Writing Anti-Heroes

What makes a character an asshole?

When you think of asshole characters, do you picture villains? The bad guys can be bastards, that’s for sure, and even when they try to be good they usually have bastardly reasons. There are many assholish qualities people will recognize: rude, selfish, inconsiderate, two-faced, liar, inappropriate, uncaring. But are these qualities that should only be shown by villains?

Some of the most loved characters of historical and modern literature (and other media) have been assholes to some degree. Some of these characters are just assholes on occasion, while others are living it 24/7.

Why would you want your character to be an asshole?

Frankly, nobody can truly sympathize with the lily pure character, because there’s not a reader alive that doesn’t have a bit of a jerk inside. You want to build characters that connect with readers on a subconscious level. In other words, the more a reader can feel like “wow, I’ve been like that,” the better they will sympathize with a character. People are typically flawed, so your characters should be too.

Giving your characters undesirable qualities also makes them richer. They appear more real, more believable. They become unique and memorable, rather than yet another star-shaped sugar cookie to feed the mind of the reader. The more real they become, the more a reader will care about what happens to them, and the more likely their story will be read.

How can a reader love an asshole?

But why would a reader LOVE an asshole? Why would a reader cheer for a character that is so flawed they are more like a villain than a hero? Even when given a group of more heroic characters, many people will point at the asshole as their favorite, the one they have the most investment in.

Maybe this has something to do with seeing the flaws in the character, as said before, as similar to flaws within themselves. Some of these flaws are things the reader doesn’t like about themselves, or doesn’t want to admit to. The reader wants to see this character succeed despite their incredible flaws, because it gives them hope that somehow they can overcome their own.

It could also be a person’s hope that everyone is redeemable. They could cheer for this character to become a good guy, because they desperately want to believe there’s good in each of us. They are willing to forgive, in order to play the long game, where they hope the character will turn out to do the right thing. And, even if the character isn’t redeemed, they will mourn the loss rather than be disgusted at the character.

Or it could be the reader is more amused by the asshole tendencies of the character than by the goody-two-shoes heroes. Asshole heroes usually get to be the ones having all the real fun. The reader can live vicariously through the anti-hero, entertained and safely involved in all kinds of shenanigans.

Tips for creating a lovable asshole.

Make them wrong. Your characters should make mistakes, both in action and in voice. They should muck everything up once in a while, or say something that gets them into trouble, or pick the wrong path. Everybody makes mistakes.

Make them think about themselves. The stereotypical hero is selfless and sacrificing, but we all have a bit of a self-preservation streak inside. Make your characters concerned about their own health and future. Make them ask “what’s in it for me?”

Make them get angry. People don’t always turn the other cheek. Anger is ugly and the anger of heroes shouldn’t be the equivalent of a slap fight in a bouncy castle. Anger can be petty, crude, primal, and biting. Rarely do you see righteous anger that’s not flavored with some kind of condiment. This is also a good time to make them wrong.

Make them use real speech. None of your characters should talk like a poet the entire time. People fumble over their words, they swear, they make inappropriate jokes, and they’re sometimes just at a loss for words. Pay close attention to how people around you talk, and try to make your characters sound like that. If you want a truly asshole character, they shouldn’t sound like a kindergarten teacher. If you don’t know how, ride along on a morning commute and write down the expletives for future reference.

Make them break the law. Maybe not something deserving of the electric chair, but make them do things that are bad. They can have a good reason for doing them, or not. Maybe they steal, maybe they lie, maybe they cheat. Maybe these things are something to be overcome, but more often they’re something to be overlooked.

Make them conflicted. This can be one of the most powerful ways to endear an asshole to the reader. Show the reader the bad that everyone in the character’s world can see, then let the reader know the secret of WHY the character is bad. Show the softness behind the stony exterior and the pain behind the mean spirit. Just… don’t make it cliché. We don’t need anymore murdered parents in literature.

Make them redeemable. There always has to be hope, even if it’s false. Hope is the thing that makes a character an anti-hero instead of a villain. Maybe they aren’t ALL bad. Maybe they will change. Even if you don’t have them change in the end, there should always be hope. Even if that hope is only held by a naïve hero that refuses to give up on the asshole when everyone else has. The reader can grab hold of that hope.

Make good assholes.

So think about your next character, and how you can use asshole behavior to strengthen them. Even if you don’t make them into a complete asshole, you can give them the asshole traits we all carry inside ourselves. Your characters will thank you for it. Possibly with a hint of sarcasm.

In the Face of Rejection

The hardest thing I’ll do today is set down this rejection and find the courage to write.

The rejection is unique this time. It’s on a postcard mailed in an envelope. It is, of course, a form letter… but the name of my book was written with a blue pen by a real person. Even I think it’s pathetic how the thought of a real person taking the time to write the name of my book on a postcard would be a point of cheer. But it is.

My day has already been a pile of suck. Depression is flirting with my brain, and the little voice inside that’s more of a bully than anyone from my childhood is telling me things… I’m wasting my time. I’m dreaming too big. I’m causing undue strain on my family and friends. Why can’t I just be happy with the nine-to-five like a normal fucking person? I’m a hack, and it’s time I accepted it.

I won’t believe you if you tell me it’s not true. You see, I think you’re just “trying to make me feel better” and the voice knows this. Of course you wouldn’t comfort me by telling me I suck. It’s so… logical. My bully uses logic to convince me, because it knows I can’t argue with logic.

I’d like to tell you I teetered on the edge of that dark hole of depression, and by the heroic effort of my will I pulled myself back from the brink. That I decided to fight it. But that’s not why I’m still writing. If I’m honest with myself that’s never really happened to me, even if I like to think I’m being heroic.

