Terrible Writing Advice – Chapter 18: Antiheroes

The steely stare of the bitter and lone writer need not be in vane! Why struggle to write a hero when you can write an antihero instead? Antiheroes are way cooler which means a writer can put even less effort into them than other characters! Even better, maturity is optional when writing an antihero. The best antiheroes are the ones that conform to what a 13 year old thinks is cool! A writer can even skimp on dialog when it comes to writing an antihero! So dial your self-awareness back and get ready to brood up a storm as we write an antihero. Just be careful to not cut yourself on all the edginess.

My Honest Thoughts on Antiheroes

Antiheroes are hard to write. When a writer stumbles on writing a hero, they usually get a boring hero. When a writer stumbles on writing an antihero they usually get something unintentionally hilarious at best or downright atrocious at worst. This comes down to how difficult it is to balance an antihero while still keeping the audience engaged. A boring, but good hero can still keep an audience engaged so long as some of the side characters are at least interesting or maybe it has a good villain. Have a story focus on a poorly written antihero and the audience will quickly move on to something better. Antiheroes are hard to root for because they, by definition, lack heroic qualities. They can make for a good excuse to put the book down.

An antihero side character can also be just as insufferable, but not nearly as damaging as other characters might be able to mitigate the antihero’s destructive influence on the story. They can do a lot of damage though since a poorly written antihero is almost always an author darling and as such the other characters’ screen time tends to suffer as a result.

Both the lone antihero and the ensemble cast version tend to suffer from being too dark. You see this most often in fanfics, but a lot of professional works fall into this (see the 90s comics antihero plague for more examples). They are all grit and no character. The worst ones are a giant ball of violence and cheesy one liners. The only fun the audience gets out of these characters is maybe an ironic laugh.

So how does one write an antihero? Antiheroes are all about contrast. My visual metaphor is my own personal opinion about how to make an antihero interesting. They can be painted in black shades of dark, brooding, and even petty, but they need a few white lines of positive qualities to make them truly stand out. Have your antihero be a bastard, have him steal and torture, but at least have him do a good deed every once in a while.

Also, a lot of anti heroes work when they have other characters to contrast with. The token evil teammate is a popular trope for a reason. Not only can more traditional heroes contrast with the antihero, but they can also come into conflict with one another in interesting ways. The best conflicts occur when each challenges the other’s view of ethics and morality. A good antihero can balance a team of traditional heroes so long as the author avoids the forced conflict trap I mentioned in the video.

Finally, it can help to give him some vulnerabilities and not just physical weakness or character flaws. This is especially effective for a strong combat focused antihero. Show him uncertain, show him tired, and show him in despair. Break up his stoicism so the audience at least knows he feels something. In short, make him human, not a killing machine that also happens to shop at Hot Topic.