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

3.     stands up to bad
guys, faces great odds

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

4.     faces conflict
bravely, head-on

try get around conflict, try sneaky strategy

5.     is motivated by pure
intentions (light)

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

6.     is classically
handsome or beautiful

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

often the criminal, thief or manipulates the law (‘the end justifies the

11.  is always pro-active,
makes decisions

can be
passive, or pushed into something against his will

12.  is stereotypical
Knight on White Steed

often the Fallen Angel

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

swear, drink, sleep around, take drugs

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

fails, or is redeemed by story events or remains unchanged

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

driven by self-interest or self-preservation

16.  learns a lesson and
is changed


17.  can be complex but is
usually never ambivalent

can be
mysterious, unfathomable and unpredictable

18.  would be Superman

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
, Scarlett in Gone With the Wind, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

This article has 6 comments

  1. J.E. Rogers

    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.

  2. Alison Strachan

    I don’t necessarily agree with this list. Why does the hero have to be “classically handsome or beautiful” ?

  3. Caitlin W.

    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.

  4. Janet W.

    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.

  5. Hannah Bodkin

    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?

  6. Mary

    The “hero” doesn’t HAVE to be “classically beautiful or handsome”, they just usually are.

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