Secrets of Antiheroes – Master Villains or Master Heroes?

AntiHero

What is it about Anti Heroes that is so damn appealing? I can’t help myself. If the protagonist is an antihero I am like a salivating dog. I cant get enough of whatever it is I am reading or watching. I’m a self-confessed Antihero Addict. I want to explore what it is about them that we all love so much.

But first – audience participation required:

Who are your favourite antiheroes? and more importantly why? Are you writing about one? Have you read about one recently? What do you or don’t you like about them?

So What Is An Antihero?

Your typical hero is charming, wonderful and full of positive attributes. But antiheroes are the opposite, Wiki says: The antihero archetype can be traced back at least as far as Homer‘s Thersites. So they have been around a while, which means there must be something that makes them appeal to us that goes beyond fads, and fashion. There must be something classical about an antihero that means they work time and time again.

Typically an antihero is a protagonist who has specific characteristics such as:

  • Imperfections that are deemed unheroic – like, arrogance, or selfishness and self preservation.
  • Bad behaviours – such as adultery, murderous tendancies, gossiping, sexism etc.
  • They lack positive traits like courage or strength or remorse.
  • Often but not always they lack a heroic stature and physique, they are ugly.
  • Usually they have traits that can be found in villains – greed, amorality and violent behaviour.
  • They have complex messy motivations ranging from revenge through to love and honour.
  • Last – but most importantly – they have at least one redeeming quality. Such as noble albeit confused motives (like Dexter) or perhaps they love something so much they would sacrifice themselves for them.
  • This redeeming quality is what gives them their character arc and turns them into some kind of hero by the end of the story.

Antiheroes blur the line between villains and heroes. What tips them into the hero category is that there is often a line, usually a moral or ethical one that they just wont cross. They still have their humanity. But this leads them to a mess of contradictions and confusions.

What Makes an Antihero Different?

Antiheroes make mistakes, lots of them. They are so often motivated by personal interest rather than altruism that if put into a corner, and forced to choose between right or wrong, the antihero will often choose wrong, because they are weak, its easier and it gets them what they want quicker. Often antiheroes think the end justify the means, and they will pursue that end by any means possible.

Why Are They So Appealing?

It’s evolution 101 find your own species attractive. To find them appealing. Well, antiheroes are the truest reflection of ourselves. Not all of them granted – hopefully most of you don’t want the murderous side to Dexter. But elements of their behaviour and personalites are.

Antiheroes embody humanities darkest secrets and desires. They blur the line between what dark and twisty parts of us really want, and what society says we should actually want. They have the affairs we cant, they stab their boss in the eye with a fork because their an arse, they cheat, lie and steal and all in order to pursue their own desires. Antiheroes have their cake, and they con their way into eating it. Antiheroes fulfill your darkest desires and still ending up as the good guy.

It’s the ultimate fantasy. What’s not appealing about that?!

have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too

Need An Example of A Good Antihero? Here’s A List of Some of My Faves:

If you would like more antihero inspiration here’s a list of 50 antiheroes.

If you liked this post, subscribe here to hear about the release of 13 Steps to Evil, my writing craft book designed to help writers craft superbad villains. Due for release MAY 2017. 

33 comments

      1. Yes he does some pretty despicable things to further his own goals, but slowly is realising that doesnt work. It makes him resist his redeeming factor even more, and his two conflicting sides are tearing him apart. He has a big part to play in bk3… in fact, I think you may just have given me the inspiration to get back into it!

  1. You listed off some really great ones… Magneto, Batman, Catwoman, Wolverine, Jack Sparrow, and you even included Chuck Bass. I didn’t consider him as a antihero until now. I absolutely love Chuck Bass.

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. I know right. I love chuck bass and until I started researching I had no idea he was an anti hero – but he is super appealing so it’s definitely someone to deconstruct and learn from. 😄

  2. Ebeneezer scrooge, magwich both Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, winston smith from 1984, Sirius black, Neville longbottom from the HP series, Philip Marlowe, everyone in Game of Thrones…

    1. How is Neville an antihero? Because he’s all weak and pathetic and becomes a hero at the end? Ok when I started writing that sentence I thought he wasn’t now ive convinced myself he is! Lol. Now game of thrones U wouldn’t believe how many people keep telling me to watch it! Might have to make it my next series! Who is Philip Marlowe?

      1. He is the original private eye who is tough, smart and constantly a lose until he’s not. Written by Raymond Chandler( who lived locally to where I now live) he was writing in the 1940s. Humphrey Bogart was the best screen Marlowe. If you want a great book try the Big Sleep.

  3. Rincewind the Wizzard (correct spelling in the books), Cohen the Barbarian, Cut Me Own Throat (CMOT) Dibbler, Vimes of The Watch (plus a few other members of said Watch) , Moist von Ludwig and of course Vetinari in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series are my favourites 😀

  4. This is a fantastic post! I have to confess that I share your love of the anti-hero, although it isn’t an easy thing for me to embrace. In fact, I would outright deny it except for the fact that I’ve discovered that I can’t help but write them into my stories. It just happens. When I started writing my first book, my villain was a scorned lover who had imposed self-exile and spent her free time making others’ lives miserable. But it didn’t stick. She kept a lot of her traits–aggressive behavior, a kind of innocent short-sightedness, a sincere desire to inflict physical harm on others–but they became tempered with good intentions.

    In my second book, a full length novel completely unrelated to my first book, I did it again. I wanted to showcase the practical and philosophical differences between Bushido and Ninjutsu, and originally set one against the other in a story about a girl escaping an arranged marriage. That didn’t stick, either. I was forced to conclude that I love my villains more than my heroes.

