Anti-Heroes: What They Are and How They Work

(Image taken from Google Images. All credits go to rightful owner.)

(Image taken from Google Images. All credits go to rightful owner.)

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “anti-hero” before, but do you know what it means?

Dictionary.com defines an anti-hero as this:

A protagonist who lacks the attributes that make a heroic figure, as nobility of mind and spirit, a life or attitude marked by action or purpose, and the like.

Okay, so that’s a lot of words. Mainly, an anti-hero is a character that doesn’t act like the hero, but is put in the position to save the day regardless. Do not get the anti-hero confused with the villain. An anti-hero is ALWAYS a protagonist. The anti-hero is a main character that, although he/she helps save the story, usually has a bad attitude about having to help others. Additionally, anti-heroes display very non-heroic traits, such as readiness to kill, lie, steal, or cheat, and are often self-centered. Anti-hero characters are willing to make the hard decisions that heroes have trouble with.

Anti-heroes are everywhere in popular fiction, from books to TV shows to movies. Some you might recognize are Artemis Fowl the Second (Artemis Fowl series), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock), Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Shrek (Shrek), Han Solo (Star Wars), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Sage (The Ascendance Trilogy), Edmund Pevensie (The Chronicles of Narnia), Flynn Rider (Tangled), and several comic-book superheroes such as Batman, Deadpool, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Wolverine, Black Widow, Peter Quill (Star-Lord) and Jason Todd (Red Hood).

All anti-heroes are major characters, but not all of them act alongside the hero. Some, such as the anti-hero from my book, “Shape-Shifters”, do act in conjunction with the hero of the story. However, many anti-heroes also double as the main character of the book, such as Artemis Fowl or Sage. Therefore, anti-heroes can simultaneously act as the hero of a story. It can get a little confusing at times.

Anti-heroes are pretty popular among most audiences (this writer/reader included). Why? I’m not exactly sure, but I think that people find them attractive due to their overwhelming human-ness. They’re the voice of reality and doubt. They struggle with getting things right, but they try to be good nonetheless, and I think we as fellow humans respect that. These flaws are very relatable. My post on Marvel’s storytelling touches more on flawed characters.

Also, anti-heroes are usually pretty hilarious (see the majority of the characters listed above as anti-heroes).

Some may ask why anti-heroes even try to save the day if they complain about it. They all have different motivations. Peter Quill realizes that there’s merit in helping others (and that, y’know, he’ll die if Ronan destroys everything). Shrek is trying to get his home back. Sherlock solves cases not for the good of others, but because he loves the thrill. My own character, Shard, (who happens to be my most glaringly obvious anti-hero), is thrust into saving his species against his will. Plus, his new best friend guilts him into doing it.

Anti-heroes are classified as such due to their flaws, struggles, and challenges, but remember, even your non-anti-heroes need realistic flaws and obstacles. The hero of your story may not be willing to kill as easily as your anti-hero, but perhaps he wrestles with not thinking before he speaks, and that gets him into trouble. Although anti-heroes are defined as having certain flaws, your hero should not be defined as not having any.

Okay, so now that you know what an anti-hero is, maybe you can insert some into your own writing. Or maybe you’ve been writing one and haven’t even realized it!

It’s your turn! What are some of your favorite anti-heroes? Do you have any anti-heroes in your writing? Has anyone that has read your writing strongly connected with/expressed their affection for said character? Do tell!

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