[Guest Post] 7 Tips for Creating an Antihero that Readers Would Love


This is a guest post from Stephanie Norman. Stephanie is from Sydney, and has been a contributing blogger and professional writer for 4 years already. She writes creative, and academic content covering writing, educational, and inspirational issues as a freelancerAlso, sometimes she provides editing service at Australian Writings, a company that offers assignment help for students. You can follow her at Facebook and Google+.

Even heroes are flawed. When you’re creating a new piece of literature, you have to think about the level of connection the readers will develop with your characters. If you create the perfect human who looks gorgeous, makes no mistakes and is not afraid of anything, the final result will be simply obnoxious. Think of Macbeth, Prince Hamlet, Raskolnikov, and Natasha Rostova: they all have many flaws, but somehow they deserve the reader’s sympathy.

When you show that flaws don’t prevent people from achieving great things, your readers will be grateful for the inspiration you’ve awaken. Even Superman was not flawless! That’s not enough? Okay, I hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but think of the effect E. L, James caused with her character Christian Grey. Regardless of your thoughts on the book, you can take one thing as a fact: antiheroes are pretty powerful.

Let’s see how you can create the perfectly imperfect central character in your book. I have 7 great tips to offer:

Provide a backstory!

Okay, your hero is troubled. But, why? Insightful readers always want to know the reasons. You don’t have to write a whole chapter on the character’s history; few hints should be enough for the reader to understand where he’s coming from. Let’s take Dostoevsky’s Stavrogin (from Demons) as an example. The author started this novel with few chapters that lead to the appearance of the main character. When he enters the story, we are already aware of his flawed personality and we understand his badass behavior.

Some readers are bored by the lengthy explanations, so you might want to avoid Dostoevsky’s strategy and stick to the preferences of modern readers. You can feel free to get straight to the point, but you still need to think of a great backstory that will help your readers sympathize with the character. They need to justify their tendency to identify with someone they are not supposed to like. Give them reasons!

Give him a secret vulnerability

Your antihero needs a secret weakness that he hides from everyone else. Think of a vice, obsession, or a memory that makes him/her vulnerable. Everyone has an Achilles heel. In spite of the overall strength this character has, you need to add a point that could potentially lead him to downfall.

The hero should be relatively aware of this weakness, but he is constantly trying to hide it from the world. That will enable the reader to develop a deep connection with the character, so he will be anxious about the outcome.

Hit him in the weakest spot!

You thought of the perfect vulnerability? That’s great. How will you use it? Is he afraid of getting emotionally involved with someone? Get him involved! Take things even further; his girlfriend can cheat on him. When you bring the antihero to a corner, the situation will reveal more details about his background and your readers will love him even more. Now you can justify a bad action, such as a fight with the other guy, or even a murder. At this point, you can reveal emotional struggles that the reader didn’t know about. For example, he can remember how his mother left his father for another man and how that event marked his entire life.

Create a situation that will lead towards the reveal of your hero’s deepest secrets and psychological scars. The plot needs an emotional, confusing conflict that will mess with the reader’s head.

Bad actions need motivation!

The greatest reason behind our connection with troubled characters is our ability to understand. We know the reasons and motivation that led to improper action. We justify Anna Karenina for her infidelity, and we even understand the suicide. How do you achieve that effect in your own book?

Your character can struggle to find out the truth about a family mystery, so he is forced to torture bad guys to get some traces. He might even kill some of them… don’t worry; your readers will understand if the motivation is good enough. Honor, revenge, and will for freedom are always good sources of motivation. You’ll find plenty of such characters in Asian literature.

Create an antidote!

Your readers need to see your hero as someone who’s better than most other people in the story. Thus, you need someone with worse personal traits than the central character. Raskolnikov killed the old lady. We still love him, don’t we? Let’s pause for a moment and find a reason behind this connection. The author made us hate the old lady! That’s why we understand the antihero’s reasoning behind the terrible act.

When you want to create a character your readers hate to love, make sure to develop another one that a reader would love to hate! If your antihero eventually kills this character, the readers will praise and approve that action. Just think of Batman, Thor, and all other heroes from comic books that people adore just because they get rid of bad guys.

Create a supporting hero!

Every hero needs a sidekick. That’s a rule you need to follow, since you need someone who will bring your main character to sense when the bad characteristics prevail. Remember Sherlock Holmes? He had a deep friendship with Dr. Watson, who serves as a catalyst of the main character’s mental processes. Doyle understood the need of a supporting character that would serve as the hero’s extended consciousness.

Of course, your supporting hero also needs some flaws. Don’t make him perfect! He can be stubborn or a bit silly. The main purpose is to make him likeable.

There has to be a limit!

No matter how troubled your hero is, you have to make him honorable. Do you know how easily Jay Gatsby could have killed both Daisy and her husband before taking his own life? We would justify him even then, but Fitzgerald knew there was a limit he couldn’t cross. Your antihero should not be perfectly good, but you should also avoid making him completely senseless. You need to balance out the darkness with something positive in the outcome.

Even if your main character is supposed to defy all moral codes of his time, he needs to have personal limits and standards that will drive his actions. Here is an example: let’s say a character wants to hurt children because he was a victim of violence as a child. Such person cannot be a hero or a vigilante. He is simply a villain you can’t love.

Every Story Needs a Complex, Troubled Antihero!

Think of all troubled characters that great authors made you love. Alex from A Clockwork Orange is a sociopath, but he is still an amazing, incredibly memorable antihero. When he starts acting decently, you just want him to go back to his usual, violent ways. That’s the effect you want to achieve! Your main character doesn’t have to be associated with crime or violence, but you have to add some shades of darkness to balance out his awesomeness.