Two Ways To Write A False Hero

There are heroes, anti-heroes, and then there are false heroes. We know what a hero is and even an anti-hero. So, what is the third category? And what are the two ways to write a false hero?

A Hero vs An Anti-Hero vs A False Hero

In general, a hero is a protagonist who has predominantly ‘positive’ traits (e.g. he’s kind, wise, honourable, heroic, etc…). Examples of heroes include Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings, Eragon from The Inheritance Cycle, and Harry Potter from… well… Harry Potter.

Conversely, a while ago, in two blog posts, we defined an anti-hero. An anti-hero is a central protagonist/Point of View (POV) character, who (while engaging or admirable) has one or several typically ‘negative’ traits (i.e. he is a liar, a sociopath, a psychopath, etc…). Examples of anti-heroes include Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, Roland Deschain from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and Jorg Ancrath from Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire Trilogy.

On the other hand, a false hero is not necessarily a hero or an anti-hero. In general, he can take one of two forms. Either he is a main character:

  • Who gets killed off unexpectedly early on in the narrative; or
  • At the end of the narrative (through a twist), the audience finds out that the ‘hero’ that they have been following all along is really an anti-hero or a villain.

Example 1 Of A Main Character That Gets Killed Off Early – Lord Eddard Stark

Lord Eddard Stark is the only Aragornian kind of hero in A Song of Ice & Fire. He is a good father, a caring lord, and an honourable man. When King Robert Baratheon comes to Winterfell to request that he be his Hand of the King, he obliges as duty demands it.

(That he then finds out that the Lannisters may have murdered his mentor, means that Lord Eddard’s reasons for going to the capital are noble. He wants to bring the perpetrators to justice, thereby making him even more honourable in the eyes of the viewers.)

However, Lord Eddard finds himself woefully out of his depth in the capital, due to the treachery at court. Subsequently, after King Robert dies, Lord Eddard is arrested for treason and, in a shocking twist, is publicly beheaded.

Example 2 Of A Main Character That Gets Killed Off – Marion Crane in Psycho

In Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic Psycho, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) starts off the film as the central protagonist. She is not a particularly good person, though, as she is a thief.

Nevertheless, the most astonishing part about her character is that she is murdered a third of the way through the movie. Arguably, this makes her the archetypal false hero.

how to write a false hero - Marion Crane in the shower
Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) has been immortalised by this shower scene. It also makes her a false hero.

Example 1 Of A Revelatory Twist At The End – The Drop

In the 2014 slow burning thriller The Drop, Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender at a low-key bar in Brooklyn, which is used as a ‘drop’ for contraband. This gives us the impression that Bob is a slightly shady character.

But after he finds a mutilated puppy in a bin and cares for it (plus finds companionship with Noomi Rapace’s Nadia), the audience sees him for what we think he is: an over-all good guy, who turns a blind eye to some illegal stuff.

However, Bob is not a good guy at all. Towards the end, we learn that Bob is really a brutal murderer, who lies to both the police and to Nadia.

Example 2 Of A Revelatory Twist At The End – There Will Be Blood

Throughout There Will Be Blood, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) comes across as a fiercely competitive businessman, wanting to become an oil and metals tycoon in early-20th century America. While he may not be the most likeable character, he is a compelling protagonist and (seemingly) a good father to his young son and business partner, HW (at least before an accident causes him to become deaf).

At the end, however, Daniel shows the nastiness that has been hiding beneath his competitive nature. When HW asks Daniel to dissolve their partnership so that he can start his own business in Mexico, Daniel reacts with fury. Daniel deems HW’s desire to go his won as a betrayal. He sees it as nothing less than competition he has to beat. Plus, Daniel tells HW that he was never his son and that he was a “bastard from a basket,” which he used for business ends: to come across as a safe, family man in the eyes of those he did business with.

Furthermore, after Paul (Paul Dano), a local preacher, suggests that Daniel sell him back the rights to the property, Daniel shows his psychopathic nature when he taunts and then bludgeons him.

Thank You

Thank you for reading this blog post on the two ways to write a false hero. I hope you have found it useful and interesting.

Let me know what you think and leave your thoughts in the comments below,


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