Posted by Chris
So week three of the archetype series is here! We’ve covered heroes and villains now. What about the people in between those two? That is where the antihero emerges from the shadows…
So what are these dark characters? Is there any limits they will place on achieving their goals? Why are they some of the most popular characters in modern fiction? Where do we find examples in the real world? And why would you use one of these in your story?
So the anti-hero is a kind of interesting term. If you took the name literally you would think “That’s just another name for a villain”. The anti-hero is not a straight up villain though. In fact most hold many of the same traits as heroes. An anti-hero is normally motivated by a desire to help others (often a single person, or small group of people). It is common that they fight against villains or corrupted individuals. They even normally feel as though they are doing the right thing.
What makes them more like villains, and makes them contrast heroes are their methods. For instance, a hero normally allows a justice system have the criminal. An anti-hero “removes” them, or carries out the full judgement themselves. They tend to see the world as all shades of gray, and are incapable of seeing black or white. Their morals are normally lacking, or have been eroded away. As such they will often go farther than any hero would to achieve their goals. They do tend to have some morals and lines they don’t cross, but these are far fewer than nearly any hero.
You will find that Anti-heroes tend to be dark and gritty. They are written this way to make themselves contrast to your “typical hero”. If they aren’t written as a jagged person, they tend to come off as a crazy or psychotic character (even if unintentionally). These characters tend to mirror our more violent tendency and desires as humans. You know you have wanted to smack that smug smile off that hippocrates face, or break the nose of that bully, or even get payback on that missdeed against you. This is why we find anti-heroes so interesting. They explore the “what ifs” of our darker fantasies.
Will you find these people in the “wild”. Yes, but I hope you don’t especially not as something in their way. They do tend to be criminals, but are ussally the kind that don’t get caught. Occupationaly they are often bounty hunters, mercenaries, and real life vigilantes. The part of society that is on the darker side, that we rather pretend doesn’t exist. I mean we know “bad people” are out there; but the anti-hero is normally a “good person” doing “bad things”, and we don’t like to admit that happens so often.
Back to the world of writing. These characters are good to draw contrast for your heroes. They can be “fallen” heroes, who have had their morals eroded away over the years. They can also be “reformed” villains who have found a new purpose in serving others, but tend to still not have a good moral compass. You could also use them to tell darker stories that might be harder for you to put a typical hero into. Or to tackle the more grim topics of society like corruption. While they do believe they are justified in their actions, the action itself doesn’t have to be a “good” one. They aren’t role models, but they do show that: imperfections don’t a villain make you.
Thanks for reading. You might have noticed I didn’t rant about lazy writers, or modern fiction in this one. That’s because even though these are some of the most popular types of characters out there; they haven’t gotten the abuse that heroes and villains have gotten lately. While it is very possible to write these characters in a lazy fashion; those don’t tend to fly well in the traditional published scene. Even though poorly written heroes and villains have both been squeezing through.