Monday, August 28, 2017

How and Why to Write an Anti Hero

To wrap up August's theme of heroes, I want to talk anti heroes.

Why should you write an anti hero?

Short answer: Anti heroes are fascinating. Their moral compass definitely doesn't point true North. But even though they break laws and leave destruction in their wake, these dark heroes are on a mission to do the right thing. Even villains are doing the right thing according to their own story, though, right? So what separates an anti hero from a villain? It's all in the way you write them.

My favorite anti hero is a popular one. Walter White from Breaking Bad. He's an excellent example for how to write an anti hero.

1. The anti hero starts off as a good person.

Walter White starts his story as a straight-and-narrow family man, high school chemistry teacher, and on top of that, he works another job at a car wash to provide for his family. There's nothing villainous about this guy. Even when we see him get irritated, he responds with compliance.


2. The anti hero begrudgingly compromises his morals in response to an impossible situation.

Every protagonist should face an impossible situation. The hero will stand their moral ground and find some way through their mess. They'll stick to their morals even if it means losing because above all, they don't want to lose themselves.

The villain will manipulate, destroy, and do whatever they have to do to get what they want as quickly as they want. It doesn't matter to them who gets hurt in the process.

The anti hero will struggle with what to do to overcome the impossible, but in the end, he compromises his morals for the sake of the goal. Walter White finds out he has lung cancer, and that even with his two jobs, he can't come anywhere close to paying for medical treatment without leaving his family in horrible debt. So when he learns how much money meth dealers make, and he finds a former student in the business, he sees a solution to his problem. Make meth and go into business with his former student. Walter isn't happy about this at all, but he justifies his illegal actions by saying he'll only make enough money to pay for his treatment.


3. Amp up the internal struggle. Make it juicy. Blur the lines.

Without giving anything away for those who somehow haven't watched Breaking Bad, there's a scene where Walter White really crosses the morality line, and I mean more than making meth. He crosses the line to right a wrong and make sure his illegal hard work isn't for nothing. And when he crosses that line? Ohhhh, he likes it. He's turned on by it. The dark side of this former straight-and-narrow is unleashed.


4. The anti hero needs to be feared by the right people.

Villains and heroes need to be equally matched so that there's tension and excitement in a fair fight. You'll know you have an anti hero and not a villain when the anti hero opposes a villain and they both fear each other. Walter White went up against rival meth cooks and dealers, even opposing the Cartel. And when he crossed the line to the dark side, he became a force his rivals feared. And here's where things get muddied...there are heroes in the story too: the DA (Walt's brother-in-law). In the eyes of the DA, Walter White (they don't know his identity) is no different or less villainous than the other drug dealers. But remember, Walter sticks to a certain level of morality, and he does it for the sake of his family.


The reason anti villains are so interesting is because no one person is completely good or completely bad. We've all wondered what it would be like to bend or break the law, haven't we? We've wondered what would push us to cross our moral line. Think of the classic scenario of stealing bread to feed your family. The anti hero satisfies that dark side we all have, no matter how tucked away we keep that part of ourselves.


Jessie Mullins is married to her highschool sweetheart, and together they have an awesome son. She's a mommy blogger and writes YA. You can find bookish things on her writer Facebook page.

No comments:

Post a Comment