My protagonist is an anti-hero. He's manipulative, cunning, kills, and sacrifices others for the greater good, which is to destroy an oppressive regime.

I'm at the point where he has destroyed the regime, secretly taken over and now is destroying the secret society which was in control of the country. I want this to be his last mission. However, I want a fitting end for him. But I don't want to kill him yet because I feel like he has to be punished for his "sins". So, how do I write a fitting end, an appropriate punishment for him to suffer, that isn't just killing the character?

  • If physical won't work, go with emotional. An emotional 'death' may be what you are looking for. If not, you could investigate symbols. Instead of killing him outright, kill/destroy something that represents everything he is and stands for. The effect may very well be more powerful than if he himself actually died. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 23:18

5 Answers 5


Determine what sins he needs to be punished for, and set up mirrors.

  • If it's murder: someone important to him should die.
  • If it's toppling a government and he sets up a new one: his new government falls apart because the people are now revolting against him.
  • If he destroys a secret society because he loathes secrecy: in some way he has to establish a new one in order to hold the government together.

and so on. You're going for a Twilight Zone kind of irony.


I really like the idea of how Star Trek: The Next Generation dealt with the discovery of a new Q. Although she wasn't quite an anti-hero, her development of new godlike powers created chaos in the cosmos and Picard asks [the original] Q, "So which is it: Does she live or does she die?"

And Q's response: "I haven't decided yet."

An external entity holds your protagonist's life in it's hands.


What drives him throughout your story? Is it money, power, love, lust? What is it that he thinks he deserves when the fighting is over? Fame, gold? Aside from the overall plot, what his his personal quest? Happiness, sanity, to recover the use of his legs? What's the thing under the surface which actually matters more than just beating the bad guys? Being reunited with his family? Being accepted in a foreign land? Being aquitted of a terrible crime he didn't commit?

Whatever it is, it's there throughout the story and we're rooting for him, hoping he does the right thing for once and claims his reward. But he fails us, so wrench it away and be cruel. You are writing a tragedy, so make it tragic.


Well, the Anti-Hero needs punishment. The new order that rises up in the wake of all this destruction could hold trial against him and imprison him for what 'sins' he did commit. I'm not sure if this is futuristic or mid-evil or whatnot so, he could either be frozen in a carbonite like substance Han Solo style, or shackled and put in the deepest darkest dungeon depending on your settings. Then you could just leave him there and end it so that if you need him again you could bring him back Rambo style "John we need you" and do a whole new adventure.

Otherwise he could just disappear into the night like Batman and the reader is left to churn about where he'll go next.

Also, a big thing, that holds much importance is whether he won the hearts of the people. Robin Hood killed and was a highway robber, but he won the hearts of the people, so even when the Sheriff caught him, he couldn't really catch him, because he'd just escape somehow.

You could even leave it at the second before death. A true cliff hanger for sure, It'd be like Butch and Sundance, they are surrounded, sure to die, and they just jump out guns a blazing, but because it never actually shows them die, they become a legend. Maybe your Anti-hero could become such a legend?

  • Or The Dark Knight ending where someone close to him dies.
    – Stu W
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 23:54

Do ends justify the means?

The very fact that he acts just like the regime he wants to overthrow is punishment enough. If he realizes it early on, he may choose not to act, thus not overthrowing the oppressive regime. Having to live under it may be punishment enough.

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