Episode 43: The Anti Hero

On May 18th, Kasie and Rex took up yet another topic associated with The Hero’s Journey. Here are the show notes:


Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer

Rex Hurst, English Instructor, fiction writer

Theme for the day

The Hero’s Journey Part 6: The Anti Hero


  • Review of the Hero’s Journey
  • The Anti Hero
  • Upcoming events for writers & readers
boy child clouds kid
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Segment 1

This is our sixth episode on the Hero’s Journey so ICYMI here are the other five episodes (oneand twoand threeand fourand five) and here’s the outline of the Hero’s Journey:

  • The Call — being chosen to undertake the journey
  • The Companions — who will accompany the hero?
  • The journey itself — distance, obstacles, treachery
    • Monsters
    • Temptations
    • Deadly opposites or opposing dangers — think colliding armies
    • The underworld — death itself or a glimpse of the other side in the form of visions and insights gleaned by ghosts and spirits
    • The helpers — maintain posts along the path and assist the hero and companions in some way
  • Arrival and frustration — within sight of the goal but a new and terrible series of obstacles presents
  • The final ordeal — the last test of the hero’s personal transformation
  • Achievement of the goal — life affirming, it was all worth it finale of the story.

So we’ve done pivotal moments in the hero’s journey like The Call and the Meeting with the Goddess; we’ve done key characters like The Mentor and The Companions; and we’ve looked at the Hero’s Journey in non-western literature. We even looked at the Hero’s Journey as a metaphor for the writer’s journey. If you missed that, our first episode in this series, check out the show notes from Episode 38when we had Derek Berry in the studio.

We may have worn this topic out but what happens every week is we think of some new aspect that could use exploration and so we plan to work that aspect over in the next episode. Maybe this week’s discussion will lead to a Part 7.

We took on the Anti Hero because it seemed like the natural progression after studying the Hero for so long. In order to fully appreciate the Anti Hero, we need to know what makes the Hero. So here’s that list (think Captain America):

  • Courageous — brave in the face of danger, willing to accept the challenge of the Call
  • Skilled — possessing of magic, strength, or talents that other characters don’t have
  • Sacrificing — willing to give up what they want for the greater good
  • Destined — pre-ordained to greatness, obviously the person meant to save us all
  • Wounded — some deep insecurity or tragedy that creates an internal conflict (think Harry Potter’s dead parents)

We’ve discussed, in varying degrees, each of these traits. More than anything, our hero is someone the reader can and wants to root for. Therein lies the challenge for our anti hero. Often, the anti hero is someone we don’t want to root for but just can’t seem to help ourselves.

Segment 2

The Anti Hero is a regular guy. Not inhumanly beautiful, not destined for greatness, not even particularly noble or worthy. Just a Schmo.

This blog talks about why we, as mere mortals, relate to the Anti Hero. Among other reasons:

  • We are attracted to someone who should repel us because somewhere inside, we are all a little repellant: theft, greed, jealousy, irrationality; these inner traits – HUMAN traits – live within us all and make us sympathetic to the Anti Hero.
  • Heros are great, but they’re boring. You know they’ll do what’s best. What’s right. The Anti Hero acts in his own self interest FIRST. And only belatedly for the cause.
  • It’s the honesty of the Anti Hero that keeps us root for him. He may be a scoundrel, but we like that about him.

Do not confuse the Anti Hero with the Villain. There are specific differences. For example, the villain is opposed to the hero. The Anti Hero isn’t opposed, per se, just at an angle to the hero’s cause.

The villain is cruel. The Anti Hero isn’t cruel, just willing to do what has to be done, make the hard choices, sacrifice what the hero won’t.

The villain cannot win. If the villain wins, the reader finishes unsatisfied, depressed even. But the Anti Hero can win. And he can prove that being flawed doesn’t take you completely out of the game, it doesn’t even take you out of contention.

This blog talks about all the contradictory characters we love to root for but also enjoy seeing fail. The Anti Hero is timeless, over and over we watch flawed, selfish scoundrels rascals and back-stabbers manage to win out. And we love it.

So where do the Anti Hero’s flaws come from? Usually the backstory. While having a terrible childhood doesn’t justify being a terrible adult, many of our Anti Heroes are the products of survival circumstances. Having to make hard choices early in life and coming to accept, however cynically, that such is life.

