“We secretly would like to kick ass like they do.”

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.

Anti-heroes:

  • 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
  • cynicism
  • 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?