Thursday, 29 September 2011

Writer's Corner - Anti-Hero Anxiety


A couple of Follow Friday's ago, we were all asked to come up with villians in stories we wished had won instead of the hero. Not a lot of people jumped off the fence for that one, but there were quite a few anti-hero picks and this prompted me to ask the question: What makes a loveable anti-hero and where does the line between anti-hero and villain lie?
        If I had to name some of my favourite anti-heroes they would have to be Severus Snape, Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss Everdeen, The Hobbits from LOTR and Abe from Vampire Academy. In trying to psychoanalyze what makes these characters memorable to me and why I didn't class them as villains, I came up with these conclusions:

1. That Pesky Killing Thing
The anti-hero can kill people, but only if they do so for a noble cause or our of self defence. As opposed to the villain who chops a few heads off as their morning exercise. Killing non-humans (i.e. vampires and demons doesn't count as immoral for some reason, possibly because paranormals are mostly portrayed as evil). While anti-heroes are generally darker characters they havent yet crossed that line between broody and downright apathetic to murder. But then this doesn't apply to Abe because I'm pretty sure he's killed just to prove a point.

2.Social Norms? I Spit On Thee
The anti-hero generally walks that tightrope between devil may care and outright scandalous behaviour when it comes to conforming to socially accepted rules of conduct. The anti-hero conforms enough to stay out of the deep end but not enough to be considered normal. Sometimes the anti-hero will purposefully break the rules just to keep their reputation in tact. But these rules have to be below the felony line or else they've crossed to the dark side. Villains on the other hand are utterly contemptuous about rules and will break as many as they can in their bid to take over the world. Having said that, Snape was all about the rules wasn't he?

3. My Reasons Are Too Lofty You Plebs To Understand (Insert Double Dose of Angst Here)
The anti-hero usually has some unknown heroic reason for the way they act, or they're tortured by some tragic past event that justifies their otherwise unacceptable behaviour. The anti-hero is misunderstood and their methods of self preservation are often perceived as arrogance. Except this explanation doesn't fir the Hobbits at all. They simply don't care about being broody. They just want to have second and third lunch on time. And the tragic past? No chance. They haven't even been out of The Shire.

4. Friends? I Think You Mean Disposables
The anti-hero usually enjoys the company of one person. Themselves. Or a select group of carefully chosen friends. The anti-hero, though sometimes arrogant, seems to have a slight social phobia and whilst outwardly disdaining the company of others, they are secretly lonely and find it difficult to make friends. Part of this is because by nature, anti-heroes are cynical and this means they have huge trust issues. Villains don't have friends so much as minions that they can dispatch whenever they feel like. Then again, both Katniss and Haymitch, surly as they were, had heaps of friends or at least people who admired them enough to follow them into war.

I could try and pluck up a few more fluffy reasons but I'm hoping you get my point. There are no hard and fast rules it seems when it comes to creating the perfect anti-hero. Nor are there any rules for creating the perfect hero come to think of it. I'm starting to think it's all a matter of perspective. I watched 300 again the other night (Yeah, I admit it. I have a Gerard Butler issue) and thought to myself, these guys are considered heroes, but really they just love killing way too much. So in Sparta they're heroes. In Persia, not so much.

All this confusion does not bode well for poor Rory from my work in progress, who is stuck between anti-hero and what I would consider sociopathy. And noone likes a sociopath right? Now I'm thinking of all the very popular sociopaths: Dexter, Sheldon Cooper, House, Dr Perry Cox...ARGH!!!!!!!!!!

So here are my questions for you guys:
1. Who are your fav anti-heroes?
2.What makes them an anti-hero and not a villain for you?
3. Are there any other general anti-hero traits you can think of?

Clearly I need help in this department!

18 comments:

  1. I like anti-heroes! ~Waves her flag.~ I have to say for naming anti-heroes I thought yours were a little light.

    The first character that fits in perfect for me is Wolverine! Not from the X-men:Wolverine movie, they make him way to nice in it. Wolverine was gritty, not nice, and didn't really care. On top of all that he was badass! He was screwed around with, watched the girl of his dreams marry another man, and kept fighting. You forgave him because instead of being a brooding emo mess, he was a bad mofo! He didn't cry, he stabbed you. Fight done. Problem solved.

