I’ve done some research on the difference between the anti-hero and the Byronic hero. I couldn’t find a definitive article anywhere comparing the two directly, but from what I’ve read here’s my own conclusion.
A Byronic hero is a bad good guy. He does bad things, makes his own rules, operates outside of the law. But his goal is to do good. He’s tormented. He’s introspective. He hurts. He takes full responsibility. He’s Batman.
A Byronic hero will never find true success because he is so conflicted. He seems to be constantly putting out fires in his quest to do right, but due to his own sensitivity of the world he will never achieve his goal. He’s tragic. He’ll never be happy.
An anti-hero is unpredictable. He’s good when he wants to be. He’s bad when he wants to be. And sometimes he’s bad just to piss you off. Because he knows he can, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t know the meaning of responsibility. He has no regard for right and wrong, he only knows what he wants to do in the moment. His actions will be completely different on another day.
An anti-hero finds success in everything he does. He is happy in his own world because it is all he sees.
In a nutshell, a Byronic hero does bad things for the greater good. An anti-hero does whatever the hell he wants.
I just came across a great article on Writer’s Digest: Defining and Developing Your Anti-Hero.
Although I didn’t purposely fashion one of my MCs into an anti-hero, I believe that’s what he is. He fits every one of these characteristics from the article.
- are not role models, although we secretly would like to kick ass like they do.
- can be selfish and essentially bad people who occasionally are good.
- are sometimes unglamorous and unattractive in character as well as in appearance.
- can be motivated by self-interest and self-preservation, but there is usually a line anti-heroes won’t cross, which sets them apart from villains.
- often have motives that are complicated and range from revenge to honor.
- forced to choose between right and wrong, will sometimes choose wrong because it’s easier.
- can play both sides with good guys and bad guys, profiting from both.
- can sometimes be coerced to help underdogs, children, or weaker characters, and they sometimes do so voluntarily.
- can embody unattractive traits and behaviors, such as sexist and racist attitudes, and violent reactions when wronged.
- can show little or no remorse for bad behaviors.
- are usually a mess of contradictions.
Since this wasn’t intentional, I remember feeling uneasy when writing some of his thoughts early on, before I knew him well. I wanted to like my MC. I don’t want him to have these thoughts. In my first edit, I paused on a particular sexist remark he makes about my heroine, and I almost cut it out. I didn’t want him to be a bad guy! But he is, and he’s so much better because of it.
Now I feel the need to make him even worse.
Another interesting concept is the Byronic hero. Characteristics of a Byronic hero (according to Wikipedia):
- a strong sense of arrogance
- high level of intelligence and perception
- cunning and able to adapt
- suffering from an unnamed crime
- a troubled past
- sophisticated and educated
- self-critical and introspective
- mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
- struggling with integrity
- power of seduction and sexual attraction
- social and sexual dominance
- emotional conflicts, bipolar tendencies, or moodiness
- a distaste for social institutions and norms
- being an exile, an outcast, or an outlaw
- disrespect of rank and privilege
- jaded, world-weary
- self-destructive behavior
My MC possesses most of these – he’s definitely not self-critical, introspective, or charismatic (the latter maybe to my heroine, but she has a good excuse).
So, what is the difference between an anti-hero and a Byronic hero?