Too many times we read a story where the Hero and/or his Gang can traipse all over the world blowing things up and chopping off heads, and never sees a day of jail time. The most he ever gets, at best, is a slap on the hand from his superiors. It seems the rest of the world is so overawed by the Hero’s magnificence and Heroism that nobody would ever dare accuse him of wrongdoing. Yet in no culture throughout all history has any vigilante ever gotten away with chopping someone’s head off, or slaying a bad-guy in an alley way, or stealing a ship, and paying no price.
Letting your Hero get away with something without consequences is a shameful waste of an opportunity for every writer. As outlined in The Plot article, your job is not to be your Hero, or to follow your Hero around glorying in his victories. As the Author, your job is to thwart your Hero at every turn. You are, in effect, his greatest enemy. That is, until he reaches the conclusion of the plot and faces his core-concept (see How To Make A Character), and apologizes for his Flaws (see The Hero Is Not Always Right.)
The most important thing in writing a story is to keep track of who your characters and Hero annoy, and what the annoyed person is going to do about it. It is inevitable in a realistic story that your Hero Gang is going to really irk someone, even if it’s not the Bad Guys. They might have just bugged the heck out of their neighbor by playing cool good-guy music too loud, and the neighbor might call the cops on them when they happen to be in the middle of interrogating a Villain. Or maybe they are doing too well at their job, and a co-worker becomes jealous and purposefully gets them in trouble with the boss.
Whatever happens, be sure to think about each event in the story and really contemplate who is effected by that event. Let’s say you’re writing a Western and your Lone Ranger ends up having a shoot-out with a bunch of Black-Hats on Farmer Mo’s farmland. When he is done the Lone Ranger rides off to stop the train robbery, but what happens to the bodies of the dead Black-Hats? Yup, you guessed it, the townsfolk like Farmer Mo are left to clean the mess up, and while they might be happy that they are free from the tyranny of the Villains, they won’t be too keen on the Lone Ranger’s messy methods. They might not even let him come for a pint at the Pub later, and they might deny him entrance to the town at a later crucial time when he really needs a place to hide. Mo might tell him, “Sorry, there, Mr. Lone Ranger, but you’re a violent man and we don’t want you round our children. We’re afraid a stray bullet might hit one of our kids. You’ll just have to sleep in the old cave outside of town.” Where, of course, the Bad Guys will find the Lone Ranger and attack him. These are the kinds of unforeseen bumps in the plot a good writer should always be looking for. After all, your job is to make the Hero’s life exciting, NOT to give him everything he wants!
As the character John McClaine explained in the movie Die Hard 4, the good guy is rarely really appreciated, and usually receives no thank you for his hard work. While common folk are relieved that some crazy schmuck was willing to deal with the evil Bad Guys, they probably won’t think of the Hero as much of a step above the Bad Guys, and might just want all of them—good and bad alike—to clear out and leave the normal people alone to live their lives. Your Hero may encounter all kinds of hostility from bystanders simply because he IS the Hero.
Remember, everyone the Hero comes in contact with has momentum. Not just your Hero. Every single character, even if it's just a bystander determined to get to his job on time in the morning, has momentum. When Hero runs across the path of every other character, there will be reactions. Keep track of who the Hero has bumped, and what new direction that trajectory takes them. Even if a bystander simply tells the bad-guy, "yah, I saw him run that way."
What happens to Cindy Lou after the Hero saved her in the subway in Chapter Two? Does she hunt the Hero down lovestruck? Does she go home to her evil landlord and her lame life? Don't let the potential to bring in accidental meetings and bystanders come in later pass you by. What if he saves people who have nowhere else to go? Is he going to dump them in the middle of a city, or take care of them? What if he ends up with a bunch of refugees, and he has to take care of them or find a place for them?
If in your plotmaking, you have run into a dry spot and really have no inspiration for what should happen next, go back and look at all the places where the Hero bumped into someone no matter how insignificant, and think of how those people can come back into the story. James Clavel was a master at this, creating the most intricate plots in his books, especially ‘Noble House.’
A lot of times in modern stories, the Hero gets away with doing a whole lot of things society and culture considers immoral, and gets away with it.
There are some things a Hero just should not do. You can get away with some things and not lose the reader, like a habit of white lies or stealing things in a good cause. Sherlock Holmes even got away with having a serious heroine addiction, because he kept it to himself.
