The Dexter series of novels, authored by Jeff Lindsay, and the extremely popular television series based on the books, is a fairly recent example. Dexter is an anti-hero. But when it gets down to it, he is really nothing more than a psychopath serial killer. It doesn’t matter in the least that those he kills are also psychopath serial killers.
So, why do we like anti-heroes so much?
First, although in many cases they are quite despicable, they are also deliciously dark. They feed our psychological need to occasionally peer into the dark side. It’s almost like dark chocolate. (Sorry, couldn’t help it. :P)
Although the anti-hero is often brutal, cold, selfish, and self-aggrandizing—those qualities which drive him further into himself and away from his links to humanity (which he can never really escape, and which tend to alienate him from those around him and come close to destroying him emotionally in the end)—he must illicit sympathy or affinity in the reader. The reader must feel for the character and his struggle. An anti-hero can’t just a bad-ass; he must occasionally, through quixotic bursts of nobility or love, perform heroic deeds that help others.
And that brings us to redemption. In an anti-hero, there is always plenty of room for redemption. And who doesn’t like a story of redemption?
In the case of John Point, the anti-hero protagonist in my work in progress, Hollow Point, Point begins the story not even wanting to save himself, let alone anyone else. In fact, his initial goal is to commit suicide. If that isn’t the ultimately selfish act, I don’t know what is.
He starts out unredeemed, and he believes himself to be unredeemable. He has no motivation to save the universe whatsoever. But he has grown fond of a few people in particular, and he decides that he at least wants to help them. And, although he has betrayed the trust of those who believed in him—or at least, he believes he has—he must struggle along to further his redemption, no matter how unfulfilled that might turn out to be.
Share your thoughts on the anti-hero protagonist in the comments below.