Writing Antiheroes

Antiheroes are everywhere. If you know me, you already know my two favorite antiheroes are Tom Ripley (Matt Damon, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Rodion Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment). Others favorites are Tony Montana, Don Corleone, Hannibal Lecter, Jason Bourne, Lady Macbeth, Tony Soprano, Scarlett O’Hara, and Ray Donovan. You could probably name another dozen or two in a minute.

We like these guys. Why? Because they secretly do what we would like to do. Well, for the most part. I’m not fantasizing about killing people. Eating them is not on my bucket list either. However, the antihero touches a core thread in all of us. They create their own rules and we root for them. Didn’t you feel kind of bad for Ripley when he and Dickie were out on the boat? Dickie said some awful things. And Ripley didn’t really mean to kill him, right? Didn’t we all hate the obnoxious Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and cheered when Ripley FINALLY bashed the guy in the head? Freddie had it coming, after all.


Reading or watching the antihero can be fun but writing an antihero is tough work! My antihero, Clara Winslow, is a liar and a killer. Staying in that mindset is a constant battle within myself. I WANT my hero to have good qualities, to be honest and trustworthy. She is neither. So not only do I have to make her a bad girl, but I have to make you LIKE her!

So, let’s cover some basics. There are exceptions but these are the general rules:

  • Antiheroes don’t have the same values as normal heroes
  • Antiheroes don’t follow the typical character arc
  • Antiheroes don’t learn from their mistakes
  • Antiheroes are self-destructive and unapologetic
  • Antiheroes make bad decisions which causes them more grief
  • Antiheroes don’t change by the end of the story

Antiheroes have something in their past- an angst, an injustice, that allows us to sympathize and understand why they do what they do. Hannibal Lecter’s sister was killed and eaten when they were just children. Damn! That would mess with your head! Doesn’t make it right but it helps you to understand the character better.


Antiheroes are markedly flawed but they also need a soft spot. The common “pet the dog scene” where your antihero saves the drowning kitten, helps the old lady. This needs to happen early in your story so the reader goes, “Aww! What a great guy!” There needs to be something endearing in your antihero. Tom Ripley cried at the opera. Tony Montana loved his sister. Hannibal loved liver with a nice Chianti….oops. Got off track. Hannibal liked art, music, and Clarice. He had feelings for her. They all had feelings. Those feelings enabled the reader/movie-watcher to relate to the antihero. Relating to the antihero makes them likable. Antiheroes aren’t all bad. Other characters aren’t all good. Human beings are complex. Your characters should be as well. Who are your favorite antiheroes? What allows you to relate to or feel sympathy for those characters?


About those other characters

I’ve been reading a great book, Creating Characters, by Writer’s Digest. There are many things I’m taking away from this but I got a big boost to my novel when I started focusing on the other characters. You know who I’m talking about. Those people who support the main character: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m only half way through this book but I’ve got to share some great tips for those other characters.


EVERY character should have good qualities. Even the bad guys. At the same time, every character, including your protagonist, has flaws. This blend of good and bad is human. Doesn’t sound right? You want your reader to hate your antagonist? Think again! Your antagonist doesn’t consider herself the bad guy. Typical bad guys are boring. (yawn) But a well-crafted antagonist, with her own goals, ideas, and qualities, draws your reader in. They become invested in the story. How is this going to pan out? Give your antag a voice, a POV. Ok, the antag can cheat, steal, lie, or maybe she just made a very bad decision. The point is, she needs to be relatable. My protag is an anti-hero so she’s got some pretty bad qualities herself!

EVERY character is the star of their own world, not just co-stars to your MC. Examine your characters. What has shaped them? Who has shaped them? Why are they the way they are? Why is that character an alcoholic? An introvert? Obnoxious? It’s not just one thing, but a chain of things that got the character to this point in their lives. i.e.- He’s an alcoholic because his wife left him, because he was never home, because he was obsessed with his job, because his father was a bum and he’s determined not be his father, etc, etc, etc. Keep digging at the cause of each link. You don’t have to have a huge backstory but if you understand the fundamentals of the things that have shaped your character, the better prepared you will be to write about him in every scene. You will be able to add color, desire, disappointment, passion, goals, SECRETS.

Ok, that’s enough on those other characters for now. Want to read more? Get the book! Creating Characters by Writer’s Digest.


Coming soon… more about the antihero!


#character-building, #character-voice, #creating-characters, #understanding-your-characters, #writers-digest, #writing

New Blog!

MWW book and tagYay! I have found myself with a fresh website and blog! Just spent a few days last week at the Midwest Writers Workshop. My second time and it was just as fabulous as last year. If you live in or near Indiana, you need to think about attending this workshop. This year they offered about 45 courses. There’s something for everyone. I am now a charter member and plan to return every year. Amazing talent there and glad to be associated with it.

The Paramour– well, many have asked how the book is coming along. It’s coming, as they say. (Insert sigh here!) A lot harder to write than you would think, especially a historical one, AND an anti-hero, compounded by my OCD and inner editor nagging at me ALL the time! I did hear a valuable phrase recently and even pasted it on my laptop keyboard: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” (Terry Pratchett) It’s true and I’m trying to get that into my head, that if I can just finish this first draft and quit overthinking and trying to perfect it along the way, it will become a novel! LOL The plot itself is coming along nicely with some unexpected revelations!

I’ve been working for Inquisitr this year and recently quit after writing about 70 articles. News reporting just doesn’t jive with me and my imaginary friends. It took up too much of my precious free time. Summer is just the time to be outside in the garden, not slaving over news articles and the added pressure of deadlines. UGH! However, I have nothing but nice thoughts of the staff at IQ though. Top notch! 🙂

Now, what I’ve been looking at today…

I’ve got some holes in my plot and I found a couple of authors who have good ideas. Lara Willard has nicely mapped out the plot and has a worksheet to boot! Get the plot outline and worksheet from her site!8c-worksheet

Another handy tool that I found on Pinterest. I’m not sure who created it. It’s been used on many sites so I apologize for not giving it credit here. plot worksheet

Both are good and the visuals help to see what should be happening in your story. For me, it’s helping me to find my holes! I’m always working against the grain though, my fondness of antiheroes who dance to a different tune, can make for complicated plot. Ok, off to write some more!