But if your Hero is just gratifying their desires in some twisted way, being cruel to people for no reason, acting spoiled, demanding, rude, using other people, betraying other characters that the readers have a sympathy for already, treat people around them like dirt, purposefully endangering children and innocents, and committing adultery (especially if the reader has sympathy for the betrayed spouse in the relationship), it will kill all reader sympathy.
If the Hero has a drug addiction he should be trying to get away from it; but if the Hero thinks the drug addiction is wonderful and is advocating it, he will lose the reader. The same goes for all basic, immoral behavior like adultery, murder, etc. Anti-heroes like Assassins and Thieves as your main Hero doesn’t work as well in books as in movies.
It comes down to the question: who is your Hero betraying by this action? If he betrays anyone except the Villain, he is no longer the Hero and no longer worthy of respect. If he betrays his wife, or his child, or his faithful sidekick, or his boss, or someone on his side, or even innocent bystanders, then the reader will lose all respect for the Hero and desire justice instead—they will probably start rooting for the Villain.
Like for example, if Han Solo had escaped Cloud City by leaving Princess Lea and Chewbaka behind, betraying them to save his own skin, he would have become extremely unpopular. Instead he stood up to the Villains and took all the torture, which ends up getting him encased in Carbonite: more respect for Han Solo and our respect and admiration for him grows. Nothing resonates with a reader as much as someone willing to be selfless to save someone else's life. This is what crowns a character as a Hero. This doesn't come often in a book or Trilogy, but it's the cherry on top. This is what guarentees that a reader will love this Hero.
The opposite of this, sacrificing someone else for your own wellfare, will make the Hero into a Villain, and everyone will hate him no matter what "justifications" (excuses) he can come up with. There is no excuse for betrayal.
It is important to note that something as insignificant as lying is actually a form of small betrayal, and every lie will corrode your Hero's rating with the readers. This is why we weren't entirely impressed with Harry Potter as a Hero, because the little snipe lied at every possible opportunity, even when there was absolutely no need to... and in fact, things would have been fixed much more quickly and easily had he just told the truth at a couple of key points. The fact that Harry Potter keeps being honored in the story and never pays a single consequence for his actions (except for Rom being slightly annoyed with him once) is just a sour (and unrealistic) smelly note in the whole otherwise cute series.
If your character gets beat up, keep track of it and figure out realistically how long (if ever) it's going to take to heal. If he blows his knee out, he might have a weak joint for the rest of his life. Keep track of his physical weaknesses; they are accumulative! Eventually you'll end up with a battered, sore, stiff-jointed old guy who just can't hack it anymore as the young buck on the block.
Reputations: Your Hero may develop a reputation in his circles, career, military, etc. It could be a good one, or a bad one: he's Maverick. Everything he does will create a reputation, and sometimes that can be a real hard thing to get around for a character. It can cause a lot of complications. Sometimes it's a boon, and sometimes it's a handicap.
For example: if things always blow up around a Hero, people might be afraid to trust you or have you around. Or if your Hero made a mistake in the past, he might be considered a leper to the others of his circles forever because nobody can forget it. Or if you are known to be too powerful as a Hero, you might end up with fifteen Jack Yahoos chasing you down, trying to be the one who shot you just to get a bit of your fame. Or your Hero could have fans! He's sneaking around trying to get the Villain, and shrieking women are chasing him down trying to get his audience! A good reputation is not necessarily a good thing! This is especially important for a long-term series action hero who has an accumulative record.
Remember, you might be able to justify your Hero's actions, but that doesn't mean the whole world is going to understand! It is very likely that if your Hero performs a number of criminal activities such as armed assault, vehicle theft, etc., he will finish the book after his great victory by serving jail time. And someone else may take credit for the victory, so that your Hero has to end the book by watching someone else’s ticker-tape parade.
Knowing there are consequences and trying to avoid them if possible during the fight scenes and plot developments of your story will increase suspense and give the entire book a real sense of gravity and importance. Saving the world may be old hat, but trying to stop the bad guy while at the same time trying to avoid getting arrested is interesting!
Having consequences for your character’s actions should not be seen as undesirable, but as an opportunity. Something a writer should embrace. Enjoy them: this is where most of your best Plot Twists are going to come from.