How Bad is Your Antihero?

Lately I’ve had several people ask for tips on how to write antiheroes. So my first question is, “How ‘bad’ is your antihero?”

An antihero is a character without traditional heroic qualities, but they may have heroic qualities in their own right. He or she is the kind of person who knows how to kick ass. As an audience, we like these characters because they’re competent and can “get the job done.”

Who are some good antiheroes? One of them of course is Mad Max, as shown in The Road Warrior and Fury Road. He is shown as being an ex-policeman who lost his wife and perhaps his mind in a post-apocalyptic war. But as a potential hero he works great.

The real question with an antihero isn’t “Is he fit for the job?” it’s “Will he help us?” Early in The Road Warrior, Max is shown as a dropout from society. But he decides to take a small village under his protection and help them out in return for a reward.

Other antiheroes aren’t as easy to convince. In the movie Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise plays an antihero—a savvy investigator who will only show up when he knows that there is a situation that needs to be fixed. In this case, he is out to save a man who has been accused of mass murder. The only thing is, he knows that the man is indeed a killer. So will Jack Reacher help him?

Clint Eastwood has played a number of antiheroes in films like Dirty Harry and Pale Rider, and he really was rather perfect in some of those films.

One question that folks often ask Is, “How do you spot an antihero?” The answer is easy. Does he come off as a “badass” from the start, someone who is handy in a fight? If so, he’s probably an antihero. On the other hand, if he’s a nice guy who doesn’t yet have the skills to be a hero, then he’s probably not an antihero.

Of course, there are all sorts of possibilities here. In the movie Seven Samurai, we’re presented with the character Kikuchiyo, a fake samurai as a potential hero. He wasn’t born into the role, and only tries to pretend to be heroic. Yet as the story progresses, he goes from being something of a comic relief character, monkeying with the other samurai, to becoming a true hero.


My Salt Lake Writing Workshop in now full. But you can still check out my other workshops.

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