The Anti-Hero Defined
How would you define an anti-hero? A bad guy? A good guy that is kind of…bad? A deviant? Here’s how the dictionary will define anti-hero for you:
a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.
So, the anti-hero is the star of the show, but doesn’t have the same trope-like characteristics and/or attributes that we normally identify the hero of a story with. This, in my opinion, is one of the things that makes the anti-hero so potentially appealing. As a writer, we’re always looking for ways to make characters interesting, and fresh. That’s one of the driving factors that keeps readers going. Anti-hero’s feel a little grey, in other words, and that helps add color to the people in our stories. A little shading helps things take on a three-dimensional appearance, right?
The Allure of the Anti-Hero
One of these days I’m going to write a story with an anti-hero. In fact, now that I write that, I think I’ve got one in the current book I’m writing, The Shadow’s Servant, and one that I’ve already written in The Magic Shop. The notion of a protagonist, or supporting character that blurs the line between the traditional hero and villain is curious to me, and from an author’s perspective, is super fun to write. While the idea of the anti-hero may be less common in books and other media, its noteworthy that the literary device has been around for quite some time, and is used.
In my Magic Shop series, I’ve got a few characters that might fit the notion of Anti-heroes a bit.
Elba—The crypt keeper. She’s one of the good guys, for sure, but, well, sometimes you’re not sure. If there are two factions in this series, she’s one character that seems neutral most of the time, even though she comes to the aid of the good guys. The result it that you are left wondering how she will respond to certain situations most of the time.
Exum—Here is a character that first appears in The Shadow’s Servant. He’s a smuggler, and a bit of a rouge. He’s in it for himself, and always looking for how he can profit from a situation. That said, he’s one of the good guys…or is he? These characters are fun to write.
Examples of Anti-Heroes in Our Modern Media
Where I’ve given you a couple of examples anti-heroes from my writing, here are some examples of anti-heroes type characters in other literature and media:
- Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series
- James Bond
- Dexter Morgan of the Darkly Dreaming Dexter series
- Gollum from the Lord of the Rings
- Artemis Fowl
- Jason Bourne
- Han Solo
- The Punisher
- Jack Bauer
- Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad
- Sherlock Holmes
…just to name a few.
Here’s another neat TED video I found on anti-heros. Notice the awesome use of Tron as an example. What about you? Have you ever written an anti-hero? Tell me about it in the comments below.
The Hero’s Journey Ted Talk Video
When you start out in something you’re serious about you look for patterns or models that have been established to help you understand it better. When I first started writing, or rather, studying the craft of writing, I came across The Hero’s Journey.[/templ_dropcaps]
The Hero’s Journey is a model that Joseph Campbell established in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In short, the book maintains that over the ages, and across cultures, humans have a set core of beliefs concerning our heros that constantly manifests itself in our story telling traditions. The hero has a pattern, or a type that is seen all over the world. Mr. Campbell went on to consolidate these common occurrences (in their various forms), and created a model called The Hero’s Journey.
I found a fun video on TED that depicts The Hero’s Journey and included it below. Also, I’ve included a diagram that outlines the various stages of The Hero’s Journey. Have you used this in your writing, or are you planning to? If so, let me know about it in the comments!
If you search on the Internet, you will find a ton of resources for The Heroe’s Journey. There are many graphics depicting the process (the monomyth model) in various forms. Here are a couple Heroe’s Journey graphics for you to consider.
