The Allure Of The Anti-Hero
What is it about the anti-hero type we find so appealing? Barb Han and Carolyn Hector tell us what it is about these guys that makes them swoon and what would be a total turn off .
Barb Han ~ The Fantasy Keeps Us Hooked
There’s something irresistible about a dark and dangerous anti-hero that draws me in and captivates me even when I’m not one hundred percent certain I want to root for him.
The allure of this archetype is mesmerizing for me. There is something about a hero on the edge who is so close to the dark side he walks the line of being beyond redemption that stirs up so much emotion in me. Part of the reason is the stakes are so high. I mean, let’s face it, it doesn’t get any worse than eternal damnation. The risk is high, but so is the reward.
The fact a hero can be brought back from the brink because of the one woman who makes him crave redemption has me on the edge of my seat, rooting for him. On a primal level, he knows he has to be a better version of himself to deserve her. He wants to be good enough for her but never feels he can live up to the goodness in her. *swoon*
Watching the hero who shuns convention or has been put in a situation of self-loathing to the point of being criminal. find a reason to live, gives an emotional payoff better than fourth of July fireworks.
Yes, the arc has to be believable (or at least have me willing to go along with the fantasy), and there are lines an antihero could never cross or he’d lose me forever (purposely endangering a child would have me saying, no, thank you, faster than he could turn off the lights). He wouldn’t be able to recover from physical or mental abuse, either. Because a well-crafted anti-hero makes me very sympathetic to his conflict, his imperfections.
I want to feel the pain, angst and suspense.
A good story makes the reader feel the pain, the angst, the suspense that comes with the emotional ride of coming to care for someone who might not be able to be saved. He is,ultimately, but not before an emotional ride that straps me in and sends me on a ride so intense I’m breathless by the end.
I know it isn’t going to be easy when I sign up to read dark and dangerous. I know I’m going to have a front-row seat to an intense amount of pain. A dark hero leaves me wondering which side of him will win… the man or the monster?
He’s the ultimate alpha, taking what he wants and closing himself off to anything that doesn’t fit into his plans. He’s the jerk who pushes everyone away. Again, because ultimately, deep down, he’s fighting a war with himself, so he rarely lets anyone in on. He has so much hate for himself that he’ll hurt himself and others so as not to cause more damage to the poor soul who falls in love with him, or face his own disappointment when the object of his love learns he’s as bad as she feared.
Which isn’t to say he isn’t afraid, too. His ultimate, bone-deep fear is he’s not worthy of others. Watching someone who seems so unredeemable fight, little by little, to overcome his demons (and eventually allow himself to be loved) is the ultimate pay off. Because the darker the hero, the more difficult redemption becomes.
He usually lives on society’s fringe. His behavior is mostly antisocial. He is imperfect and flawed (and maybe not unlike me in many ways). I sympathize with him and root for him. He makes mistakes and I’m on the edge of my seat. A well-crafted antihero is unpredictable in the sense I have no idea how he’s going to finally redeem himself. I do know he’s going to make mistakes and those mistakes are going to toy with my emotions.
Like I said before, the darker the hero, the higher the stakes. *pulse races*
Often times, the antihero is doing some noble (although, misguided), like protecting family or others, even if he’s going about it all wrong based on conventional rules. In romance, he’s irresistible. He takes risks I don’t. He says things I would never dream of saying, but sometimes wish I could. He’s bold. He’s powerful. He’s sexy. *fans self* He makes me feel special even when I fear he’ll break my heart because he’s one slip away from losing me. But he would never let that happen. He’ll fight when he needs to.
A good antihero wakes us up and excites us. He keeps us guessing when he’s going to slip and when he’s going to do the right thing. He toys with our emotions and makes us. Want. Him. He represents the dark side of humanity I hope is ultimately redeemable.
The fantasy keeps me hooked. Let’s face it, how boring would it be to read an entire book about a guy who always makes the ‘right’ choices? He drives a sensible car. He’s nice. He cuts the neighbor’s grass. He…yawn…hold on because I just fell asleep. *laughs*
I’d rather be with the guy who doesn’t fall for someone easily. When he does, he goes all-in. He’s extreme like that and it’s the only way he knows how to live his life.
I’m just along for the ride.
Carolyn Hector - Dark & Dangerous Men
Y’all know I am the William Hung of Romancelandia. I have no professional training, and my gal pal Dr. Vanessa Riley is somewhere rolling her eyes like Simon Cowell going… “There’s a news flash.”
I’ll be the first to admit I have not read all the classics that made a lot of my colleagues want to write romance. I just know what I like. I like a man with flaws, who knows he has flaws but when he falls in love with a woman, he is her ride-or-die champion. He’s brooding, reluctant to do the right thing, mad at the world, cocky, and of course devilishly handsome.
Let’s break down the difference of my take on a gothic hero vs a Homeric hero. Tell me if you agree.
A Homeric hero stands for honor. He’s squeaky clean or at least can be and has a sense of purpose and honor bigger than falling in love. Your Gothic hero, however, is haunted—driven even. In pop culture, it’s your Brandon Walsh vs Dylan McKay…. Your Lucas Scott vs Nathan Scott …Damon Salvatore vs Stefan. I also oddly think of Edmond Dantès vs The Count of Monte Cristo.
Let’s take this to my youth as I always do. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had a thing for bad boys since I was a kid. My crushes were Animal from The Muppets, Han Solo (BTW… Han shot first), and Heathcliff (Bronte, not the cat... although the cat Heathcliff was quite the badass and he was totally in love with Sonja). Animal was wild, reckless, and loved his drums more than anything in the world. So maybe I had an early Barney Stimpson case of CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! If I could get Animal to fall in love with me and take his attention away from the drums, that must mean *I* was pretty special. Han Solo shot first. He was a survivalist and he loved the Millennium Falcon. He needed to do what he had to do. Han. Shot. First. Whether he was a scoundrel or not, he became a hero by the end of the Star Wars movie. He was fun and dangerous.
In today's romance heroes, I see a lot of tortured souls. I’m drawn to pick up a book with an enemies-to-lovers trope or a revenge storyline or even a playboy/forever-a-bachelor. Put a SIN in the title and I’m there. You can automatically feel the burn.
But let’s re-visit the whole Han Solo shooting first thing and ask the question, how far over the line is too far? In order to make Han appear likeable and justified, George Lucas changed the scene and had Greedo attempt to shoot Han first. To me, that was unneeded. We were going to fall in love with Han regardless of what he'd done. Because typically the bad guy… the dangerous one.. is the one who changes most once he finds his purpose. And that was Han all over.
Is there a breaking point with these dark heroes in a romance? A step too far? Something they can’t come back from? For me, it’s sleeping with another woman. I’ve read a lot of scoundrels before and when the black moment comes, they never cross that line. They may get into a fight with someone, but they never get intimate with another person.
So, let me go back to Damon Salvatore of the Vampire Diaries (I feel like I’m working out my therapy the more I write). I loved Stefan when he turned off his humanity. And, when it comes down to it, maybe that’s the turn on of a dark hero. You want to be the one who recharges his humanity. I feel I need a visit to my therapist’s couch here… don’t judge me!
How do you feel about anti-heroes? Can they even be called that if they end up redeemed in the end? What action would make them irredeemable for you? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on our social media using #AntiHero