Anti-heroine: No, This Ain’t Your Mama’s Sister

One of the more interesting aspects of being an author, especially an author of erotic horror and fantasy, is that readers tend to wonder whether or not you’re one of your own characters. In particular this curiosity applies to the heroine, or, in some cases, the anti-heroine.

The anti-heroine is the female equivalent of the anti-hero, a character archetype that’s come into its own in literature and film over the course of the last five years or so. These characters do things or live in ways that are at the least morally ambiguous, and, to the extreme, downright reprehensible. However, they still function as a main character of a story and, strangely enough, many readers migrate to them. They aren't the villains in the story, although their behavior may be villainous, and they can be soooo much fun to write.

To do this post, I started listing the heroines from my short stories, novellas, and novels, and I realized among their ranks resides a number of anti-heroines. You know, bad girls gone really bad but who run lead in the story? These chicks will never be TSTL, but they definitely qualify as TSTBA (too scary to be around). They aren’t bad as in naughty, although that may play a role in their personas. They’re bad as in being some kind of evil or possessing a rather strange sense of right and wrong. They’re dark angels who don’t know there’s a light, or simply don't care. They revel in their rotten ways because of some extreme character flaw or because they can't get what they want if they don't behave they way they do. Their needs are always most important, as the other characters in the story discover, sometimes too late.

There’s an adage that states, “Write what you know,” and so for that reason there’s a little bit of me in every one of my main characters. One little piece of me as sort of an anchor, a point of connection. However, the tough part of having an anchor is that while sometimes it can hold you in safe harbor, other times it can weigh you down and not let your character develop. Writing the anti-heroine can be quite a freeing experience in that a writer can take a little bit of herself and expand on it into a personality that is totally foreign and complex—no rules or societal norms to restrict her—and, therefore, very interesting. Many actresses have proclaimed they’d rather play the bad girl in the movie than the good girl, because those roles are so much more fun. Writing the anti-heroine, for me, is much the same way.

There is a down side to writing the anti-heroine, though, and that is, as I mentioned before, everyone thinks you’re her. I don’t mind if readers connect me to some of my heroines, like Rumani Gladstone in Ride ‘Em, Girlfriend, a Robert Louis Stevenson-quoting professor with a sassy attitude who lifted herself out of bad circumstances through hard work and determination. Nor do I mind being mistaken for Claret McDaniel in Second Nature, an environmental activist who loves living in harmony with the earth, or Emma Rose, the heroine of The Survivors, who finally finds a way to forgive herself for being a survivor. I don’t even mind being compared to Lilly Gillingham of A Stranger’s Desire, a high school teacher with an unusual sense of Southern belle propriety who sets out on a somewhat dangerous, quirky sexual journey to rediscover herself after her mentor dies.

None of these ladies qualify as anti-heroines. They make mistakes and act out because of their pain maybe. They may get angry or make blunders because of miscommunication or good intentions gone horribly wrong. However, they rarely cross that fine line between good and evil, or if they do, they have a really good reason and hop right back over to the good side. My anti-heriones, though…well, they never knew there was a line to begin with, and being compared to them can be a bit unnerving.

For example, Miranda in An Even Trade has some serious mental issues that cause her to act in a very, very unladylike way in her quest for revenge against God. At one point she’s standing on a city bus, barefoot, wild-eyed and holding her girlfriend’s panties with a gun weighing down her purse. Editors would add little worried notes at the end of their rejections, sometimes with religious advice, to which I would hurriedly respond with a message thanking them for their time and indicating Miranda and I had nothing in common except losing a loved one to cancer. Every other part of her came from my asking, “What happens when someone is so grief-stricken she embarks on a futile journey to get revenge for a perceived injustice by a deity?” There are some people who choose the road to recovery after a losing a loved one and others who never reconcile those feelings and take a different path. Miranda not only took a different path, she plowed one of her own, and for that reason she was a fascinating character to write.

Another bad girl I enjoyed writing was Ellie in The Perfect Sin, who lets her love for one of her teachers drive her to commit a shameful act she chooses to live with every day of her life instead of facing consequences. While I wouldn’t want my friends to think I’m as conniving as Ellie, I did enjoy her quasi-erudite attitude and her willingness to go any lengths to get what she wanted. She showed some remorse along the way, but ultimately her desires continued to cloud her judgment until the very end of the story and beyond.

And speaking of clouded judgment, Miss Witch is one of my favorites among my stable of monstrous personalities. She’s a delusional sociopath who believes her sole purpose in life is to do away with other sociopaths—a serial killer of serial killers (pre-Dexter). She shows no remorse and glories in a heinous crime well done. To her credit, she's a campy vamp who never takes an innocent life, and actually saved a baby spider once. Of course, to her discredit, she believes no one in Horrordom is innocent, she uses those feminine wiles to seduce victims, and she saved the spider so she could use it later as an accessory. Did I mention she's resourceful as well as completely mentally unbalanced? Kind of makes you feel sorry for Jack the Ripper as she leads him to his doom.

I’ve saved my best awful angel for last. Vektor Schloss is more of a secondary character in Disappear, but definitely a presence not to be ignored. As a matter of fact, she won’t let the other characters ignore her. She’ll one day get her own book in the series if I can manage it, as anti-heroines can be a challenge to maintain for an entire novella. However, if any inter-galactic, warrior witch-training cannibal can carry a book, it’s Vektor. This is one little curly-haired doll you should never turn your back on, even if she is supposed to be on your side. Forget that and you'll either become her next, er, date, or her next meal. She’s opportunistic, quick-tempered, has razors for teeth, and is hungry all the time--and those are her good qualities. She’s a heck of a lot of fun for other characters to hang around with, if they can keep her from trying to have sex with them or kill them, and almost too much fun to write.

Do you have a favorite anti-heroine from a book or movie? Do you have an anti-heroine you’ve written? If you’ve never considered writing one before, I whole-heartedly recommend it. Unlike writing the heroine, who sometimes can represent who we want to be or who we wish we could be, writing the anti-herione lets a writer explore who she's afraid she might be, and that makes for some interesting fun. :)


Carly Carson said...

This is an interesting post. I can't think of any anti-heroines because I don't think I read them. I'm not into horror, etc. But it's still interesting to think about. Could it be easier to write the anti-heroine because she doesn't have to choose between right and wrong, but always gets to choose wrong? I can see where it would be fun to write such a character.


Cameo Brown said...

Maybe that's it, Carly. And then when she chooses right, it's for all the wrong reasons. lol

ShawnaMoore said...

Hi, Cam!

Terrific topic and post! In the story I'm plotting, there is an anti-heroine. Will definitely have a lot of fun layering her personality :)

Happy week wishes,


Carol Ericson said...

Cameo, I think there's a little bit of us in all the heroines we write - and I love a flawed heroine.

Nicole North said...

Interesting post! I have written one or two secondary characters of this type. They can be a lot of fun. I also love a heroine who can be a bit dangerous when she has to be.