    Beth ^_^

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  2. Um, Lan, why are you making a list about me? ;) Pretty sad that I was reading this and thinking, "oh my gosh she could be talking about me." :( I do love me a good anti-hero, though, so maybe that explains a few things.

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  3. I actually ADORE anti-heroes! They're always so interesting to read about and have multiple sides to them. :)

    But I think that the difference between a villain and an anti-hero is that a villain just does bad things for the sake of doing bad things. Or at least for incredibly unjustifiable reasons. An anti-hero, to me, is more of a layered character -- sort of like the ones you described!

    The line separating a villain and an anti-hero is pretty hazy though, and it's not impossible to go from one to another in a flash! x)

    Awesome post, Lan! :)

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  4. I prefer anti-heroes and villains, actually!

    1. Who are your favorite anti-heroes?

    My all-time fave is Dante from the Devil May Cry video game franchise. He's pretty much the exact definition of an anti-hero. But, it's his personality that intrigues me. He's very sarcastic and loves to make fun of his enemies before he defeats them. He's pretty wacky in a good way.

    Dante's twin brother, Vergil, is my other fave. He's the opposite of Dante, very stoic and icy. But, he can be a bit sarcastic, too. Really, he's all seriousness, and he clashes with Dante in the most glorious way! So much fun to watch them together. Dante isn't the same without his fussy twin brother.

    2. What makes them an anti-hero and not a villain for you?

    Dante has a genuinely good heart, which is apparent by his deeds. He's a paid mercenary, but he'll work for free most of the time just to help those in need. He cares about people, even if he can't really socially interact with them well.

    Vergil is more of a villain because he will do anything to gain more power, no matter how unscrupulous. But, even he's not a complete villain because he's driven to gain power because he couldn't protect his & Dante's mother when she was killed by demons during their childhood.

    3. Are there any other general anti-hero traits you can think of?

    An anti-hero is the guy/girl who is a villain in every respect, except he/she still has a place in their heart for good. The more good that is in their heart, the less they are an anti-hero, and the more they are a hero. So, this means that anti-heroes' appeal comes from the fact that they are neither black, nor white. They are different shades of gray. They are more like us, like real people, than those heroes and villains, and we can relate to them better.

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  5. Just want to say that I am now going to follow Beth D blog religiously because she is a fellow - appreciator of the amazingness and aweosomeness and outofthisworldness of Wolverine. He is the Man of all Man's. ( i know i know, no grammatical sense at all...But if anyone complains? Im not gonna cry. Heck no. Im a badass...Im just gonna stab them. Done. Fight over.) Yes, Wolverine. Best anti-hero of all time.

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  6. Now that you mention sociopaths, I'm thinking about them instead of antiheroes... Great post though! You covered it pretty well. I wish my brain wasn't so fried so I could contribute to the conversation. :P (I could probably add a lot to the sociopaths post you do someday!)

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  7. I'm surprised Katniss is on your list of antiheroes! I don't really think of her as one at all, so that was quite surprising! :O

    My fave antihero is from a video game, Final Fantasy VII's Cloud Strife. He's really reluctant to be a hero and never once expressed that he cared about saving the planet (even though he does). He's a reluctant hero, I would say. I'd say that's one general anti-hero trait -- reluctance.

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  8. Let me preface this comment by saying that I thoroughly hate time differences and being at work whilst all my comments are coming in!!!

    Beth: I didn't even think of Wolverine! I guess I was just thinking of recent books I'd had on my mind. I suppose you would have to count most of the mutants from X-men wouldn't you?

    Jenny: Hahaha. I have to admit you did cross my mind a little while I wrote this post. Especially about the cynical bit!

    Cathy: All great answers. I agree with the shades of gray bit. I just worry that I am more on the darker side and will alienate people.

    Lani: I'm more of a Gambit girl myself ;P

    Jessica: My brain was fried when I wrote the post. It was way past my bedtime but I had blogger guilt for not being around so I had to quickly whip something up! Sociopathy is my forte!

    Jinny: It's funny you mentioned reluctance because wasn't Katniss super reluctant to be the Mockingjay and at one point she thought of running away to the woods?

    Thanks again for the usual great insights guys!

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  9. Thanks Lani!

