What is an Anti-Hero?

Join Parul and I on a Reedsy YouTube Webinar as we discuss the Anti-Hero? What is one? How do You create one? Why do we love them?

Webinar Notes

Introduction

I prefer not to know exactly how I feel about a character,” Phoebe Waller Bridge.

We want to create characters that stay with the reader long after the book is finished. How might we do this?

Of course, there is no magic answer, but there are considerations that applied to your work might help you understand this topic a little deeper.

What is it about these unconventional heroes or heroines that allures us? How can we create irresistibly flawed characters in our stories? 

Today we will explore:

  • What an anti-heroine or hero actually is
  • The three core questions you can use to help you round out your character
  • How to use your story’s showdown to bring out your character’s true self
  • Analyse 10 anti-heroes & anti-heroines to inspire your work

WHAT IS AN ANTI-HERO?

  1. A character or lacks some of the conventional attributes of a traditional hero — like courage or morality. 
  2. The anti-hero (or AH) does the right thing, but maybe not for the right reasons
  3. Christopher Vogler talks about the anti-hero as a specialized kind of hero, one who may be an outlaw or a villain from the point of view of society, but with whom the audience is basically in sympathy. We identify with these outsiders because we have all felt like outsiders at one time or another. (The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler) and we empathize with their goals.
  4. An anti-hero stands for AN END regardless of the MEANS used to achieve it. What they want might be noble, but they have a moral compass that allows them to make decisions that more traditional heroes would not make. They simply stand for the end goal. 

DEFINITION OF THE WORD

A person who is admired for having done something very brave or having achieved something great:

late 14c., “man of superhuman strength or physical courage,” from Old French heroe (14c., Modern French héros), from Latin heros (plural heroes) “hero, demi-god, illustrious man,” from Greek hērōs (plural hērōes)

I will obviously refer to both genders and talk about the lead protagonist of a story being the ‘hero’ even if the character isn’t in an action, thriller or crime story.

After studying the various Anti Heroes, we saw some similarities and broke them into three catagories. 

ANTI-HERO SPECTRUM

  1. Imperfect or Reluctant Hero (Heroship thrust upon them): Jack Ryan (Tom Clancy), Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit), Frodo (Lord of the Rings) Mitch McDeere (The Firm), Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)
  1. Morally Grey & Unscrupulous Hero (Undertake a mission that ends in a just cause but doing for their own reasons) – mercenaries, alternative Scandi detectives): Jack Sparrow, Mandalorian, Hans Solo, Tyrion Lannister, Hamlet 
  1. Whatever the Cost Hero. (The Anti-Hero (or AH) does the right thing, at whatever cost): Batman, Jack Reacher, Lisbeth Salander, Eve Polastri, Walter White, Severus Snape, Dexter Morgan, Marty & Wendy Bryde, Waylander and Jon Shannow (David Gemmell), Sherlock Holmes

Characters that are not anti-heroes but out and out Villains: Tom Ripley, Humbert Humbert

END GAME: TO CREATE CHARACTERS WE ARE DRAWN TO.

WHY DO WE LOVE ANTI-HEROES

  • The emotions they evoke by the decision they make
  • Taking us outside our normal world
  • Breaking boundaries we dare not cross
  • It’s not about likeability it’s about empathy. Robert McKee, “Likability is no guarantee of audience involvement; it’s merely an aspect of characterization.”

“The audience’s emotional involvement is held by the glue of empathy.” 

If we empathise with a character and know why it was made, we might still connect with that character.

Author (George R. R. Martin) quote:

Tyrion is perhaps the deepest shade of gray, with the black and white in him most thoroughly mixed, and I find that very appealing. I’ve always liked gray characters more than black-and-white characters … I look for ways to make my characters real and to make them human, characters who have good and bad, noble and selfish, well-mixed in their natures. I read too much fiction myself in which you encounter characters who are very stereotyped. They’re heroic-hero and dastardly-villain, and they’re completely black or completely white. And that’s boring, so far as I’m concerned.

It seems that authentically flawed characters are popular. But it’s not as simple as just creating characters with bad habits, it’s about going deeper into what they stand for, their why, their rationale which in turn informs their method, which in turn gives us the controlling idea.

WHAT QUESTIONS YOU CAN ASK TO TEST & PROBE THE CHARACTER YOU’RE TRYING TO CREATE

What is their Object of Desire? – 10 Examples

It’s what drives a character.

Robert Mckee:

The missing element a protagonist seeks to restore balance, and reveals the nuances of this mandatory story component.

External/ Internal needs

Lisbeth Salander: To solve the case with Blomkvist/ To have her world re-aligned (after unknown horrors) Thriller/ Morality

Eve Polastri: To track down the serial killer/ to find excitement in her life (Season 1)

Walter White: To make money / To keep his family off the street 

Jack Reacher: To solve the puzzling crime of a shooting attack so that he can continue to move/ no internal  (one-shot)

Raskolnikov: Trying to get away with murder/ to justify the murder to himself

Severus Snape: To keep Harry Potter safe/ sacrifice of love for Lily Potter

Sherlock Holmes: to not be bored

Tyrion Lannister: to survive

Han Solo: to be free of the authorities and rich

Jack Sparrow: To be captain of his own ship and get the treasure

How far will they go to get it? – 10 Examples

Lisbeth Salander: She will rape and kill

Eve Polastri: Lie, cheat, stab and think about kissing the villain

Walter White: Turn a blind eye to crime 

Jack Reacher: Whatever it takes as long as innocents are protected

Raskolnikov: Lie to himself

Severus Snape: Give up his life

Sherlock Holmes: he will endanger himself and his friends

Tyrion Lannister: sacrifice/ betray others

Han Solo: cheat, lie, steal

Jack Sparrow: betray others that have ‘befriended him’

Will your character change over the course of the story?

