Writing the Anti-Hero

by , Thursday June 23, 2016
Writing the Anti-Hero

Reasons for writing more Anti-Heroes

a blog written by 暗い戦士


It's the epitome of good meets evil. These are the kind of characters that would sell their soul and humanity to the local bartender for an extra beer can. Don’t know about what the heck I’m talking about? It’s them, of course. Those corrupt, dark souls that ride their Harley Davidsons on the fine line between the sides of Light and Dark.


Yeah, I’m talking about Anti-heroes.


In a nutshell, anti-heroes are those central protagonists who lack the conventional characteristics of a hero. What do expect when you think about a hero? Strong, courageous, altruistic and always striving for the greater good. Generally, this is the all-around nice guy, liked by everyone, loved by the prettiest, etcetera, etcetera.


An anti-hero drop kicks most of these qualities out the window. Their thinking and values contradict the norm. They can be selfish, they are not afraid to kick the little girl on the street corner for extra money, and if they deem it appropriate, most anti-heroes wouldn’t shy away from taking the law into their own hands to accomplish what is necessary. Their willingness to do the wrong thing without losing a second of sleep at night is what sets them apart from traditional heroes, but then, there is also good in them, which sets them apart from the villains.



So, to help you out, here are some basic tips and suggestions to come up with a good anti-hero:


Unload the flaws, but don’t drown ‘em in it.

This is where writers fudge up a lot. A lot of the times, writers tend to go to an extreme and make the characters so bad that they might as well be the villians. I get it. Anti-heroes are supposed to bad (at least, in comparison with traditional heroes). But there has to be something redeeming about them that keeps them from spiraling down into the category of being an antagonist.


If your character is a grade-A jerk who is manipulative and cunning, you need to make something about him good as well. If your character is a robber who heartlessly kills people, then also give him something positive to hold on to. You need to implement the positivity as it is the only way that the readers will sympathize. A great example of how this is done is Jeff Lindsay’s portrayal of Dexter Morgan in Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Dexter is a serial killer who dismembers his victims. Yet despite his need to slash his victims into equal portions, Dexter is also portrayed as a loving father and dedicated brother, who suddenly makes his serial-killing self a whole lot nicer.


The three types of anti-heroes

I like to classify my anti-heroes into three archetypical categories.


The Lighter One: A good example is Robin Hood. He stole from people, which is a bad thing. But he stole from rich jerks and gave it to the needy poor, taking very little to almost nothing for himself. He is also skilled, humorous, and very sharp, and is loyal to his fellow people. Therefore his crime is more or less justified.


The Neutral One: For this, we have Batman. He doesn’t play by the rules, often clashing with the law enforcers of Gotham in the process, and often leaves destruction and death in his wake. But he does so to protect his city and its people. A lot of his actions can be justified as acting on behalf of the greater good, but that doesn’t change the fact that he imposes a big risk to everyone around him.


The Darker One: Since we are talking about the “Dark” one, what better example to give other than Darth Vader himself. This character may come off as a villain to most people but I like to see him as an anti-hero thrust too deep into the dark side (both of the Force and of the archetype). After the death of his beloved, he turns into the greatest antagonist of his time, yet the good in him still strives, constantly fighting back, and ultimately resurfacing in the end, as he IS indeed the one to bring balance to the Force.


Even if the character’s actions are heinous, the intentions are not.

Once again, this aspect is where writers tend to screw up a lot. I cannot stress this enough, so let’s just get this out of our systems, okay. On the count of three. One. Two. Three. “Anti-heroes are not necessarily villains!” There, much better.


Jokes aside, ad lib character development of anti-heroes often leads to the writers forgetting to establish an ulterior motive to his or her actions, and as a result, we end with pathetic characters, who just blink and look around, as if waking up with a massive hangover.


An anti-hero may hurt someone, but deep down, he is always driven by noble intentions.


The character can swing either way.

The defining thing about anti-heroes is that they hold their fate in their own hands, and unlike classic heroes for whom self-sacrifice is the ultimate virtue, the same does not hold true for these ruthless characters. They can either climb up the ladder that is the good side, or descend into the clutches of evil.


Establish WHY your character is bad.

A good backstory is vital, as it explains how your antihero came to be. More importantly, it helps your readers sympathize with him. For example, a man that tracks down pedophiles and kills them in cold blood is a bit hard to digest, but a man who does this because he was once assaulted by a pedophile is a bit easier to contemplate.



Anti-heroes are some of the most complex character types to write. The most important thing to remember is that an anti-hero changes with the story. Your reader should get the impression that this person was not created for the sake of mere entertainment. He presents the values and features of a real person. He gives us motivation to stand up and fight for the things we believe in, even if he is imperfect...


As always, keep reading! Sayonara!



Thanks to 暗い戦士 for writing this blog post and creating the banner :)


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