I’m convinced that no one likes a perfect hero. No one likes a shining beacon of trust, honesty, hope, light, righteousness, and perfection. It’s boring. No one likes a hero who doesn’t have to learn and grow. No one likes a hero who never failed.
Now, the idea behind the hero is that someone has to win. In the end, the hero is triumphant. No question about it. But keep in mind, the hero isn’t always the good guy or good girl. The hero and the good or bad guy aren’t always the same. An antihero is essentially a bad guy who turns out to be a hero. People tolerate them because they’re result-oriented, but they break a lot of rules, laws and social mores. But I digress.
If you want a hero to really click with a reader, there’s gotta be something human they have that causes the focus. They have to be deficient in some way. Your hero needs to learn. To grow. And in the end, even though they’re triumphant, they need to lose. Not their life, maybe, although that’s a good way to go out. Not the girl (or boy, or tree-creature, or talking anthropomorphic aardvark, or whatever you’re writing) necessarily. But your hero needs to lose something.
Look at it this way: if you’ve ever played a video game or a role playing game, you know about the leveling-up process. As you gain experience, you gain power. All well and good. But the equipment you use changes too. At level one, a sword that’s awesome will be trash at level ten. You discard it for a better one. This is the key to keeping your hero human.
They need to gain something, but they also need to lose something. Maybe it’s just a straight swap: something valuable gets lost, something valuable gets found. Maybe it’s a degree. They lose the all-powerful magical bagel, but they gain some reasonably-cool invisible cream cheese that only has one or two uses before it goes sour.
There needs to be something at stake to make your reader engage, sure. There needs to be the real possibility that your hero could die, or fail, or get held back a year at magical improve school. But even if they DO win, they need to lose something.
Preferably something irreplaceable. A magic ring. A talking dog. A good friend. The love of their life. Their house. Their car. Their awesome job. Maybe they give up their freedom to go to jail for someone else. But it has to HURT.
If your hero’s getting out of your book unscathed, I hate to say it, but they failed. And so did you.