I am thrilled to have Jordan Dane on today. She writes gritty suspense and paranormal and is a national best-selling and award-winning author of adult and young adult novels. Publishers Weekly says “Dane is a diva of the flawed baggage-laden but likable heroines. Dazzingly imaginative.” She shares tips today on writing the bad guys and gals.
Anti-Heroes/Heroines and Villains Need Love Too—12 Tips
By Jordan Dane
To define what an anti-hero or anti-heroine is—as compared to an outright villain—let me start out by saying that there may not be much difference. (I’m sort of kidding.) Anti-heroes/heroines have been popular as antagonists for decades. They are flawed and imperfect and perhaps more relatable than a perfect hero in a white hat.
A good example of a TV anti-hero is Gregory House on the medical drama “House.” At times, he is completely unlikeable and the viewer is never quite sure if he’s driven to cure people because it’s the right thing to do or he simply likes being right. He is fascinating to watch.
I love making a borderline human being into a hero. Writing that type of character can be really challenging. A guy could be dark and brooding, but give him a dog and readers will know instantly that he’s worth loving. An outright villain is the obstacle, or protagonist, standing in the way of the anti-hero/heroine. They can have similar complexities to their personalities, but they are clearly “bad guys or girls.” As an author, you control how much bad and good ends up in their nature.
Below are other tips to add depth to your villain or make your anti-hero/heroine more sympathetic.
1. Give Them a Reason—A reader will lose interest pronto if your character is a complete jerk wad for half the book. Sprinkle in the valid reasons for them being who they are and clue the reader in on these reasons early so they can buy in, even if the other characters don’t know their motivations.
2. Does Gender Make a Difference? In general, I’ve noticed that readers accept bad boys faster than they embrace a female lead character who isn’t perfect. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s the way women or girl readers are about other females. This makes crafting your female characters important.
3. Make them human—Give them a code they live by or loyalties a reader can understand and empathize with. Even a dastardly villain or dark anti-hero/heroine has a softer side. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter was Clarice’s protector with his peculiar brand of loyalty. It was his one endearing trait, that and his culinary skills with liver. Chianti and fava beans, anyone?
4. Give Them a Soft Edge—If you give even the toughest brooding character a pet or a soft spot for a kid, they will be endearing to readers. Write the darkest character and match them up with something soft and you’ve got a winning combination.
5. Show Respect—Everyone looks up to a good leader. Show that others admire or respect your dark character and the reader will too.
6. Create Dueling Motivations—Give your villain and anti-hero similar motivations for doing what they do. Maybe both of them are trying to protect their family, even though they’re on opposing sides. Who would be more right? This is conflict at its best.
7. Stick Redemption Under Their Nose—Give your villain or anti-hero a shot at redemption. What choice would they make?
8.Give Them a Worthy Back-story—Understand your villain’s back-story. It’s as important as your protagonist’s. The reader must fully understand why they are motivated to do what they’re doing.
9. Make Them Vulnerable—Pepper in a back-story that makes your anti-hero vulnerable—betrayed by love, lost an important person in their life, or other tragic experience. Make them fearful of something, perhaps even themselves.
10. Forge Them From Weakness—Alcohol or drugs, adrenaline addict, insurmountable grief, or fear of the dark. Force them to battle with their deepest fears, making them worth someone’s struggle to win them over.
11. Make Them Corrupted by Life—Have them see life through personal experiences that we can only imagine but they have lived through. Make trust an issue because they have been betrayed. They must be much more vulnerable than they are cynical to deserve the kind of significant other that it takes to open them up to someone else.
12. Make Them Real—To be real, they must have honest emotions. That means you, as an author, must delve into the murky corners of your own mind to get into their heads. It’s not always an easy thing to do.
What are some of your favorite villains or anti-heroes? And please share what makes them so compelling.