The Psycho Hero: Lunacy for Good?

Marv in Sin City

Marv in Sin City

This falls into the Anti-Hero category, but I’m putting this on the extreme side of the spectrum.  The Psycho Hero is off his rocker and would probably a villain if the writers didn’t make him a hero.  These characters are violent, destructive, not really loyal, and typically indulge in mayhem.  Some might not so much indulge, but they have no restraint when it comes to violence. Honestly, you read about them or see them in a show and realize that one tiny tweek of perspective could result in this character being a villain.  I will note that comic books love this character type.

How do you use these characters without going too far?

  1. Always be aware of how other characters interpret their actions.  If the surrounding people have no problem with the slaughter then your Psycho Hero loses some of his/her pep.  Also, it hurts your overall story and world because it makes it look like mayhem is the natural order.  So why wouldn’t everyone else jump on the chaos train?
  2. Putting these characters in a team can promote growth and conflict.  Look at early Wolverine on the X-Men and how he butted heads.  Giving a Psycho Hero someone to care about can evolve them to a more stable persona, which can bring in the question on if they still have an edge in combat.
  3. If you go with a loner Psycho Hero (Punisher and Marv) then you should have some type of law enforcement organization being against them.  Don’t make this group bad guys and corrupt because they’re doing their jobs.  Realistically, your average police force would try to stop a murderous vigilante instead of going out for coffee.  Their laid back mentality would only work in an anarchy state, which then begs the question of why there are police anyway.  Still, someone would have a problem with the violence and try to put a stop to it.
  4. If you’re going for a whacky, crazy persona like Deadpool then PLEASE try not to overdo it.  It’s all funny and amusing for a character to start beating a bad guy with a frozen burrito, but the act gets stale after the 4th or 5th time.  Heck, maybe even the 2nd.  You see, you still want this character to be taken seriously as a hero.  By making them do nothing but joke, your more mature audience will walk away and consider the character rather worthless.  There’s funny random and then there’s stupid random, which seems to be mixed up these days.
  5. Accept the possibility that this character might go too far and have to be moved to the villain side of a story.  You may love writing the Psycho Hero, but you have to distance yourself.  If they take out a bus full of innocent bystanders then they’re going to have to face a punishment.  The character simply can’t continue on after a big event with a high non-villain body count.  Remember that this hero is already walking a fine line so it takes a lot less to knock them over the dark side.  For example, Marv was executed in the first Sin City movie for what he did.  That actually made him a stronger and more believable character than if he was allowed to get away with things.
  6. It can help to give a few quirks to focus the crazy.  Maybe the character has a trigger or has a favorite method of dispensing mayhem.  Deadpool’s verbal diarrhea and walking Family Guy episode stuff is extreme, but it’s a good example.  By doing this, you can give a little depth to an otherwise simple character.  I guess what I’m saying is put some method behind the madness to make them a hero.

So, any other ideas on how to write a Psycho Hero?  Any favorites or guilty pleasures that you can think of?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to The Psycho Hero: Lunacy for Good?

  1. Not really an idea how to write but it reminded me of how Dungeons and Dragons used to categorise people, by two cross scales. One between Good and Evil, the other between Lawful and Chaotic. Someone like Batman or Marv would be Chaotic-Good. They are good but don’t abide by everyone else’s rules. Superman is Lawful-Good. He plays by the book. On the flip side. Darth Vader is Lawful Evil, he is evil within the confines of the Sith’s set of rules. (Lawful evil characters probably wouldn’t really see themselves as evil.) The Joker on the other hand – Chaotic Evil!

    It’s quite a handy way to look at it I find. There was also neutral so you could be Chaotic-Neutral for example or simply dead in the middle of it all and Neutral – and probably boring.

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  2. Interesting. One normally thinks of heroes and psychos as being mutually exclusive. At least I do lol.

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  3. Awesome post today. I’m 20K deep in a draft where one of the characters is like this. I’ve watched Sin City a dozen times for reference. The trick is to write my character and not make him into Marv.

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  4. You make some really good points. It is sorta like trying to create a psycho-like character maybe like Bruce Willis in the “Fifth Element.”

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    • Never really thought of him that way. He was definitely emotionally cold, but I still can’t tell if the movie was supposed to be as funny as it was. Still a great one to watch. Thinking back I can now see some sociopathic tendencies. At least I think that’s the word.

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  5. This would never work for me except as a “this is how the hero falls” plot or if the character was somehow cursed and not willing for the transformation.

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