I’ve always loved the antihero character archetype. To me, the least interesting character has always been the main hero, the good guy, the knight in shining armor. All too often the good guy is the same basic formula;
A naive individual called upon to take up a weapon (either literal or metaphorical) and go on a quest to vanquish evil. Throughout this quest s/he is tempted by evil, but never falls to it. They usually have their quirks, but all in all they’re almost completely infallible and as such… extremely boring to write. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place and people have done a lot over the years to try to make them more interesting, but even the most well-meaning attempts to add dimension to the basic hero…
Yeah, they’ve left me wanting.
Need a good example? All right, Harry Potter:
This is a scene that pisses me right the hell off. Here’s a good guy character that has seen friends die, people literally all around him turn on him, and even just watched his family die mere seconds ago.
After all of that, he still can’t attack or harm one of the people directly responsible for his pain. I’m not saying that what he’s doing isn’t the right thing, but it’s not realistic at all. At this point, after everything the poor kid has been through, he still doesn’t have it in himself to inflict pain or deal a crippling blow to his enemy?
Heck even by the end of the series, he wins on a technicality and Voldermort’s own spell backfires on his, which completely absolves Harry of killing him. At the risk of blaspheming, this kid could try out for Jesus!!!
No, I take that back, even Jesus had his flaws throughout the Bible!
GASP!!! You’re a fantasy writer and you hate Harry Potter!?!?!?
Ugh… no I don’t hate Harry Potter. The story is intriguing, a lot of the characters are a lot of fun, and the scenery is engaging, but as I said before, the lead character is the most boring of the bunch. There is literally nothing about him that I find interesting.
Honestly in most cases, the villain is the most interesting character in good adventure stories. Heck even in stories that are stale, boring, or poorly conceived, a good villain makes all the difference:
Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. The only problem this leaves is that in stories where the bad guy is actually a lot more interesting than the good guy, the audience tends to gravitate to the dark direction and makes the flaws of the one-dimensional main character more apparent. It also makes the hero’s victory a much tougher pill to swallow.
Okay… So what’s the solution? Well in many cases either ditch the hero all together or relegate him/her to the back ranks. Replace that character with an antihero.
All right, what’s an antihero?
An antihero is a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes. By definition, they lack what makes a hero what he is, yet still is often the protagonist in the story. The antihero can be made from these mathematical formulas:
Hero – Bravery = antihero
Hero – Morality = antihero
Hero – Conscience = antihero
Hero – Scruples = antihero
Villain + Honor = antihero
Villain + Interesting attribute = antihero
Villain + Circumstance = antihero
With the antihero, you get the best of both words and then some. You can mix in the multilayered, multidimensional aspects of the villain in with the hero. What’s even better is that this can come in multiple flavors.
Want to go the more comedic route? How about the bumbling idiotic coward:
Don’t want to go the comedic route? No worries, there are other options in this category, such as the reformed villain, which happens to be my personal favorite:
Or more recently, the one I’ve been trying to perfect; the true antihero:
These characters are not good guys, not by any stretch of the imagination. If you get in their way or impede their goals, they’ll kill you. They function outside of the law and often without any sort of moral code. However, they often just happened to land themselves fighting for what is considered to be the moral right… regardless of whether or not it’s something they truly believe in. These characters are out for themselves more than anything. They can eventually develop a code of honor or get pushed more to the good or bad, but they really do start off in the gray area.
Anyway, I hope that sheds more light on the antihero archetype and maybe you’ll find some new possibilities for your own writing.
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Catch you on the flip side!
Sorry, still not a fan of the antihero. There are situations where a hero may have to kill and I can be okay with that, but characters like the Punisher who seem obsessed with doing the killing are not all that different from the villain. Watching the hero struggle with their morality only to choose the “good” path is something I can more get behind.