Anti-heroes. They’re pretty awesome, right? They have tons of attitude and don’t afraid of anything! But for those of us who aren’t teenage boys, they can get kind of obnoxious. Their power-tripping can seem over the top and their angst can seem downright whiny. So how do you write troubled characters who your readers don’t want to strangle with their own totally kewl leather jackets?
1. Give them a reason to be troubled.
This is super important. What made your character into this badass anti-hero? Don’t just say that’s how she is. That’s a cop-out. People who act like that because that’s just how they are aren’t anti-heroes, they’re assholes, and nobody wants to read about an asshole. There needs to be some formative event or series of events in the character’s life that made her this way. (As an addendum to this: Making that event rape is a bit overused and rarely done well. Tread carefully.)
2. Make it a good reason.
Did your character dedicate himself to a life of take-no-prisoners, fuck-the-police vigilantism because his parents didn’t give him enough hugs? Be realistic. What could actually make a person turn into the character you’re writing? Did something terrible happen to him or a loved one? Were his parents killed in front of him when he was a child, leading to a life of brooding and dressing up as a bat? Is he inherently different from the norms of his culture in a way that makes him reviled? Is he gay in a town or culture or world that detests homosexuality?
Think of it this way: If you ran into someone in real life who acted the way your anti-hero does, what would you consider a reason that would make that behavior understandable and forgivable?
3. Don’t have them tell every other character about it every chance they get.
Some anti-heroes may wear their issues on their sleeves, but if it’s not something obvious, there’s no need for your character to tell everyone. The waiter serving your heroine her breakfast doesn’t need to know that her brother was killed in a drug deal gone wrong that the police couldn’t bother to solve. Your reader will just roll his eyes.
Even better, you can use the contrary as a point of tension: What DID happen to your character? Who will she trust enough to tell her story, and in doing so tell the reader?
4. Don’t let them push away other characters’ attempts to help.
The most frustrating, throw-the-book-across-the-room thing a troubled character can do is refuse help from a sympathetic character. I’ve encountered anti-heroes before who made me want to take them by the shoulders and shake them violently and shout, “HE IS TRYING TO HELP YOU DAMN IT STOP MAKING THINGS WORSE AND LET HIM DO IT.” If your reader has made a strong emotional bond with the anti-hero that sympathetic character can become someone on whom the reader projects, making it even MORE frustrating when that help is rejected.
5. Give your character weaknesses.
This is Character Building 101, but I think it’s especially important to reiterate here. If your character is troubled enough to become an anti-hero, she probably has vices, and vices are weaknesses. Does she deal with her deep-rooted psychological issues by drinking when she’s not out Dealing Justice? Is she pious to the point of obsession? Is she destructive in her relationships, both friendly and romantic? If possible, research psychological reactions to situations like the one that made your character who she is.
Any other tips, or arguments against my own? Reblog with your comments, or use the handy dandy comments wigety thing on my site!