It takes a fine hand to draw an antihero because this character requires a great deal of nuance to arouse complicated reactions in the reader. As with all main characters, understanding an antihero’s character arc is crucial in designating his role in your story. After all, you’ll need to know if his good behavior is accidental, or if he is redeemed by the story’s events. One trick to creating an antihero is to fashion his primary traits so that his essential nature and personality are clear to you as you craft each scene he appears in. Then you need to know the why of these traits and beliefs—in essence, how he came to be. If your character is lawless, rebellious or obnoxious, it is likely that your character will somehow justify these behaviors.

[Learn 5 Tools for Building Conflict in Your Novel]

An antihero is not simply a rebel who cannot follow the rules. The reasons for why he acts as he does, along with his self-concept, are important to the story. Another trick to creating a complicated antihero is to shape his less-than-moral traits and acts into a profound statement about humanity. As you create antihero characters, consider that they:

  • Are not role models, although sometimes we secretly would like to behave as they do
  • Are sometimes unglamorous and unattractive in character as well as in appearance
  • 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
  • Often have motives that are complicated and range from revenge to honor
  • When forced to choose between right and wrong, will sometimes choose wrong because it’s easier
  • Can play both sides with good guys and bad guys, profiting from both
  • Can sometimes be coerced to help underdogs, children or weaker characters, and sometimes even do so voluntarily
  • Can sometimes embody unattractive traits and behaviors, such as sexist and racist attitudes, and violent reactions when wronged
  • Can show little or no remorse for bad behaviors
  • Are usually a mess of contradictions.

While antiheroes are necessarily complex, beware of making them too angst-ridden or too wacky to be understood or sympathetic. Unlike most villains, antiheroes can have a character arc in which they are redeemed or transformed by the end of the story; in fact, they can become heroic. The most important thing to remember when crafting an antihero as your main character is that he is the antithesis of the ultra-competent hero.

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