Thursday, November 27, 2014

Anti-Heroes: Why?

For this next roundtable, we're going to talk about anti-heroes. Stuck somewhere on the gray part of the number line between good guys and bad guys, they're all but taken over the world of fiction, from books to movies to comics. 

What makes anti-heroes so popular? Is it something cultural or just readers getting tired of black and white good guys and bad guys?

Marian Allen: Anti-heroes are (IMO) the lazy person's hero. They have few limits and few scruples, they're no better than the bad guys; they're just OUR asshats, not THOSE FOLKS' asshats. You don't have to feel inferior to an antihero or worry that their self-imposed standards will put them at a disadvantage. They're certainly more realistic than the White Hats of 50's children's television, say.

H. David Blalock: I believe anti-heroes seem to have become popular about the same time as the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s. I think they were the media reflecting that for the baby boomer generation which was becoming the largest marketable demographic. Using the noir detective as a base (Spade, Marlowe, etc) they combined the atmosphere of the "new age" image of mysticism and magic to darken the hero, throw him closer to the center of the spectrum. In my opinion, the anti-hero was created to give voice to an audience more involved with the outside world, less isolated politically and socially, more attuned to the nastiness that is real life and unwilling -- or unable -- to separate their entertainment from that immersion.

Terri Smiles: The truly good guys are challenging for most people because a truly "good" guy calls out our own failings to be that kind of person. Anti-heroes, on the other hand, show the function of those who are often more flawed than we are ourselves, often resulting in some societal good, even if that was not the character's motivation or goal. Thus, we are comforted by anti-heroes being like us - and in particular, being redeemable in at least a limited way.

Peter Welmerink: Anti-hero characters are popular because they are most like you and me. They are not the hero standing atop the building, fists at hips, chest thrust out, hero and master of all their domain. Anti-heroes are not the villain below the city streets, rolling their eager hands over and over and snickering mischievously. Anti-heroes are the you and me peeps, standing on the sidewalk between both, trying to determine up or down.

Katina French: I think part of the popularity of antiheroes right now is the cathartic aspect of a protagonist who doesn't hold back in exacting vengeance or justice. While it's tempting to think of them as a new invention, prior to the Comics Code Authority and other censorship movements in the early 20th century, pulp heroes were much darker. The current trend feels like a rebalancing away from the forced naivete of some earlier generations.

Who are some of the contemporary characters who best define the concept of anti-hero from prose fiction?

H. David Blalock: Currently, nearly every "hero" in fiction can be defined as an anti-hero because they all have serious flaws (Sherlock Holmes, Harry Dresden, etc). Some are even blatantly villains (e.g. Dexter Morgan, Walter White, etc). It's increasingly difficult to separate the good guys from the bad because they are increasingly becoming one and the same -- a statement on a society that has learned the ugly lesson to "trust no one".

Terri Smiles: Examples of current anti-heroes are Elphaba from Wicked, Artemis Fowl from that series.

Logan Masterson: The King of Antiheroes is Thomas Covenant. What makes him so effective? The first thing is the scope of his responsibility. The second thing is that he's a very real person. He's a bitter, furious, damaged human being. Combining those elements makes for an amazing character arc. There are similarities with Londo Mollari.

Marian Allen: The hard-boiled PI is the classic anti-hero. Sword-and-sorcery heroes. Steampunk/cyberpunk rebels against a corrupt establishment. Gillian Phillips' fairy rebels.

Katina French: Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora is a very good example of the type in current prose fiction. Patrick Weekes' Isafesira de Lochenville in his Rogues of the Republic series is also a good example (who isn't a white male). "Lovable rogues" are a more lighthearted example of an antihero. In that sense, we've had them since Robin Hood.

What advice do you have for writers looking to create memorable anti-heroes for their fiction?

Peter Welmerink: My advice to writers looking to create memorable anti-heroes for their fiction is MAKE THEM HUMAN, well, give them normal traits, the good, the bad and the ugly, tragedies and triumphs...you know, that normal folk have. Then throw them into a unique situation that really tests their morality, pushes them to perhaps make bad decisions that bring them down low to an almost villainous level where they need to do something to bring themselves back up to their normal playing field or slightly above to be the hero in the end.

Katina French: Brandon Sanderson offered up the idea of "the character sliding scale" in an episode of Writing Excuses. It suggested that your protagonist has three characteristics -- competence, proactivity, and sympathy. You can lower one of these (in the case of an antihero, probably sympathy) and raise the others, and readers will still invest in your character.

Terri Smiles: They need to be driven by motives that are not "good" ones even if their acts are good (think the BBC's Sherlock Holmes - he's not solving crimes to protect the public), but the anti-heroes that I prefer, experience a hidden pleasure when their actions help others.

H. David Blalock: The best way to create a memorable hero for today's audience is to figure out what the hero must do to save the day then make it impossible for him to do it without compromising himself in some way. That, more than anything else, is what people seem to want: a way to pull down the hero to a human level. People are afraid of the absolute values of Captain America because they no longer see life as positive and negative. They want Don Draper because they see their lives as convoluted and difficult as his.

Marian Allen: Make a clear and important difference between your anti-hero and the bad guys. If your anti-hero is no better than the villain, I have nothing to invest in him or her.