Heroes and Anti-Heroes - What's the difference?

We are often asked about the difference between heroes and anti-heroes on our Writers Write course. There are many including the storytelling truth that heroes need confidants and mentors, and anti-heroes need sidekicks.

Anthony Ehlers compiled this list as a guide for aspiring writers.



1.     is an idealist

is a realist

2.     is the conformist, peace keeper

is the rebel

3.     stands up to bad guys, faces great odds

stands up to authority, no matter if it is well-intentioned

4.     faces conflict bravely, head-on

will try get around conflict, try sneaky strategy

5.     is motivated by pure intentions (light)

is often driven by basic urges (dark) – but may turn to a higher calling near the end of story

6.     is classically handsome or beautiful

can possess no beauty or has unusual looks

7.     always gets or loses the girl

is not that interested in love’s rewards

8.     is extraordinary, possesses gifts and talents

can be plain and undistinguished, no special talent

9.     has conventional moral values

has his own idiosyncratic moral compass

10.  is always on the right side of the law

is often the criminal, thief or manipulates the law (‘the end justifies the means’)

11.  is always pro-active, makes decisions

can be passive, or pushed into something against his will

12.  is stereotypical Knight on White Steed

is often the Fallen Angel

13.  looks the part of the hero: clean lines define his character

can swear, drink, sleep around, take drugs

14.  succeeds in his goals, unless the story is a tragedy

often fails, or is redeemed by story events or remains unchanged

15.  wants to overcome his flaws and find his true purpose and destiny

is driven by self-interest or self-preservation

16.  learns a lesson and is changed

is unchanged

17.  can be complex but is usually never ambivalent

can be mysterious, unfathomable and unpredictable

18.  would be Superman

would be Batman

19.  would be Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jamie Fraser in Outlander series, Edward Cullen in Twilight, Will Graham in Red Dragon

would be Dexter Morgan of Dexter series, Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley, Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby, Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre

20.  would be Mary Ashley in Windmills of the Gods, Eve Dallas in In Death series, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

would be Tracey Whitney in If Tomorrow Comes, Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with Dragon Tattoo, Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth

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10 responses
Super post! Thank you so much for the succinct characteristics. I will certainly keep this around while writing my second book, which includes one of each of these! Cheers. http://warriorechidna.blogspot.com
I don't necessarily agree with this list. Why does the hero have to be "classically handsome or beautiful" ?
I agree with Alison. It is certainly possible to pick a number of traits from the hero side of the chart and apply them to the antihero, and still come out with an excellent antihero, and vice versa. This list works as an outline of stereotypes, but not much more.
Thank you! as a newbie in writing. I really love the helpful hints. I post them over my desk and it helps a lot. If there are any other helpful hints, please post.
What would happen if my character falls under both these categories? Half the time he's a hero, half the time he's an anti-hero. What should I think then?
The "hero" doesn't HAVE to be "classically beautiful or handsome", they just usually are.
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