At one point, this notion was a revelation to me. When I first started writing, I didn’t know the difference between a discovery writer, and an outliner. That is because I just sat down and tried to write. Only later did I discover that by being aware of your approach and optimizing it for your own style would you increase your productivity. Below you will find the video from Brandon Sanderson’s lecture on discovery writers vs. outliners. He references George R. R. Martin’s version of this in his own terms, as gardeners and architects. Gardeners = Discovery Writers. They need to fumble their way around the writing because they either get joy from finding, or are afraid of not discovering the hidden connections, and nuances of what they are writing. They want to explore, and discover, and if they don’t, they will worry that they left the best stuff behind. Architects = Outliners. These folks want structure, and need it to move forward. To not have structure is paralyzing to them. They worry that they haven’t taken the time to think things through, and to connect the dots appropriately. If they move too quickly, without the schematic in place, they worry about the quality of their writing. I’ve discovered that I am some type of hybrid. Before I started writing The Magic Shop, I was a pure discovery writer. This got frustrating, and I got lost. After attending LTUE at BYU, and after having attended a few of the workshops that I have posted previously, I realized that I needed a little more structure. So, I outlined according to Dan Well’s story structure, but I left enough room for me to change where I was going. So, I had a rough outline at a super high level, and this gave me some structure – I knew where I was going, but I definitely felt like I could go wherever my characters and story took me. This worked out a lot better for me. Gardners vs. Architects
Another fantastic workshop from LTUE (Life the Univerise and Everything) from a few years ago. This one in particular really helped me get unstuck with my writing. I had written over 300 pages on a middle grade novel I was working on, and I was plain stuck. A friend of mine at work recommended that I just start another novel, and so I did. I used this format and it really helped me keep a steady flow. Dan Wells leveraged a Star Trek RPG book for some of his ideas, but also uses other modern movies to illustrate his ideas. Dan Well’s website Story Structure Power Point Presentation Story Structure Part 1
Story Structure Part 2
Story Structure Part 3
Story Structure Part 4
Story Structure Part 5
How to Write a Story that Rocks
A few years ago I attended a fantastic workshop called How to Write a Story that Rocks at the Life the Universe and Everything (LTUE) writer’s symposium at Brigham Young University. I participated in what ended up being a wonderful writing workshop entitled, “How to Write a Story that Rocks.” Recently I found the videos for that workshop online and have included them below. This writing workshop was delivered by Larry Correia and John Brown. They included a great cheat sheet for a handout, which I am including a link for below. Larry Correia’s Website John Brown’s Website Here’s the link to the writing workshop’s handout: How to Write a Story that Rocks HANDOUT. If you visit John Brown’s website, I think you’ll not only find that he’s a great writer, but you’ll find a very kind man willing to teach and to share some of the tools and resources he has. I really love that about him.
How to Write a Story that Rocks Workshop
What follows is a series of twelve clips that make up the workshop. You can sit down and watch the whole thing, or you can take it bit by bit. Ultimately, this was one of the best workshops I’ve attended, rivaled only by Dan Well’s workshop on the 7 point plot structure (also witnessed at LTUE).
I attended LTUE at BYU a few years ago and had the privilege to listen to Dan Wells give a great presentation on story structure. At the time, his thoughts on the matter really seemed to unravel some of my plotting issues, and generally seemed to just get me unstuck. For your convenience, here is a quick modeling of the 7 point structure as he calls it. Hook = Get reader interest. (opposite state of the resolution) Plot Turn 1 = Moves you from the beginning to the mid point. Intro the conflict. The character’s world changes. Meet new people, discover new secrets, follow the white rabbit. Pinch 1 = Apply pressure: Something goes wrong, bad guys attack, peace is destroyed. Force the characters into action. Often used to intro the villain. Midpoint = you determine to do something. The character moves from reaction to action. Pinch 2 = Apply more pressure until the situation seems hopeless: a plan fails, a mentor dies leaving the hero alone, the bad guy seems to win. “Jaws of defeat.” Plot Turn 2 = the power is in you. Obtain the thing needed to make the resolution happen Resolution = Satisfy the reader. (opposite state of the hook) Well, imagine my joy when I stumbled across this very presentation on youtube.com! For those of you looking to understand story structure, here is the presentation below in five parts.
Here is Dan Well’s accompanying power point presentation for Story Structure. Story Structure Power Point