4 Ways to Make Your Antihero Deliciously Irresistible

Antiheroes . . . those conflicted souls who pawned their moral compass to buy their next bottle of vodka. There’s nothing heroic about them and for the most part they only care about themselves.

So why do we love them so much?

Antiheroes are far from perfect, a trait which makes them very real and very human. We can all relate to antiheroes because our lives are also littered with uncertainty and imperfection.

As a writer, developing your antihero can be a complex process because the usual conventions no longer stick.  Antiheroes resemble very ordinary people whose thinking and values contradict the norm. They can be selfish and lack compassion, and they’re willing to take the law into their own hands.

Rousing emotion and compassion from your readers in spite of these flaws requires a deep understanding of what makes your antihero tick. You need to explore the darker elements of the human psyche and present them in a way that is appealing to readers.

Although I could easily write a whole book on the topic, here are four ways to get you started.

1. Give your antihero a reason to be bad

You need to make your antihero believable and to do this, you need to give him a realistic backstory. Why is your antihero so bad or angry? Was his sister raped and murdered in front of him? Did her mother torture her and use her as a drug mule? If you had to meet your antihero in the street, what would you consider a good enough reason to justify his behavior?

A good backstory is vital, as it explains how your antihero came to be. More importantly, it helps your readers sympathize with him. For example, a woman that tortures and kills rapists is a little hard to swallow. But a woman that does this because she was kidnapped and raped repeatedly by an organized ring of rapists is easier to sympathize with.

2. Your antihero doesn’t want to be good

Your antihero’s character should be gently balanced throughout your story. On the one hand, your antihero is a bad, selfish person who will do things your readers don’t like or agree with. On the other hand, your readers will come to sympathize with your antihero. Although they won’t like what he gets up to, they will understand his motives. Your responsibility is to maintain this delicate relationship by sustaining the believability of your character.

To do this, you need to remember your antihero does not want to save the day or be seen as the good Samaritan. When your antihero commits an act perceived to be right or just, make sure you explore why this has happened. If you don’t do this, it will seem as though your antihero is acting out of character or has suddenly become the good guy, which is completely unrealistic.

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson thoroughly explores Lisbeth Salander’s role as avenger and protector of those too weak and vulnerable to protect themselves. Although Lisbeth’s underlying cause is good, her violent and unpredictable approach to things is a reminder that she is not necessarily a good person.

3. Give us enough to sympathize with

Your antihero may be a serial killer who keeps a display cabinet of human eyes, but he does have a few likable qualities, right? By giving your antihero a few redeeming qualities, you are helping readers sympathize with his cause. Your readers need to connect with your character; they want to care about what happens to your antihero so give them a reason to do so.

A great example of how this is done is Jeff Lindsay’s portrayal of Dexter Morgan in Darkly Dreaming Dexter (the basis for the TV series Dexter). Dexter is a serial killer who dismembers his victims. Yet despite his need to slash his victims into equal portions, Dexter is also portrayed as a loving father and dedicated brother, which suddenly makes his serial-killing self a whole lot nicer.

4. Inner conflict goes a long way

Your antihero’s inner conflict and self-doubt makes your character much more realistic. Your antihero never set out to save the day, so it is almost expected that he is going to be unsure of how to handle things along the way. We can relate to characters dealing with inner conflict because we deal with inner conflict on a regular basis.

More importantly, inner conflict creates suspense because no one is really sure how your antihero is going to deal with a crisis or event. Will he make the right choice? For that matter, what is the right choice? These questions keep things interesting and exciting. Dexter Morgan is regularly faced with inner conflict because, on the one hand, he thrives on killing people, but on the other hand, he worries about the repercussions of being caught and the pain it would cause his family. Readers cozy up to Dexter as he works through his doubts and fears but we are still left wondering what he’ll do next.

Tell me your opinion: Who is your favorite antihero?

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About Bronwyn Hemus

Bronwyn is the co-founder and Head of Editorial Services at Standoutbooks. Standoutbooks. offers personalized editing and marketing services for authors. Their editorial solutions vary from manuscript critiques to in-depth content edits and their marketing solutions include designing author websites, managing social media campaigns, and writing press releases.

Comments

  1. The Bookshelf Muse is a fantastic site. I’m glad you discovered it. You might also find their book The Emotion Thesaurus helpful.

  2. Definitely Jim Moriarty from BBC’s Sherlock. He has such a twisted mind. But the way he goes about things in such a silly manner makes me like him even though I really shouldn’t.

  3. Anonymous says

    Anne Rice’s Lestat.

  4. My favorite antihero is Peter from Divergent… He really has a good story set with him

  5. I’m one of those people that always likes the bad guy, so this was a tough decision, but I’ve got to go with The Walking Dead’s Philip Blake, or the governor.

  6. Thank you. I am working on a protagonist who has made their mind up to well, not be so good. And people say you should make your protagonist a good person. So I am kind of in a bind. Hopefully this will help sort things out.

  7. I prefer anti-heroes like Spawn or Blade, though their actions might save the world, they’re really more about themselves and their own personal goals. Spawn just wants to be left alone. Blade just wants revenge. I particularly like the idea of an Anti-hero with awesome powers that aside from maybe a few attachments here and there really just wants to be left alone but can never seem to escape those who would seek to destroy him and/or his “family”.

  8. Trevor Phillips from GTA5 is probably my favorite. For a character so completely amoral, I’ve got an incredible soft spot for his self-doubting, self-degrading addicted walking personality disorder.

  9. I have some characters that have not top dark and others where they need dark stories to push the story forwards. Some of the not so dark are the ones that involve kids since the majority of the characters are early 20s. One of the kids has stage five cancer. That is the least dark back story. Two of the darkest are from a woman that joined the army and a man that was a police officer. The entire story takes place in the afterlife so all the characters are dead or were never alive.
    The woman that joined the army was a victim of child abuse and because of her parents frequent drinking, she was often in poverty along with her little sister. Her uncle raised her and her sister until she was about 14. Then in a drunken rage, her father gets mad that his brother spends more time with his daughters than he does, so the father kills the uncle, in front of the character. When she turns 18, she joins the army and sends the majority of the money to her little sister so she can eat better than she’s able to. Then the woman dies in a standoff against ISIS.
    The male with the darkest back story in the book was a New Jersey police officer and he frequently took down some pretty high ranking gang members. He becomes paranoid that they’re coming for him (because they are) and begins to sleep with a knife in hand. He tells his pregnant wife not to sleep next to him because he doesn’t want to hurt her but she continues to do so, even if he sleeps away from the house. He wakes one day to something sticky on his hands. He turns on the lamp and discovers blood everywhere, and a dead wife and unborn daughter. He becomes overcome with greif and kills himself with the same knife that took their lives.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Und hier, naja, Antihelden braucht man doch immer: 4 Ways to Make Your Antihero Deliciously Irresistible […]

  2. […] are planning to add the buzz of an antihero to your book, why not have a look at my article, “4 ways to make your antihero deliciously irresistible“, published on KM Weiland’s Wordplay […]

  3. […] 4 Ways to Make Your Antihero Deliciously Irresistible […]

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