*WARNING: This post contains Harry Potter spoilers. Also, none of the images are mine.
Today is the first post in a new series that I’m super excited about: writing life hacks! I’ve never done a post quite like this before, but I’m going to begin gearing my blog more towards a writing focus, so this series is going to continue for quite some time. First topic? How you can create the perfect antihero. Before we get into things, let’s discuss what exactly an antihero is.
There are two telltale signs you can look for to determine whether a character is an antihero or not. First, an antihero is a central character–he or she is one of the protagonists, if not the protagonist, in the story. Second, this character does not have the good qualities you’d expect in a hero. A character must fit both of these requirements in order to be an antihero. A classic example of an antihero is Severus Snape. He’s certainly not the most likable guy; he’s cruel and selfish, and at first glance, you’d probably peg him as a villain. But Snape ends up being on the good guys’ side. The great thing about antiheros is that because they’re so tricky, you as the writer have more space to explore their complexity and really make them a memorable character. Nearly everyone has a heated opinion about Snape, and that’s because Rowling crafted her antihero so skillfully. So how do you create your own antihero? We’re getting there. Just hold your horses.
Lifehack #1: Put your antihero at center stage.
We discussed this above, but it’s really central to the whole idea of an antihero: your antihero must be a leading character in the story. Otherwise, how will people get to know and appreciate their complexity? Regardless of whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, it can be very helpful to plot out your antihero’s character development according to all the other lifehacks we’re about to discuss. Keep in mind that it would behoove you to showcase a certain degree of allure–when you’re planning your character, choose bad traits that will make your antihero more appealing than distasteful, and that will draw your readers in because they want to know more.
Lifehack #2: Give your antihero backstory.
Your antihero should not be “bad” just for the heck of it; there needs to be a reason, a method to the madness (really, this goes for all characters, but especially your antihero). Give him or her a background that explains why they act like they do. Snape is cruel to Harry for more than one reason: not only did James Potter bully Snape when they were children, but when Harry came to Hogwarts he was a daily reminder to Snape–who loved Lily Potter–that Lily never loved him back. Just don’t reveal your character’s backstory too quickly–dish it out in bite-size chunks a little at a time.
Lifehack #3: Let the light win.
At the end of the day, your antihero needs to let the light win. Antiheros are typically conflicted people; it’s a battle between light and dark. If you let darkness win, your character is no longer an antihero–he/she is a villain. For instance, Snape has a good-guy moment in book five, when Umbridge has captured Harry and asks Snape for truth serum. Snape tells her that he doesn’t have any more; Harry, desperate, blurts, “He’s got Padfoot at the place where it’s hidden” (meaning, Voldemort had Sirius). When Umbridge demands to know what that means, Snape says, blasé, “I have no idea.” However, he follows through and sends a Patronus to check on Sirius. So in order to be a true antihero–and so that your readers don’t completely write this character off–your character needs to ultimately do at least something that’s very obviously good.
Lifehack #4: Make your readers wonder.
Yes, your antihero needs to perform a few good deeds. But it’s completely acceptable (and, to be honest, totally fun) to conceal these good acts under cover of your character’s undesirable traits. For instance, in the scene we discussed above, Snape doesn’t seem very likely to help Harry. When Umbridge asks if Snape has the Veritaserum, Snape replies, “Unless you wish to poison Potter–and I assure you, I would have the greatest sympathy with you if you did–I cannot help you” (Rowling, 745). But then as Snape leaves, he recognizes and acts on the secret message from Harry. The brilliancy of Rowling’s character Snape is that she keeps us guessing, and you can do the same thing with your antihero: make your reader constantly flip back and forth between loving and hating your character. Make them change their belief that your antihero is on the good or bad side. Your antihero can appear to be working for evil, but make sure they have a hidden timetable for good, and make sure you show just enough of that to make your readers curious. In the end, some of your antihero’s actions might peg them as evil, but at heart they should always intend good.
Have you ever written a story with an antihero character? Which lifehack was most helpful? What’s your opinion on Severus Snape? Let’s chat!