Pow! How Comic Books Can Help You Write A Great Anti-Hero | Writer’s Relief

As writers and readers know, every hero needs a good villain. In the world of comic books, Batman has the Joker and Superman has Lex Luthor. Readers love to see what schemes the supervillains have up their sleeves and how their favorite superheroes will (hopefully) prevail. But at Writer’s Relief, we know readers are fond of another type of character—one that keeps them and their favorite characters on their toes: the anti-hero!

Anti-heroes are capable of heroic deeds, but will not shy away from doing what they feel is necessary…even if that includes acts that others would consider illegal or immoral. Creative writers can find unique inspiration for their own characters from some of the popular comic book anti-heroes.

Writing Tips From Comic Books For Creating A Great Anti-Hero Character

Have Some Motivation. Just like any protagonist or antagonist in a story, an anti-hero needs motivation. What is your character motivated by? Is he so driven by greed that it doesn’t matter if he’s working on the side of good or evil? Does it all depend on which side will pay out more money? Is she only working with the good guys because a threat is about to destroy our planet? Or maybe she’s working with the bad guys because someone important to her is being held hostage. Figure out what drives your anti-heroes so that your readers can love them, hate them, or both!

Know The Story. How does your anti-hero fit into your story? What path is your character on? Is this troubled villain on the road to redemption, working to make up for a past misdeed? Or has the once-admired hero fallen from grace? Is this a story of tragedy or of triumph? The fun of writing an anti-hero is the gray area that this character exists in and how he or she navigates the obstacles your story presents.

Your character will handle situations differently than a hero or villain would. For instance, an anti-hero might show sympathy that a villain would never offer. Or, an anti-hero might strike a deal with a criminal that a hero would never consider making. Your character will present you with a lot of storytelling possibilities, so make sure to embrace this gray area.

Expect The Unexpected. Anti-heroes are pliable in ways that traditional heroes and villains aren’t, so they offer you and your readers unique story possibilities—especially if you’re writing a series. Take Catwoman from DC Comics: She has fought opposite Batman on many occasions, but has also fought by his side, saving the Caped Crusader and Gotham City more than once. Deadpool, in the Marvel Comics Universe, is capable of good but has been on the opposite side of the law more than once as a deadly mercenary.

If you plan on having your anti-hero appear in a series and progress as a character, be sure to make the anti-hero fallible. There may be times where this character falls from grace and later returns to the side of good. Your anti-hero’s struggles with good and bad impulses could help keep your audience invested in what comes next for your character—and in your story!

Let Personalities Clash. Your anti-hero might be a badass whom you and your readers love to see square off with enemies, but this could also mean that the character does not play well with others and may have trouble keeping friends. Who does the anti-hero confide in? Who helps this character when he or she is in a bind? Does your anti-hero keep promises, or seem less than trustworthy? Is the character a hothead who gets into fights easily, or a smooth talker who gets along well with others? It’s important to define the character’s personality so you can determine how your anti-hero maneuvers through any given situation.

The type of company your anti-hero keeps can give you a lot of storytelling possibilities. Decide if your character is surrounded by people who make her better, or who are bad influences.

Draw The Line. Your character has limits, and it’s important to define how far he or she will go to accomplish a goal. Does your character adhere to a moral code, however conventional or unusual it is? Is there something your character isn’t willing to do? Will your anti-hero selfishly refuse to help others, only to regret it later? When you test your character’s limits, you increase the conflict in your story and ultimately ramp up the drama for your reader.

Your anti-hero may not be the most trustworthy character. He might double-cross others in your story, with entertaining results. She may lose confidence in her ability to do the right thing and end up doing what’s wrong. She could switch sides and support the good guys when she supported the side of villainy earlier. While your anti-hero’s allegiances might sway, your readers will stick with you and your character as long as you are true to that character’s outlook and attitude, warts and all.


Question: What comic book character do you think would make a great character in your writing?