The True Draw of the Anti-hero

The complexity of these types of characters is an overall better experience for the audience.

Warner Brothers has been struggling to make Superman an engaging character. Why? Because he stands for truth and justice. He’s a boy scout. He never does anything wrong. And when they try to portray him as jaded, fans goes nuts because that goes against the character’s mythos. Yet they’ve done an amazing job with Batman. Why? Because he’s an anti-hero. He’s complex. He doesn’t always do the right thing. Justice isn’t always true in his eyes. Sometimes justice has consequences—consequences that he’s willing to make.

Because anti-heroes walk that gray line, we’re reminded that the world we live in is not black and white. And we’re flawed. Each and every one of us. When we see a character on the screen that emulates that—albeit to enhanced degrees—we take notice and are forced to think about deeper issues. We ask ourselves—and others—difficult questions.

“Han Solo could have left with all of that reward money and lived a fruitful life in a galaxy far, far away. Why did he risk it? What would you have done?”

“Max didn’t need to help that colony. He could have driven off and disappeared into the wasteland to survive the next day with his car and his dog with him. Why did he do it?”

“Thelma and Louise could have turned themselves in. They had justifiable reasons for all that they had done. Why did they turn around and drive off of that cliff?”

That’s the draw of anti-heroes. When we see a typical hero, we know they’re going to do the right thing and save the day—we expect it. With anti-heroes, we’re not too sure they’ll waste their time helping others. And we wonder how they can possibly walk that straight line long enough to save the day.

Developing and writing anti-heroes isn’t just about creating a cranky character who goes against the grain. You have to decide what type of anti-hero you want to portray—and why. You have to figure out what anti-hero characteristics you’re going to apply to them—and why. You have to figure out where they stand on what lines of morality, and most importantly, why. Finally, you have to figure out a way to draw the audience into this character and their story by forcing them to both loathe and love them—or love to loathe them. If you’re successful, your character may join the legendary ranks of such beloved anti-heroes as Tony Montana, Tony Soprano, and Hannibal Lecter. MM

This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraftScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

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