Today’s ‘Ask Inkitt’ Question: I’m thinking about writing a story featuring an anti-hero, but I’m not sure what makes a good anti-hero. Can you help?
Yes, for sure! I am in the middle of editing a manuscript featuring an anti-hero, and I have to say, she’s really interesting and fun to write. As her personality unfolds, I too have been thinking about what makes anti-heroes interesting and effective characters. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…
Anti-heroes are messy!
No hero should be perfect, otherwise their story might tend toward boring, but, anti-heroes are generally about as far from perfect as they can be without tipping into villain territory. An anti-hero is messy, really messy. Maybe their career choice puts them on the wrong side of the law. Maybe they have a drug habit. Whatever the case, don’t be afraid to showcase this character’s flaws front and center. However…
They have redeeming qualities too.
An anti-hero is still a multi-dimensional human being and should have positive personality traits mixed in. Maybe she’s snarky and drinks too much, but she’s also fiercely loyal. Han Solo may be a sarcastic, intergalactic smuggler, but he’s also street-smart, funny, and eventually a loyal friend. And…
They have a moral code.
The fundamental difference between an anti-hero and a villain is intent. An anti-hero doesn’t intend to purposefully do harm to innocents. Carried too far in an irredeemable direction, we will, in fact, have a villain. Dexter only kills bad people. Severus Snape was protecting Harry all along. Han stuck around to help Luke blow up the Death Star.
An anti-hero evolves.
Characters shouldn’t remain stagnant throughout any story. They are necessarily changed by the trials and tribulations they face, and an anti-hero is no different. She should face challenges that rub against her nature and force her to evolve. Dexter, one of my all-time favorite anti-heroes, falls in love (in his own sociopathic kind of way), something his damaged character shouldn’t have been able to do.
As mentioned, anti-heroes are messy. They have shortcomings, vices, and bad habits for sure, but those qualities shouldn’t turn readers off from them entirely. Rather, those qualities should make them seem human – complicated, but human. Wolverine’s brooding nature fits with his life history and experience, and we understand why he is the way is. We may see ourselves reflected in Ron Weasley’s bumbling nature.
Some of my favorite characters are anti-heroes. They’re complex, interesting, and sometimes behave in cringe-worthy ways. But, at the end of the day, when they do fall in love, or solve the mystery, or save the day, we can admit, we’ve been rooting for them all along.