Anti-hero: The hero who didn’t ask to get involved but does. Obviously the anti-hero has more depth than the traditional hero or an upstanding counterpart. Anti-heroes can be useful, exhibiting flaws your audience can identify with. The standard anti-hero’s flaws lie in their personality, such as greed or violent tendencies. The most popular characteristic for the anti-hero is misanthropy- the dislike of humankind or the group they belong to*. Also, the antihero doesn’t always have to be violent or totally immoral. For example you can have:
- The cowardly lion, the one that doesn’t want to be a hero or that wants to try but always gets overwhelmed and fails to face the true problem.
- The grudging hero that does the job but only because they have to. If it were up to them, they would be sitting at home watching someone else handle it (Marvel’s Wolverine).
- The incompetent hero who makes the situation or problem worse than ever.
All these characters fall under the anti-hero archetype and are fully capable of going on the hero’s journey.
An anti-hero needs a solid foundation to stand on, as well as a colorful back story. This back story (or present story) explains the anti-hero doesn’t quite fit into their role or fulfill what is expected from them**. This includes corrupt cops, drug addicted mothers, etc. Sounds too villainous? Remember: an anti-hero possesses morals they won’t compromise- morals that separate them from being the evil villain. For instance, an assassin with anti-heroic tendencies would target criminals and those who wanted the assassin to kill innocents.
When designing an anti-hero, I urge you to look beyond the standardized characteristics. You can use misanthropy, but note that it’s an extremely cliche characteristic, so approach using it carefully. Maybe your character dislikes certain parts of humanity, such as racist or radical factions, or hates humanity as a whole due to their contributions to polluting or destroying the planet.
Regardless of their personality traits an anti-hero can always strive to be something better than who they are. Maybe that assassin really does worry about the consequences of all those kills, but continues doing it anyway. You want the reader to sympathize with your anti-hero even if what they do isn’t classically “good”. Audiences love rooting for the underdog, even if that underdog is a villain. Imagine writing a villain and then making them the protagonist. The protagonist doesn’t necessarily mean good, just the central figure of the story. To make audiences sympathize more with a villain protagonist, give them hopes and fears that a reader identifies with. The reader doesn’t have to befriend your character, just cheer them on more than the enemy.
* A prime example of the anti-hero personality is Marvel’s film character Loki, who hates his species the Frost Giants after being raised a prince in Asgardian society.
**Despite appearing Asgardian, Loki’s character isn’t accepted in either society. His key flaw is his hate for adopted brother Thor, who was heralded as the mighty, battle hungry warrior and traditional Asgardian prince.
Loki Fanart "Atonement" by ThoseWeirdThings Resources: “Anti-Hero.” Prompts and Advice: For a Writing Community. http://writeroftheprompts.tumblr.com/, May 2016. Web. 11 Jan. 2017. Nichol, M. (2012, June 16). 15 Stock Characters — and How to Restock Them. Retrieved January 11, 2017, from Daily Writing Tips, http://www.dailywritingtips.com/15-stock-characters-and-how-to-restock-them/