    This was not exactly earth-shattering news, mind you. I’ve always found villains to be more interesting people than heroes (usually), and an anti-hero is really a villain with a redeeming quality, as you said. They are the best of us, and the best IN us. And also the worst that we usually can’t admit to.

    1. Fascinating. Thanks for such an interesting comment. Can I ask you a little more – what is it that you find so appealing? I know u said they are more interesting. But it’s strange isn’t it that we are drawn to the underdogs the naughty characters! How wonderful that you write them into your stories without realising 🙂 im considering writing one into mine because I do love them so much. Or at least tweaking a character to bring in elements of anti heroism 😄

  5. I too am a huge fan of anti-heroes. I read a lot of gritty fantasy, which brims with anti-heroes. I often can’t wait to turn the page. I’m always waiting for the twist that turns the anti-hero into a redeemable character. Sometimes the anti-hero is actually a hero, forced into terrible situations and then blamed for choices that weren’t his own. I’m reading Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan right now. A great book with an anti-hero flavor.

    1. That’s a good point actually sometimes it’s a hero forced into choices that’s given me a lot of food for thought, thank you 🙂

      Thanks for the recommendation too will have a look at that book.

      I too love fantasy although more on the YA dystopian side but still 😄

    1. I can’t stop thinking about this. Basically, all my favorite “heroes” are antiheroes. I mean, who isn’t flawed in some way but real, true antiheroes are FLAWED. I’m thinking Superman vs. Batman and Captain America vs. Ironman. Tony Stark is a poster child for antiheroes.

      I hadn’t thought of Veronica Mars but, of course, she’s an antihero (and one of my favs). What about Katniss? (And many of the minor characters in Hunger Games.) This is such a grey area, though. I’m wondering if Neville is truly an antihero (like Serius Black or Snape) or just an unlikely hero. Also, is someone who is reformed, such as Scrooge, really an antihero or just someone who was a “villain” and, through some circumstances, became a “hero”? And Betelgeuse (Beetlejuice)…how is he an antihero? I remember him being pure villian. Clearly, a thought-provoking post–love it!

      1. I know right. When I thought about it, I realised most of my fave characters are too. I mean, yeah I liked Harry Potter, but Snape…. well now he made me cross and hate him and love him at the end, you know. So although I loved the Harry books, it was Snape that stayed with me… strange huh. But it’s the same for other characters like Dexter. This is the thing – flaws make you human, so heroes with flaws are much more relatable – God, I feel like I could write a whole other post on this! Here’s a question, do you have to human to be a true anti hero? So would Loki, be one? maybe not, although he’s bad guy gone good. See – Batman is WAY cooler than superman. Superman doesn’t even have to try, I always liked batman more. Partly its the suit, but Christan Slater plays such a meaty batman, a darker batman. I think theres something more to be examined on the darker side of Anti heroes… ok maybe I just convinced myself to look at this deeper. I god damn love Tony Stark, partly cause I have a slight man crush on Rober downey Jr!! its the arrogance! I can’t help myself! lol. Well when Geoff said Neville, I automatically said no, but then talked myself into it. I mean he’s all weak and wimpy to start with and then pulls out some serious action hero shit in the final fight, but for me, I prefer the anti hero with the dark flaws rather than the wimpy ones.

        Exactly (reformed villain or not?), so maybe Loki like scrooge is just a reformed villain.

        Ok, now you got my mind racing.

        and yeah, beetlejuice I remember as being bad, although he does kind of fall for the girl. But maybe that site has its facts wrong. I wonder if its cause he was one of the protagonists but a baddie and so they classed him as an anti hero.

  6. In my formative years, I loved the heroes (Simon Templar, the Tracy brothers from Thunderbirds, James Bond – you know, all the usual suspects). And when I thought about my writing, those were the kind of characters I wanted to write about. But they’re pretty boring, aren’t they? It’s much more interesting to write about people who are flawed, who make mistakes or, better still, could be seen as the hero or villain and have the potential to slip down one route over the other. It keeps the reader guessing as well…

    Great post, Sacha.

    1. Thanks Graeme :). You’re completely right, of course. I love nothing better than writing a character who is a total mess. It’s so interesting to work in all the mistakes, and I think makes them more human and appealing. Simon templar….. the saint? am I making that up?

      1. Yes, the ST is a bit of a giveaway. Nevertheless, I should have taken account of the fact that not everyone out here is as old as me. Funnily enough, in the books he wasn’t the do-gooder we saw on the TV – Leslie Charteris was a brilliant writer. That’ll give you something else to put on your “To Read” list.

          1. Where do I start? Ignore Val Kilmer’s version – it was crap and didn’t capture anything of the spirit of The Saint. The first books were written in the ’30s (I think), and there were still a few published as late as the ’50s and possibly ’60s. Worth dipping into (and you can try short stories first so it’s not a big commitment) because Leslie Charteris was a brilliant wordsmith, as well as a good story teller. The most famous incarnation was Roger Moore’s version from the 1960s. Repeated recently on ITV4 and the chances are it will turn up again before long. They still stand up pretty well 50 years on. As a child of the ’60s, it was what I was brought up on and has had a lasting effect (he’s still my favourite James Bond), and undoubtedly represented the kind of hero I admired and wanted to write about before I realised flawed individuals were more interesting. There have been other film and TV versions, but none have had the same impact – and I don’t just mean on me. Everyday, somewhere in the world, an episode of The Saint is still shown. (Did that come across as too nerdy?)

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