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?