The anti-hero is one of my most favorite characters, partly because he/she is guilty or ignorant of multiple moral wrongs taking the low road while taking the high road in the end.
There is a difference between a villain protagonist and an anti-hero.
Being able to clearly define your protagonist as a villain, by seeing that objectively in the story they play the role of the villain while someone else plays a heroic role that the villain protagonist is opposing and conflicting with, helps tell you if you’re dealing with a villain protagonist or an anti-hero. When there is in fact someone else in the role of villain while your protagonist arcs toward a heroic attempt at some conflict resolution which the other identified villain attempts to disrupt, then you probably are dealing with an anti-hero.
As I understand it, they’re sort of opposites – the anti-hero is unlikable on the surface, and does a lot of minor misdeeds, but when push comes to shove always does the right thing. On the other hand, a villain protagonist is likable and seems like a good person most of the time, which makes it easy to root for them even though they do some truly horrible things. Basically, the anti-hero does all the little things wrong but the big things right, whereas the villain protagonist does all the little things right but the big things wrong.
I love Tim Dorsey’s anti-heroes, Serge and Coleman. Serge is a genius and Coleman is an addle-brained, leftover hippy mentally stuck in another era with a serious drug habit. They are, in many ways, polar opposites, but share a deep sense of their definition of right and wrong. Serge is smart and Coleman is dumb. That’s an excellent combination for funny.
They’re almost always up against a detective who is (sometimes deliberately) falling short of identifying them as the culprits. Sometimes, he knows they’re the culprits, but turns a blind eye for the better good.
Serge and Coleman are serial killers in Florida, but they only bring death to those the reader would really like to see die. Like vigilantly justice. Scammers, assholes, mean people who hurt the vulnerable and weak. So you can’t help but root for them, even though you know they are bad guys. Their methods are scientifically fascinating. I don’t think they have ever killed anyone the same way in the eight books I have read.
I’ve been learning from Facebook the many things that people are repulsed by and the things they want society to rectify. Taking notes, I’m looking at the possibility of having of having one or two of my characters morph into anti-heroes. It will take some creativity to pull off, but the wheels are turning.
Can you think of anti-heroes you admire?