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Turning an Anti-hero into a Hero

On a grey February afternoon, with what a former boss of mine used to call a “good old Halifax s**t storm” due to roll in overnight, I’m sitting here casting about for a blog topic. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been struggling with a sagging middle in my WIP, Deliverance, and decided to go back to the beginning and add more depth to the characters. So, let’s talk about characters – in particular, heroes who don’t start out as hero material.

Carl O’Neill(above, as I picture him – isn’t Henry Cavill fun to look at?) was the anti-hero in Shattered. Belligerent, violent and reckless, he threw his family into chaos. Carl isn’t a nice man at all, yet right from the start I sympathised with him. He has understandable reasons for his bad behaviour, and he has redeeming qualities: bravery and a quixotic sense of honour. He has terrible judgement in deciding where to place his loyalty, but once placed it isn’t easily swayed. I think that’s why I liked him enough to give him a book of his own.

One thing about starting with such a flawed character – there’s plenty of room for growth. The challenge is to make that growth believable, to stay true to Carl’s flaws and yet still give his heroine, Naomi, a reason not to write him off before he starts to come around. To start with, he’s sick and in her care, but I’ve just finished revamping Chapter 3 and he’s now well enough to start showing his true colours. When he does, how is she going to react?

Being a pantser, I’m not sure. Naomi is about to experience a crisis in her own life. How will Carl respond? He has no idea how to offer comfort to a woman, and he knows it. Naomi has good reasons to be distrustful, not to say frightened, of men. The only thing they have in common is that they’ve both experienced war. In the short time before Carl is well enough to go on his way, I’m going to have to build a connection that’s strong enough to make him want to stay, and her want him to stay – in spite of his flaws. Without making her seem weak or TSTL.

What do you think? Of course all romance heroes worth their salt are flawed, but have you enjoyed a story where a confirmed antihero gradually and believably becomes a hero?