I am so excited about this week’s post. I’ve been a big fan of heroes and anti-heroes, especially in the comic genre, since university. It was nicely explained there and I got exposed to more literature that housed anti-heroes. Okay, I mostly am in love with them anti-heroes. They’re awesome. Anyways, I am breaking this long post down into the Heroes and Anti-heroes sections, so if you don’t want to read the whole thing you can pick and choose. As for next week’s post, we will be talking about the superheroes. *swoons*
I’m just going to leave you with two charts as something to come back to and think about:
We’re going to start off with a definition of what a hero is in the literary world. Plus I just like definitions.
Hero: is considered to be the main character of the story or the protagonist. They exemplify the better characteristics of the human race when dealing with everyday problems. They grow and change at the end of the story or they end up dying.
Heroes are the good guys that everyone cheers for. We can sympathize with them and relate to them. They are generally everyday people with nothing else special about them other than they possess certain, natural, human characteristics. There are different types of heroes as well. One of them being the anti-hero, which I will get to later in this post.
Here are the different types of heroes:
- Classical Hero: Classical heroes are otherwise normal people, except they have a great talent. They often possess an attribute or quality that distinguishes them from ordinary people, making them a hero. Sometimes this is great skill, but other times it is a quality of character, like courage. It’s important to remember that classical heroes possess something others do not have, but are otherwise equal in their worlds. Examples: Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Atticus Finch, or King Arthur.
- Everyman Hero: In literature, an ‘everyman’ has come to mean an ordinary individual that the audience or reader easily identifies with, but who has no outstanding abilities or attributes. An everyman hero is one who is placed in extraordinary circumstances and acts with heroic qualities. While lacking the talent of the classical hero, they exhibit sound moral judgment and selflessness in the face of adversity. Example: Tuesdays with Morrie
- Superhero: Superheroes can start out as classical or even everyman heroes. Somewhere along the way, they acquire power that makes them “super”. However, most superheroes are born with beyond-human qualities. Examples: Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, etc.
- Tragic Hero: A tragic hero is a person, usually of noble birth, with heroic or potentially heroic qualities. This person is doomed by fate, some supernatural force to be destroyed, or endure great suffering. The hero struggles admirably against this fate, but fails because of a flaw or mistake. Examples: Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet
- Epic Hero: An epic hero must be a man whose fortune is brought about by his own admired characteristics. These heroes are also typically found in poetry, especially Greek poems. Examples: Homer’s Iliad, Achilles, Odysseus
- Anti-Hero: more on this later.
I also just want to point out that hero doesn’t mean that your story always has to feature a man as the main character. You can have female heroes, also called heroines. In fact, on a personal note, I’d love to see more female heroes! Especially in the everyman, classical, and epic hero categories.
So what’s going to make your hero/heroine an amazing character? Here’s a list of somethings to consider when writing your hero/heroine:
- Obviously, you’re going to want to give them a power, special skill or ability. It needs to be something just over the edge of ordinary and that others lack. Sherlock Holmes had his deductive reason and keen sense of observation. Atticus Finch had his compassion and need to find justice for the innocent. It doesn’t have to be over the top and extravagant, just has to be something extraordinary.
- Give them flaws!!! I don’t know how many times I’m going to beat you over the head with this, but it’s important. Flawed characters are interesting and your readers will relate with them. Or let them have a moral weakness. Does this moral weakness hurt anyone else around them? Superman’s flaw is that he can’t be around Kryptonite. In Kingsman’s Secret Service, the main character is a street rat and doesn’t look twice at stealing a car.
- What does your hero value? Are they going to stick to these values no matter what? Do they have a code they live by? Think Fast and Furious for this one. Also having their values questioned by the antagonist in the story is an interesting way to create tension.
- A hero is only as good as his villain. You’re going to need to develop your antagonist alongside your hero. If your hero doesn’t have something to fight or to struggle against anything then they’re not a very good hero and they will be a boring hero – to you hero and your readers. Your antagonist also is how you define your hero through their interactions. Kim Possible always acts with calm and assertiveness while taking the side of good. However, Shego really emphasizes this by fighting dirty and by matching Kim Possible in assertiveness and calmness in their battles. Also how is your antagonist stronger or better than your hero?
- Everyone has some sort of passion – what is your hero passionate about? This can range from saving the world from evil to making sure all the animals in the shelter find good homes.
- Archetypes. They are in nearly every story that you read. They are helpful when writing hero stories, but at the same time they can get boring and predictable. So always find some way to change it up or to express it in a new way. Here is a great Writer’s Digest post about the different archetypes for both male and female heroes and villains.
- Create an “all is lost” moment. This keeps your readers at the edge of their seats as they want to know if the hero will succeed and it allows your character to grow. This what makes your hero a hero – he/she needs to decide whether he/she is going to quit or continue on.
- Populate your hero’s life with guides and friends/family. No one can do it alone. We need to have someone in our corner that makes us believe in ourselves. Everyone needs to practice skills and learn new things to become better versions of ourselves – it’s why we go to school or look up blogs on writing. Your hero is going to have to do the same thing. Look at Iron Man and how many mock’s he had to do of his suit in order to get it to fly. Or how the Karate Kid had to wax on and off before he was able to learn the techniques used in karate. Without Ana’s belief in Elsa, Elsa wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to thaw Arendelle.
- Heroes generally come from humble beginnings. They don’t know they are special until they are forced to act, like William Wallace in Braveheart. Or Superman in Man of Steel, he doesn’t really want to do anything more than win the heart of Lois Lane and to make a name for himself as a reporter. However, whenever Lois or earth is threatened he puts on his suit and saves the world. Here’s an article on the Hero’s Journey and some suggestions on how to go from normal to awesome.