    No, actually Lan most of the X-men were far from anti-heroes and had very strict moral codes. Look at Professor X, Beast, Storm and Cyclops. Just because society comes against the mutants doesn't mean they are anti-heroes to me, in fact some of their resolve is amazing. Ah! Look at me gushing, sorry.

    I agree with Jinny when it comes to Katniss. Then again my idea of anti-hero might be a little hardcore. I don't know to agree with her about Cloud or not. Reluctant heroes are more classical heroes if they are reluctant at first, usually a death throws them into action. The'ole heroes journey!

    Beth ^_^

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  10. Beth: I meant the whole x-men universe. Although my thoughts are based on the 90s cartoons and not the comic books. I'm having a flashback and thinking of Morph. I think I agree that your definition of anti-hero is heaps more hardcore than mine! Which is a good thing because now I know I can push my boundaries and still be okay :)

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  11. haha. Sorry about the time difference thing! Anywho, I love anti heroes. For example, :Damon from the Vampire Diaries (tv show, i didnt read enough of the book to fall for him there). He was a bad boy, but he did everything for love of a woman. Yes, he looked out for himself most of the time, but he looked out for her too. He killed people to protect people, (and also to have fun, but look beyond that) and yea he's a psycho, but not all the time. I think all anti-heroes are great b/c they do that they do for a reason (whether that reason is good or bad is a diff story) but the fact that they can still be touvhed by goodness and love makes a great anti hero!

    great post!

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  12. I love anti-heroes! Talk about a hard character to write, though! Even harder to pull off really well. One of my all-time favorite anti-heroes is Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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  13. Spike is a character who went from villain to anti-hero, so he is a good example. I think an anti-hero does the wrong thing for the right reason. Spike's behaviour didn't really change, what changed was his motivations - he was now loyal to Buffy.

    I have to say, not only is the line between villain and anti-hero thin, but sometimes I find it hypocritical. In the last season of The Vampire Diaries, I started to wonder why it was OK for the 'heroes' to kill people to save Elena, but not OK for the 'villains' to kill people to save themselves. I think to keep the 'hero' part of anti-hero true, there has to be a limit to what you have the character do. Killing people has to be for 'save the world' type situations, like when Giles killed Ben in Buffy, not for selfish reasons.

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  14. I'm team Anti-Hero all the way.

    1. Who are your fav anti-heroes?
    Gin Blanco, from Jennifer Estep's Elemental Assasin series. AMAZING. A-freaking-MAZING character.

    2.What makes them an anti-hero and not a villain for you?
    Anti-heroes have a goal/motivation that we the reader can approve of. (Katniss murdering other kids is acceptable only after we know she's doing it to save her sister; Gin's desire for justice makes her actions acceptable, even though she's an assassin.)

    3. Are there any other general anti-hero traits you can think of?
    Loyalty! Fierce loyalty that surpasses all other rules and restrictions. Anti-heroes will do ANYTHING to protect the chosen few that they love. (I think this redeems them in our eyes, because we all want to be loved that much.)

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  15. 1. Who are your fav anti-heroes?

    Haymitch and Snape too!!

    2.What makes them an anti-hero and not a villain for you?

    Haymitch and Snape's attitudes are very understandable when you understand why they are like this or why they're doing that. Snape played a big part in helping Harry out, risking his life.

    3. Are there any other general anti-hero traits you can think of?

    Hmmm... I'm going to have to agree with BJ above and say loyalty.

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  16. My favourite anti-hero is Kerr Avon from the British SF series Blake's 7. Avon sneers a lot and I bet he and Snape would sneer at each other, but like Snape, he is brilliant and brave and has saved his crewmates on the spaceship Liberator many times. Pity he lost the friendship of the only one who actually liked him by trying to throw him off the space shuttle when it was one or the other of them. However, it WAS one of them or the other and the crewmate couldn't have controlled the ship anyway if he'd thrown himself off. Unlike Snape, he's good-looking and had lots of females drooling over him, ;-)

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  17. I love anti-heroes with some wit!

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  18. Favourite Avon quote:"I'm not expendable, I'm not stupid and I'm not going." ;-) Plenty more where that came from, though.

    The wit is one of the reasons I liked Snape, even before I knew for sure he was one of the good guys. And I keep imagining an encounter between him and Kerr Avon, with witty daggers out.

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