I’m here because I need to write. Maybe it is a waste of time, and maybe it’s bad writing, but it makes me feel like a human being. Writing is the same as lighting a candle in the bottom of that pit. It gives me something to focus on, something to embrace.

So why am I writing this, rather than another book or an angst-filled poem?

Because I know how close I sometimes come to *not* writing. Somewhere out there, someone is asking themselves the same questions I ask myself, and they’re deciding not to write. So I want to say to that person: Write.

This isn’t a motivational poster. Those are impossible for someone at this stage to aspire to. Those ideals are already out of reach for us. Write because you love it and it makes you feel better. It doesn’t matter if nobody else loves it. Write for yourself.

Just write.

Stereotypes In Writing – Why They’re Ok

I’m a writer.

I’m also a reader.

I’ve had people tell me I should write my female characters stronger, or my male characters more rounded.

Thanks for your opinion, but I will write them how they are.

As a reader, I don’t want all the stories I read to be politically correct. I don’t want all the females to be strong and independent. I don’t want all the men to be good guys. I don’t want all the villains to be bad guys. I don’t want there to be an equal distribution of male/female main characters.

Stories are full of stereotypes for a reason. We reach people by showing them a familiar world, then helping them see it in a deeper way. I want to see stereotypes in what I read.

I want to read about a goddamned princess who meets a great guy that’s willing to kill a dragon for her. I want to read about the guy that gets the girl. These are relatively harmless stereotypes.

I don’t want to read about the prince telling the princess to make him a sammich, but I do want to read about how she tends his wounds after battle. I don’t want to read about the prince telling her to stay out of the way because all she’s good for is making babies, but I do want to read about how he wants to provide for her so she doesn’t have to worry about it.

I don’t want to read about how the male character is a misogynistic pig, but I do want to hear about how much of a jerk he is, and find out later that it’s because he’s in pain, and empathize with him. Or maybe just find out that he’s a jerk so someone else can be shown to be different.

Stereotypes provide a canvas for writers (and filmmakers, and playwrights) to paint a story. Stereotypes give us the familiar, so the artist can show us the spectacular.

Take this example: When is a candle truly useful? If the light is turned on and the room is brightly lit? Or if it’s dark, full of shadows and blurry shapes? A candle is only useful when it shines through the darkness, and only truly beautiful when shown against a dull backdrop.

The stereotypes allow the unique characters to shine. A strong woman stands out to teach us a lesson when she is unique. A thoughtful man stands out as wise when he is unique.

I understand that it’s wrong to think of women as weak or men as brutish, but frankly many people still do. It’s the norm. Someday it might not be, but then the stereotypes will have changed, won’t they? Then the stereotypes will be the strong woman and the thoughtful man. Right now, they aren’t. Right now we still need to put a spotlight on them.

People’s primal ideas of “how things are” don’t change by forcing them to view the world in a certain way. People don’t learn from stories by being slammed with “blanket truths”. People learn like children, when something sneaks its way in and takes root, becoming “ok”, then becoming “common”.

A story where there are no stereotypes doesn’t feel real. We know fiction isn’t real but those “PC” stories feel fake. The stereotypes feel real, so even if a story is fiction there is truth to it. Readers can sense the truth in them, and therefore begin to accept the spectacular in them as truth as well.

So don’t tell me not to write a female that needs saving, or a man that can’t deal with emotions. Don’t tell me I’m not representing a gender, or any other stereotyped feature “the way it SHOULD be” written. I’m just drawing the shades, so I can light the candle.

Voice in a Silent Medium

Every piece of writing, from fiction novels to web content, has a voice. A professional writer will be able to recognize and manipulate this voice to suit a purpose. That purpose varies widely depending on the application of the writing required.

For instance, a fiction novel may use an epic voice to tell a story about adventure or tragedy, something that harkens to the days of long ago and kindles the flame of passion and danger in the reader. A poem may use an angry voice to incite the reader, or a voice of sadness to make them share the writer’s sorrow. A non-fiction paper, such as a thesis, will use an educated voice to lend authority to the words.

It’s often natural for a writer in those mediums to find the correct voice. We read a lot of those types of works, and we will naturally tend to a similar voice when trying our own hand at it. Many very successful writers are noteworthy for *breaking* these tendencies. A new type of voice for an old genre can make it unique and interesting.

What is more difficult to work with, is the voice of content writing and advertising. Read More

Write On, My Friend

Warning: Highly editorial content ahead. May cause feels. May result in irritation.

Write on, my friend. Though only the paper sees your words, and only the pen is washed clean inside with their meaning, write on. Only through writing will the writer live, and only through writing will his mind be set free. Read More

Making a Writing Plan

Most writers suffer from a creative breakdown at some point or another, and many would-be authors are derailed entirely by these problems. Life intrudes on writing time, or distractions make the project drag out, sapping the energy and drive of the writer. Without a plan, writing starts to take a backseat to things that are more urgent, or easier to accomplish. The writer’s mind begins to seek out time-sinks, making excuses as to why they aren’t writing.

The key to preventing this from happening to your writing is having a plan. Not every writer’s plan will be the same, just as not every writer feeds on words in the same way, but every successful writer will have a plan. In a very broad sense, this plan will have four key parts: ideas, focus, goals, and a schedule. Read More

The Semicolon, aka. the Supercomma

There is a form of punctuation called the semicolon. (It’s the one that looks like a comma with a period stacked on top of it.) In my time as a copyeditor I’ve slashed out more semicolons than I care to count, usually due to overuse or misuse. I prefer to think of the semicolon as a supercomma. It helps me to remember the proper usage of the beast.

So what is it? Read More