These guys are my absolute favorites! They have a wide range of how they portray themselves. They can be funny and likable or they can be dark and brooding, or they can be complete jerks. No matter how they are portrayed you are definitely going to have a reaction to them.
First off let’s start off with the definition:
Anti-Hero: is a central character who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Some even display qualities that are almost more in line with villains. Traits like conceitedness, immorality, rebellion, and dishonesty signal that the author does not intend the audience to admire the protagonist. The anti-hero is also known as the modern hero.
So like the hero there are different types of anti-heroes (don’t worry there are only five types):
- The Classical Anti-hero: Is the exact opposite of the classical hero. Everything the hero is good at or makes the hero special is the complete opposite for the anti-hero. Your hero is strong – your anti-hero is weak. This guy/gal needs to conquer their fears and overcome their flaws. They are not necessarily going to be able to be a full fledged hero at the end of the story, but there is a chance of that happening. Opedius Rex is the perfect example of this and you should definitely give it a read.
- The “Disney” Anti-hero: This character is fundamentally good at the core, but is not overly cheery and optimistic as the hero is. They tend to be pretty sarcastic and realistic, put logic before honor, but they don’t do things that are morally ambiguous. These guys have a high probability of becoming an actual hero by the end of the story. They just need to overcome their fears or find a worthy cause to fight for or someone worth protecting, etc. Severus Snape from Harry Potter and Flynn Rider from Tangled are good examples.
- The Pragmatic Anti-hero: This character sees the big-picture and is neutral in morality. They can be reluctant to get into the thick of battle and at times need to be forced into going into battle. They don’t kill indiscriminately. If someone gets killed – they deserved it or their death achieved some higher purpose. They can go either way as to staying the way they are, changing into a villain or changing into a hero. A good example of this would be Wolverine. He does not like getting into conflicts with others as he knows that he’ll most likely end up dead, but a lot of the time the fight finds him and he has to respond.
- The Unscrupulous Anti-hero: This is as dark as you get while still being considered “good”. They live in a crappy environment with varying shades of grey and the anti-heroes shades of grey are lighter than the villains. They have distrust of humanity and a penchant for violence. They like to get revenge and in a big, showy way and they don’t care about the collateral damage this may cause. A great example of this would be Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. He’s all about himself and getting the Black Pearl back under his command and he doesn’t care how it happens as long as it does. He’s not a bad character, but he’s definitely someone you need to keep an eye on when dealing with him.
- The “Hero” in Name Only: These guy fight on the side of good, but for no good reason. Either their intentions are completely selfish, and they just happen to be pointing their guns at the bad guys, or their motivations are only slightly less ugly than the villains. Sometimes they’re just bored and want to shoot somebody. You root for them, but you don’t agree with basically anything they do. The villains that they are fighting are generally worse than the anti-hero. These guys do not become heroes at the end of the story. Best example of this type of anti-hero is Deadpool. He kills people for no reason, doesn’t have very many morals or principles that he adheres to and is out for revenge. He gets conned into undergoing some pretty stressful procedures to bring his mutant DNA to the forefront and then gets screwed over by the doctor who worked on him. So he goes out after this man and vows to kill him and anyone who stands in his way. His humor in my eyes is his only redeemable quality and even that is iffy as his humor can be quite offensive. Another example would be Dexter from the TV show Dexter.
As I made this disclaimer before I will repeat it here. Your anti-hero does not need to be a man. Your anti-hero could be female as well. In fact, I actually find female anti-heroes to be more common than heroes, especially in the superhero trope.
Tips for writing a kick-ass anti-hero:
- Read this helpful article from Writer’s Digest.
- Focus on your character’s flaws. These guys are not perfect by a long shot so emphasize it. Be aware of how you emphasize it though. You don’t want to make them too extreme. That being said, your character has to have some sort of redeemable quality. Even Deadpool has one; he has fallen in love with a woman as messed up as him and he cherishes her.
- Give them a buddy! This person acts as their conscience outside of themselves when they start doing all the bad things. It keeps the anti-hero a bit more grounded and makes them more likable. However, your side-kick can’t be perfect either and should be likable in some way. Deadpool has his bar tending friend that sticks up for him from time to time and even his land lady to talk some sense into him when he is really going crazy.
- Create an even worse antagonist. You need someone who outshines your anti-hero’s badness. You need another character that your readers are going to love to hate. That way when your anti-hero kills them your readers will cheer them on. Jack Sparrow vs Davy Jones is a good example of this. Jack has a lot of good pints to him but he’s also not really someone you want in your corner. Davy Jones is ten times worse than Jack because he doesn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities to him that make him appealing to audience. When Davy Jones goes under we don’t see Jack as being a bad person for helping end Davy Jones.
- Create a backstory. This explains why they act the way they do. It garners sympathy for your anti-hero. It allows your reader to like your very flawed and troubled hero.
- Give your anti-hero a vulnerability. As awesome and fearless you make your anti-hero they still need something that can destroy them. This is going to give them a secret that they try to hide from the world. They’re probably going to be aware of this weakness. It also gives your antagonist a way to cripple the anti-hero which forces them to grow or surrender. So don’t forget to hit him in his/her weak spot!
- Even your bad actions need motivation. No one does anything without motivation. So even if your character is mercenary and moral less they need some reason to get into the plot of your story and the conflicts. Wolverine only got involved with things because he was being threatened or got cornered/conned into helping out. Deadpool wanted his life back and wanted to make sure this doctor gave it to him.
- Read other books that have amazing anti-heroes and go from there. As a writer you need to read to see what’s current and publishable but it also gives you new ideas and writing styles that you can incorporate into your own works. Go check out Wikipedia for a list of some of the more well-known anti-heroes in literature.
That’s all that I have for you lovely people today. I hope that you found some of this helpful.
Until next week.