Some compelling backstories for Anti Heroes:

  • Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down in front of him
  • Tyrian Lannister is a dwarf who killed his mother in childbirth
  • Walter White is a cancer-stricken school teacher who played by the rules and got ruined anyway
  • Indiana Jones was ignored by his father whose sole obsession was archaeology
  • Han Solo lost the love of his life to the machinations of the government

Segment 3

My favorite Anti Hero, maybe the first one I ever recognized, was Chris Chambers from Stand By Me. Played beautifully by River Phoenix in the 1986 film made of the Stephen King short story “The Body,” Chris Chambers was a pre-teen Anti Hero. It is his death that sparks the entire story. A thirty-something Gordy Lachance, who has made a career for himself as a writer, reminisces about the time he and his three best friends went on a journey to see a dead body.

Chris Chambers was a kid from the wrong side of the tracks: his dad was a no-good drunk, the family was low-class, and Chris is a known theif. His father and older brother are violent toward him so he’s a tough guy. But he isn’t trusted by teachers or adults from “good” families like Gordy’s parents. But Gordy knows the realChris. He believes in his friend.

Chambers goes on to join the college prep courses, graduate, attend college, and become an attorney. He was breaking up a fight in a delicatessen when he was stabbed by one of the men he tried to assuage.

Do Anti Heroes need someone to vouch for them?

  • Han has Chewie.
  • Chris Chambers had Gordy
  • Scarlett O’Hara has Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes
  • Jay Gatsby has Nick Carraway (big fan)
  • Tyler Durden has Marla

Characteristics of an Anti hero from this blog:

  1. Are not role models, although sometimes we secretly would like to behave as they do
  2. Are sometimes unglamorous and unattractive in character as well as in appearance
  3. Can be motivated by self-interest and self-preservation, but, there is usually a line antiheroes won’t cross, which sets them apart from villains
  4. Often have motives that are complicated and range from revenge to honor
  5. When forced to choose between right and wrong, will sometimes choose wrong because it’s easier
  6. Can play both sides with good guys and bad guys, profiting from both
  7. Can sometimes be coerced to help underdogs, children or weaker characters, and sometimes even do so voluntarily
  8. Can sometimes embody unattractive traits and behaviors, such as sexist and racist attitudes, and violent reactions when wronged
  9. Can show little or no remorse for bad behaviors
  10. Are usually a mess of contradictions.

Segment 4

So how do you create the perfect Anti Hero?

7 Tips from Stephanie Norman on Live, Write, Thrive:

  1. Make the character flawed
  2. No matter what his actions are, the intentions are always good
  3. Why is he bad? Find a good reason and explain it
  4. He makes difficult decisions
  5. Give him enough qualities
  6. He makes a change in people’s lives
  7. The antihero is a realist

How to make the Anti Hero effective (and let’s assume “effective” means he’s recognizable as an Anti Hero and people want to root for him anyway):

  • Flaws– they might be short of moral fiber; self-doubt may paralyze them into constant failure; They may have a massive chip on their shoulder, frowning upon the world. Foolhardy anti-heroes bumble along with positive intent but their actions are often laughable. A classic example is Don Quixote
  • Noble Intentions- Too undesirable traits and you risk getting the reader offside or even worse, turning your anti-hero into an outright villain.
  • Redeeming Features– An easy way to redeem your character is to give them a great sense of humor, be it dry wit, scathingly clever sarcasm, or more outlandish comedy; The anti-hero can be decidedly charming and reassuring; They can be dashingly handsome and attractively dark; They can even be quite brave to make up for other weaknesses.

Rex wrote an Anti Hero into his serial killer novel and I wrote one in my vampire novel. If the character kills people or eats people, he’s an Anti Hero. No goodie two-shoes protagonists for us.

Let’s talk about the Anti Hero as protagonist, too. Who will save the day if the Anti Hero doesn’t step up? Can we watch the Anti Hero transform as the primary character arc of the story?

Upcoming event this week:

Words & Wine on Tuesday night 6 to 8 p.m. featuring James D. McCallister who is launching his newest book, Dixiana. Words & Wine is held at the Lourie Center, 1650 Park Circle. Get more information about James’s book here. He’s an adjunct instructor in Creative Writing at Midlands Tech and a previous award winner with the SCWA.

Ready to support Write On SC? Go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC to become a patron.

4 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s