It’s blog-sitting time! Tamara, you “forgot” to leave the keys for the place but, lucky for us, one of the upstairs windows was left open. I’ve made myself at home while you were out, drank most of your coffee, finished up the leftovers in the fridge (delicious quiche, by the way), and have been sleeping on the couch… mostly. Anyway, the other night I was going through that pile of papers on your desk and was inspired to pen this little piece about the craft of writing anti-hero’s journey.
The Anti-Hero’s Journey: a trick of the trade.
There are a million articles on ‘The Hero’s Journey’, a common construct underpinning the majority of novels. Essentially, an ordinary person in the ordinary world is called to an adventure. Said ordinary person takes a harrowing journey through a strange world on a strange quest only to later return to their ordinary world, changed and enhanced for the better. For examples, think of those wily hobbits or that young moisture farmer on the desert planet of Tataouine.
Everyone loves to root for a hero… but sometimes you’re asked to root for the villain and sometimes you do.
“I’m a good person and here I am rooting for an evil-doer. How is this possible?” you ask. Surely that high-school chemistry teacher turned meth cooker/mob boss shouldn’t hold my attention… but he does for a lot of people. It’s okay to like a fictional bad guy, but how is this done?
The answer is the Anti-Hero’s Journey. This is a topic that could span volumes of text and months of discussion but, distilled into a few hundred words, it all amounts to this: the two essential qualities for having a reader care about a villain are scaled perspective and appropriate comeuppance.
Firstly, scaled perspective. The concepts of good and bad are a gray scale of perspective and our empathy towards a character is framed in relation to where on the scale your anti-hero sits. For example, in my latest novel Fishbowl, The Villain Connor Radley is a pernicious philanderer wronging his sweet and innocent girlfriend Katie by secretly holding relations with two other women. At the beginning of his character arc, Connor has few redeeming qualities. Through the course of his story however, we learn of his troubled upbringing and inability to connect effectively with his emotions. In the story, Connor realizes that he is wronging Katie and vows to change his two-timing ways and make everything better. The Connor we know at the end of the book is quite different than the one at the beginning… he’s still not a good guy, just a better one.
Secondly, appropriate comeuppance. This is at the root that satisfaction we feel when an anti-hero gets what’s coming to him/her. It can also offset some of the animosity a reader feels for an evil-doer. Without giving away the story, Connor does get what he deserves, he suffers appropriately and, in the end, there’s a catharsis afforded his character… he has changed his ways and he has suffered for his past wrongs. We’re tentatively ready to give him a second chance and are appreciative of his new outlook.
So, the fundamentals of Anti-Hero’s Journey could be summed up as: there’s a call to adventure of a villainous person in the ordinary world. Said evil person takes a harrowing journey through a strange world of good on a strange quest of self-realization only later to later return to the ordinary world, changed and enhanced for the better… or worse.
Anyhow, that’s about it for now. For readers and writers alike, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the fun you can have telling anti-heroes stories. Throw in your two cents, leave a comment!
Now, I should take out the trash and tidy up the place a bit before I go. Tamara, you won’t even know I was here!
Happy Reading and Bookishly Yours,
T @ Traveling With T