lousy pyre.
Well, a lot has changed since the original plan! (A whole first act went in the trash before getting on the current path.) Due to those changes, Heroine no longer needs to justify not behaving heroically because she’s openly allied with villains and has no illusions about anyone’s inherent goodness (including her own) because she knows people too well. Human nature isn’t universally evil, just universally self-serving (or so her argument goes).
Consequently, “heroes are chumps” has evolved into “heroes are fictional.” The example she used for the former remains her example for the latter, but now there’s more to the story of that legendary “hero.” Sure, lasting good came from the things he’s credited with doing, but he did them for personal gain, not out of the goodness of his heart, and there’s a 99.99% chance he stole the work of others and slapped his name on it. If he was such a hero, why did a foreign court decide to take the drastic step of executing another kingdom’s prince, why did his siblings testify against him (well, they were kind of yikes, but the “hero” had the same upbringing as they did, which isn’t a good character reference), and why did the common folk gawk at his execution instead of rioting to spare their savior?
Because he wasn’t a “hero” to anyone until some clever bard embellished the story with dragons and gods and the injustice of eternal torment. The “hero” was an ordinary, self-serving person who lucked into some good posthumous PR. That is what heroes are made of (or so her argument goes).
Good thing I fell into Heroine’s theater background so she appreciates the manipulative power of storytelling. *high fives self*
Now, Heroine will be doing A Great Heroism! She, per her rules of human nature, will do it for a series of self-serving reasons (spite, escape, money, love, etc.), thereby proving her point. Cue her tremendous frustration when the response to her selfishness is “Others tangentially benefited from your Great Heroism, so would you like your hero parade in the late summer or early fall?”
something something intent means less than outcome yadda yadda traumatized people need feel-good stories more than the truth blah blah no derailing the hero train once it gets rolling
And thus, Heroine becomes something she doesn’t believe in—her lack of belief being a motif (? I guess) that goes back to the beginning of the story, when she doesn’t believe the place she’ll eventually save exists outside of fairy tales. See also: love, friendship, and other cynical non-beliefs that are systematically demolished during the course of the story so she can embrace the things that add up to her HEA.
I think I added all of 1200 words to the story this past week, but conceptual tinkering is important, too. It’s better to write toward stuff like this than try to cram it in during revisions, and leaving it out isn’t an option since this is an entirely selfish project that will meet all my standards or take its turn on the pyre.
MANDATORY NOTE ANY TIME I MENTION THE WORD “THEME”: Theme and symbolism and all that happy crap are tools for me to help add depth and resonance to the story. Readers should feel a sense of interconnectedness without necessarily being able to point to it. If you notice a literary device because you’re savvy to such things, that’s fine; if you notice because it’s jumping and waving its arms and shouting LOOK AT ME, LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM, that’s heavy-handed writing, which is bad. My job is to tell an entertaining story, and it is not super entertaining to be yoinked out of a story to reenact freshman English class. There will not be a quiz at the end of the book to assess your grasp of the crafty underpinnings. I mention them only because that’s my area of geekpertise.