I'm not talking about the underdog here. I'm talking about a hero you can do ANYTHING with. Yeah, I said the big a word:
That is, so long as you have the skill to make it work.
Ever see the movie ATTACK THE BLOCK? Some south London teen thugs defend their city from an alien invasion. It's a good example of what I'm talking about.
You start off hating that these kids. These bully-brats rob an innocent young woman, then kick a small animal to death. That animal turns out to be an alien and other aliens are arriving, looking for it. These kids smell like the one they killed so they become targets for the aliens. Over the course of the flick, they face their mortality, the loss of gang members, and realize what's important to them. They end up protecting the very woman they robbed--and more surprising, she protects them. You learn why the leader thug is what he is, and you see him rise up at great personal risk to save others and defeat the aliens.
Thug. Thief. Anti-hero.
Here is an online excerpt from Bullies, Bastards & Bitches by Jessica Page Morrell
Heroes Versus Anti-Heroes: Identifying the Differences
The role of a hero as the main player who drives the story has been around for centuries. Heroes somehow embody the forces of good and overcome great odds to succeed in the story. In classical stories, a hero was always extraordinary, might have divine ancestry, and was more of a demi-god than human. Hercules is this type of hero.
Over time, the term hero came to be no longer associated with god-like types, but instead came to mean an extraordinary man or woman who overcame great obstacles, who often sacrificed him- or herself for a cause, who displayed courage when facing the story’s problems, and who held moral and exemplary traits. Heroes appeared in myths, epic poems, operas, fairy tales, and, in fact, most story types.
But so the story contains suspense, heroes are never perfect; in fact, in the tradition of Aristotle, they possess a fatal flaw that can be their undoing. But because they are heroes, part of their quest is to rise above this flaw so that their grace, perseverance, and greatness of spirit can inspire and uplift readers. Heroes in fiction are also designed to learn from their mistakes; often they rise from the ashes to defeat the bad guys.
In many of the character types discussed in this book, there are no absolutes, as in “a villain will always be 100 percent evil” or “a hero will 100 percent good.” If there were absolute truths about every character type, it would make our jobs as writers easier, but we’d also end up with parodies or caricatures of the human condition. Likewise, anti-heroes can be difficult to classify because they vary so broadly, and there are few absolute traits shared by every type. You’ll know an anti-hero is in story because he’s in the starring role though his morals and motives are questionable, and despite his moral traits, or lack thereof, you will still sympathize with him. Here are some general differences that I hope will clarify on which side of morality you’ll find an anti-hero, and how an anti-hero is the antithesis of a traditional hero:
A hero is an idealist.
An anti-hero is a realist.
A hero has a conventional moral code.
An anti-hero has a moral code that is quirky and individual.
A hero is somehow extraordinary.
An anti-hero can be ordinary.
A hero is always proactive and striving.
An anti-hero can be passive.
A hero is often decisive.
An anti-hero can be indecisive or pushed into action against his will.
A hero is a modern version of a knight in shining armor.
An anti-hero can be a tarnished knight, and sometimes a criminal.
A hero succeeds at his ultimate goals, unless the story is a tragedy.
An anti-hero might fail in a tragedy, but in other stories he might be redeemed by the story’s events, or he might remain largely unchanged, including being immoral.
A hero is motivated by virtues, morals, a higher calling, pure intentions, and love for a specific person or humanity.
An anti-hero can be motivated by a more primitive, lower nature, including greed or lust, through much of the story, but he can sometimes be redeemed and answer a higher calling near the end.
A hero is motivated to overcome flaws and fears, and to reach a higher level. This higher level might be about self-improvement, a deeper spiritual connection, or trying to save humankind from extinction. His motivation and usually altruistic nature lends courage and creativity to his cause. Often, a hero makes sacrifices in the story for the better of others.
An anti-hero, while possibly motivated by love or compassion at times, is most often propelled by self-interest.
A hero (usually when he is the star of the story in genre fiction, such as Westerns) concludes the story on an upward arc, meaning he’s overcome something from within or has learned a valuable lesson in the story.
An anti-hero can appear in mainstream or genre fiction, and the conclusion will not always find him changed, especially if he’s a character in a series.
A hero always faces monstrous opposition, which essentially makes him heroic in the first place. As he’s standing up to the bad guys and troubles the world hurls at him, he will take tremendous risks and sometimes battle an authority. His stance is always based on principles.
An anti-hero also battles authority and sometimes go up against tremendous odds, but not always because of principles. His motives can be selfish, criminal, or rebellious.
A hero simply is a good guy, the type of character the reader was taught to cheer for since childhood.
An anti-hero can be a bad guy in manner and speech. He can cuss, drink to excess, talk down to others, and back up his threats with fists or a gun, yet the reader somehow sympathizes with or genuinely likes him and cheer him on.
A hero can be complex, but he is generally unambivalent; an anti-hero is a complicated character who reflects the ambivalence of many real people.
An anti-hero’s actions and ways of thinking demand that the reader think about issues and ask difficult questions.