What If Your Hero is a Pessimist?

Rorschach from Watchmen

Rorschach from Watchmen

I’m not 100% sure Rorschach is the best example.  He might be more cynical than pessimistic, but it’s been a while since I saw the movie or read the graphic novel.  I asked a friend if he knew of a pessimistic hero and this is what we came up with.  Rorschach might be more cynical and jaded than ‘everything is hopeless’.  Then again, that might be too extreme.  Pessimism is to look on the bad side of things and I believe he does mention or hint at what they’re doing is an unending path.

Anyway, this makes me wonder if you can have a pessimistic hero.  One who is still pushing ahead or possibly being dragged along.  They feel like they’re going to lose the battle or never find what they’re looking forward.  Every cloud will rain and there’s nothing you can do about it, so stop smiling.  The glass is half empty and I’m pretty sure that isn’t water.  Just a miserable, negative ray of gloom.

I can see this mentality wearing on a reader and author a lot.  To keep a person like this throughout a book would cause some friction because you’d be hard pressed to believe others would deal with them.  Even worse if the story ends and they’re still claiming things are bad.  So this is a good starting point for a character evolution or even the ending for an optimistic hero.  Though you’d have to figure out why a pessimist would try to do something they either hated or didn’t believe in.  Again, this is the very watered down and extreme type of pessimism that I’m working with.  Plenty of people have negative outlooks and still carry on because that’s what you do.

An interesting aspect to this character type and his/her partner the Optimistic Hero is audience reaction.  People love to see a smiling, shiny hero get the positive outlook knocked out of them.  I’ve seen people who thoroughly enjoy this character arc and get angry if the hero maintains their original optimism.  Now I don’t hear as many people cheering when the Pessimistic Hero is moved to the middle or other side.  Perhaps if he’s connected to the audience and his happy outlook is seen as a reward, you’ll get a big reaction.  The odd thing is that many will want the story to continue so this new positive mentality gets crushed.  I should probably stop spending time on Internet comment sections, but it does seem like people enjoy to see their heroes fall into the darkness.  Which is where the pessimistic hero starts.

Anyway, are there any pessimistic/negative heroes that you can think of?  What made you love or hate them?

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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58 Responses to What If Your Hero is a Pessimist?

  1. I can’t think of a single one. Most are more anti-hero or vigilante types. They have a bit of grouchiness, and an occasional pessimistic line. They never seem to set up camp there.

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  2. Perhaps I should read more Grimdark – I’m sure there will be plenty of such characters there!

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  3. sknicholls says:

    When I was shopping for editors, one girl told me that my main character was terribly unlikable and she didn’t think she could stay with her for a whole book. The lady is going through a most difficult time, is needy and unstable, always looking at the cup half full, but she grows to have confidence in herself and her curse becomes a gift at the end, even though the outcome isn’t wonderful for her. I like her and know she is a lot stronger than first perceived, but I can see how an early reader might be put off by her initial representation. Too bad.

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  4. L. Marie says:

    Would Deadpool fall in this category?

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    • Probably not. He’s fairly optimistic.

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      • L. Marie says:

        I read Watchmen and found it brilliant. But I looked at the whole thing as pessimistic. As for an ongoing pessimistic hero, Batman isn’t the cheeriest hero. He doesn’t trust anyone and basically sees everyone as flawed. Yet he keeps fighting crime.

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      • This is getting interesting. It seems a lot of people see pessimism in heroes as being dark, broody, or violent. Not so much that they feel like what they’re doing is all for nothing or that the worst will always happen. Maybe you can’t push a hero all the way to that side without them losing the title.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I read a book where the hero was a horrible alcoholic. Little by little he seemed to grasp his ill ways and slowly improved throughout the story. He was still a grouchy guy, but you wanted to cheer him on his journey to recovery. He did eventually solve the murder, once he was sober. 😀

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  6. kirizar says:

    It’s been a while since I read it, but I loved the character in Sir Apropos of Nothing…the back page describes the main character Apropos as a ‘rogue, a rascal, a scoundrel and a cheat…and those are his good points’. I love how he circumvents the clean-cut, should-be hero and takes over the story. Again, it’s been a while since I read this, but I never forgot how much I appreciated his biting and snide humor throughout the story. A book for the bad side in all of us.

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  7. I can’t think of one. I would think a pessimistic character would be a pain. Wait. I just thought of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. That guy was a downer from the get go. I didn’t like him a lot either.

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  8. I’m trying to think of heroes who are predominantly pessimistic, and I can’t think of any! I can think of sarcastic, narcissistic, grumpy and egotistical ones, but other than that I’m drawing a blank! It’s an odd one. I’m sure I’d love such a character, if they didn’t overdo it! Perhaps, by definition, a hero is optimistic – just by trying to do good 😀

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  9. I was going to say Batman, because his worldview is fairly dark. However, he does keep fighting out of a belief that he can make a difference. Even if revenge is equally possible with justice. If he was completely pessimistic, he would probably be killing his villains, and we all know he would never do that.

    I also think of Michael Moorcock’s Elric series, which are dark sword & sorcery. No spoilers, but Elric also battles in a setting where evil always seems a step or three ahead. I re-read some of these recently and found myself losing patience with the protagonist, so I think your point about that is right on.

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  10. Jack Flacco says:

    Have you ever seen an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond? Raymond is not but the Grim Reaper. Pessimism is everywhere he goes. I thing having a negative character–a main character, no less–would be an interest challenge for the writer looking for something to do. Some have thought having an anti-hero like Tony Soprano would have been a bad thing. But that made the story all the more intriguing to watch while the good guy got his just desserts.

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    • I always feel weird admitting that I didn’t get into Everybody Loves Raymond. Like it undoes the title of the show. 🙂

      You might have a point that doing it for a sitcom is easier. Adding comedy to the pessimism can softening the edges.

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  11. Kylie Betzner says:

    In fantasy I’ve seen a rise in pessimist heroes. Personally, I prefer optimist but we can’t all look on the bright side.

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  12. Pingback: In the end is the beginning (StoryADay Post) | Stories in 5 Minutes

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