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When Your H is a B: How To Write an Anti-Heroine

I don’t know about you guys, but I love reading and writing about strong women. And to me, the strongest of them all is the small gray area between a Bad Girl Heroine and a Villain:

THE ANTI-HEROINE

But what really makes an Anti-Heroine, and how do you write her?

Dictionary.com defines anti-heroine as: “a female protagonist, as in a novel or play, whose attitudes and behavior are not typical of a conventional heroine.”

That’s great, dictionary.com. Super helpful. For the rest of us, could we maybe get an answer that isn’t self-repeating?

If one were to Google about how to write an Anti-Heroine, one would find there are a few articles out there that talk about the female version of anti-heroes. Not many, but a few. And when writing my own anti-heroines, these were some of the articles I referred to. They talk about examples of anti-heroines in popular TV and movies, certain identifying traits, and discuss the issues of likeability and why there’s been pushback in the romance genre against anti-heroines, etc.

These are great articles, I gained a ton of knowledge from them, and if you’re looking for examples or are curious about the issues of likability, this is where I’d start.

In this post, however, we’re going to try to cover the How To side of it. :)

Readers Love a Good Anti-Hero, So Why Do They Shun Anti-Heroines? - Emma Jane Unsworth, The Guardian

The Anti-Heroine: What makes this girl tick? by Jasmine Denton

Straying from the Norm: Sophia Madison on Anti-Heroines - Belinda Crawford

(Belinda Crawford actually has a whole series of interviews on anti-heroines that is amazing, so be sure to scour her blog for more!)

Now, I’ve written my fair share of anti-heroine characters, some successful and some not. And all of these women were incredibly different, some of them not even human. But they all had certain things in common that I feel pushed them across the transition from just a “Bad Girl Heroine” to an “Anti-Heroine.”

So, back to our initial question: what really defines an Anti-Heroine, and how do we write her successfully?

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Appropriate Background

This should kind of go without saying, but I’m still saying it anyway: if your Anti-Heroine is a smoking, robbing, butt-kicking, heart-breaking feminazi-badass, that’s dope with me. But if you tell me she is that way “just cuz,” honey, we got a problem.

No one starts out inherently evil, and no one gets to Anti-Heroine status without a backstory to warrant it. So it better be there, and it better be a good one.

2. Questionable Morality

That anti in anti-heroine comes from somewhere. So let’s go back to that circular definition: "a female protagonist . . . whose attitudes and behavior are not typical of a conventional heroine.”

So, what defines a typical heroine? Probably someone of high moral character, who makes good choices for the right reasons. Someone the reader aspires to be.