Imperfect or Reluctant Hero: Jack Ryan, Bilbo Baggins GOES BACK TO WHO THEY WERE

Morally Grey/ Unscrupulous Hero: Jack Sparrow, Hans Solo, Tyrion Lannister, Hamlet (A mission that ends in a just cause but doing for their own reasons), mercenaries, detective THEY HAVE ROOM FOR CHANGE?

The Anti-Hero (or AH) does the right thing, at whatever cost: Batman, Jack Reacher, Lisbeth Salander, Eve Polastri, Walter White, Severus Snape, Dexter Morgan, Marty & Wendy Bryde, Waylander and Jon Shannow (David Gemmell), Sherlock Holmes DOESN’T CHANGE

Han Solo: He wants what’s best for him and his crew (his definition of crew expands to include Leia and Luke as the story progresses)

Jack Sparrow: He’s a pirate, he just wants what’s best for Jack and the treasure

How does this display in the Showdown of the book? – 10 Examples

Lisabeth Salander:

Eve Polastri: Fails to hold the justice

Walter White: Uses his intelligence to survive

Jack Reacher: Unyielding philosophy of a Western Character 

Raskolnikov: Reveals himself as the criminal

Severus Snape: Sacrifices his life (Book 7)

Sherlock Holmes: Reveals the criminal but doesn’t worry about the aftermath

Tyrion Lannister: He uses the fact that he is under-estimated to best his opponents (he kills his father)

Han Solo: after getting his treasure and telling Luke he only cares about himself and his crew, he comes back to bail out Luke, damaging Darth Vader (Luke is part of his crew now)

Jack Sparrow: He only helps the other protagonists as long as their goals align with his own.

Examples of 10 Anti-heroes + one defining element 

  1. Walter White: Obsessed with helping his family

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To make money / To keep his family off the street 
  • Turn a blind eye to crime 
  • Uses his intelligence to survive; blows up drug lord lair when they don’t negotiate
  1. Lisabeth Salander: Smarter than everyone yet a loner (we later realise why)

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To solve the case with Blomkvist/ To have her world re-aligned (after unknown horrors) Thriller/ Morality
  • She will rape and kill
  • Lisbeth Salander kills for justice
  1. Eve Polastri: Obsessed with Serial Killers (despite not being a spy or detective)

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To track down the serial killer/ to find excitement in her life (Season 1)
  • Lie, cheat, stab and think about kissing the villain
  • Fails to uphold the justice
  1. Jack Reacher: Unyielding philosophy of a Western Character 

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To solve the puzzling crime of a shooting attack so that he can continue to move/ no internal  (one-shot)
  • Whatever it takes as long as innocents are protected
  • Unyielding philosophy of a Western Character
  1. Sherlock Holmes: Vastly more intelligent than everyone else

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • to not be bored
  • he will endanger himself and his friends
  • Reveals the criminal but doesn’t worry about the aftermath
  1. Jack Sparrow: uses pirate knowledge to survive

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To be captain of his own ship and get the treasure
  • Jack Sparrow: betray others that have ‘befriended him’
  • Jack Sparrow: He only helps the other protagonists as long as their goals align with his own.
  1. Tom Ripley: Villainous – he isn’t an anti-hero; he is a villain who just happens to be the protagonist of the story.

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • Self serving
  • Kill/Lie/Cheat
  • Assumes the identity of his friend after killing him
  1. Tyrion Lannister: non-threatening danger

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To survive
  • Sacrifice/ betray others
  • He uses the fact that he is under-estimated to best his opponents (he kills his father)
  1. Han Solo: uses charm and devil may care attitude to survive (only cares about himself and his crew)

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • For him and his crew to be free of the authorities and rich
  • cheat, lie, steal
  • He changes – after getting his treasure and telling Luke he only cares about himself and his crew, he comes back to bail out Luke, damaging Darth Vader (Luke is part of his crew now)
  1. Severus Snape: Madly in love with Lily Potter (Book 7)

Object of Desire/ How far will/ Character arc/ Showdown

  • To keep Harry Potter safe/ sacrifice of love for Lily Potter
  • Give up his life
  • Sacrifices his life (Book 7)

More Story Analysis

If you want to see more applications of the Story Grid methodology, below are links to my analysis of various novels and television shows in blog posts and podcasts:

Story Grid Showrunners Podcast – Parul, Melanie, and I analyze hit TV series using the Story Grid methodology.

My blog posts analyzing other Television series – my person take using the Story grid 5 Commandments to look at my favorite TV series – Jack Ryan, Batgirl, For All Mankind, Hanna, and more.

Novel analysis – I analyze some of my favorite books using the Story Grid 5 Commandments and 6 core questions – First Blood, Old Man’s War, Waylander, and more to come!

If you like my Posts – Buy me a coffee.
Thanks!

The Story Grid

Story Grid Book

If you want to learn more about writing a story using the Story Grid methodology, go to the Story Grid Webpage to find free videos and articles on how to implement the methodology.

These articles contain information about the 5 Commandments of Storytelling and the Editor’s 6 Core Questions from the book The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne. They also give details on obligatory scenes and conventions for specific genres, such as the thriller, love story, war story, crime story, and more.

For an example of how these techniques are used, read Jane Austin’s The Pride and the Prejudice with annotations by Shawn Coyne.

Editing Services

If you are interested in hiring me to edit your manuscript or if you need help writing a novel, check out my editing services. Also, see my Testimonials page for comments from previous clients.

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