This is part 4 in a series called The Epic Guide to Character Creation. In this part I will show you different antihero archetypes. I will provide examples of characters from both literature and movies/TV-series to provide you with an overall understanding of fictional characters. Let’s get started:
Who is the Antihero?
The antihero is a protagonist just like the hero and heroine are. The difference that sets the antihero apart is that he/she lacks the conventional traits of a traditional hero/heroine. The antihero tends to lack traits like morality and nobility and are often a darker and more controversial character.
You could say that the antihero is a more realistic character (compared to traditional hero/heroines) because of their mix of darkness and light. All of us have darkness and light within, and the antihero’s darker side may connect to some readers on a personal level (and that forms a connection between the character and those readers).
Even though the antihero has darker traits, these attributes may be balanced with attributes that are identifiable with all of us. These traits may include insecurities, confusion, fears, self-hatred, etc.
Because of the darker and more controversial characteristics of the antihero, this character tends to be a social outcast. The reason why an antihero is in the same category as heroes and heroines is because the antihero also fight against the story’s antagonist.
Categorizing the Antihero
If you want to know more about the categories that follow, you can read the first post in this Epic Guide to Character Creation-series: The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 1: Categorizing Your Characters
Dynamic or Static, Round or Flat? You should craft a dynamic antihero because the reader is looking to experience the protagonist’s emotional journey (even though it may be a darker one with an antihero than a traditional hero/heroine). Your antihero’s development is important if you want to craft an engaging story.
Your antihero should also be a round character because — like with heroes and heroines — the reader will spend a lot of time with the antihero. You also need your reader to know the protagonist well in order to connect with the character.
Black, White or Grey? Your antihero should be a grey character. Antiheroes usually cross over the live between good and evil. They often fight for the good side while their actions are a lot darker than that.
Your antihero may be cynical, greedy, rude, even brutally ruthless, but, at the end of all things, their actions will ultimately place them on the good side fighting against evil.
Some famous antiheroes in literature and movies/TV-series are:
- Michael Corleone in The Godfather
- Olivia Pope in Scandal
- Dexter Morgan in Dexter
- Black Widow in The Avengers
- Han Solo in Star Wars
- Arya Stark in A Song of Ice and Fire
- Tyrion Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire
- Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo
- Severus Snape in Harry Potter
Common Antihero Archetypes
It’s not easy to create a connection between your antihero and your reader because antiheroes tend to be unworthy of the reader’s admiration. There are, however, a couple of antihero archetypes that readers tend to enjoy. Those archetypes are:
- The Fighter
- The Leader
- The Sociopath
Descriptions of the Antihero Archetypes
Here are a few notes on what signifies the different antihero archetypes.
This antihero archetype should be clever, intelligent, and skilled. The fighter should never back down from a fight.
Think about how Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium Trilogy is crafted. She is an outcast (a common trait of antiheroes), asocial, and violent. However, she is also a very skilled computer hacker, has an eidetic memory, and is working with journalist Mikael Blomkvist to uncover and expose evil (like murderers and sex-trafficking).
This antihero archetype cheat, lie, and kill to protect even though they do not like to do these things. The leader often makes immoral decisions for a good cause. His/her dislike of the things he/she must do to protect innocent people is why readers tend to understand the actions that this type of antihero makes.
An example here is Michael Corleone in The Godfather. In the first movie, he doesn’t want to get involved with the family business because he wants to live an honest life. He also fought for the United States in World War II, and we believe he is a great and admirable man. However, after his father is badly wounded in an assassination attempt, Michael does get involved in the family business after reaffirming his family loyalty to his father. The actions he make after this are based in the need to protect his family. His love for his family, and because we know he is a great and admirable man, is why we can understand his actions.
An antihero in this antihero archetype works for the good side but doesn’t really have any good intentions. Emotions like love and loyalty doesn’t motivate this type of antihero, instead he/she fight evil because that position is easiest, most convenient or profitable.
The sociopath is an antihero that’s tricky to craft when it comes to getting your reader to care about him/her. However, you can soften the darkness of his/her character by (for example) making them comical or making the antagonist even darker.
A great example to this archetype is Dexter Morgan from Dexter (both novels and TV-series). One of the reasons we want this serial killer to succeed with his goals is because he only targets murderers. Even though his actions are against the law, he works for a ”greater good” by killing murderers.
How to Choose an Antihero
Choosing your protagonist is one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make in the process of crafting your story. However, there are some guidelines that may help you along the way.
It’s obvious that the first guideline is to have a protagonist that the reader can connect with. This is crucial if you want to draw the reader into your story and have him/her finish it.
This is a bit trickier when it comes to an antihero than heroes and heroines, as explained above. The balancing act between light and dark is much more evident with an antihero, especially when it comes to his/her actions. Just make sure that your antihero’s goal is to fight the antagonist (again, I refer to the character Dexter Morgan).
It’s also helpful to have your ideal reader in mind when choosing your protagonist. Your ideal reader is the person who will most likely read your story. This ideal person could be based on gender, age, interests, what beliefs he/she have, etc.
With this ideal reader in mind, what type of character would he/she connect with? What type of character would he/she find intriguing? Should the protagonist have the same beliefs or interests as the ideal reader? Should the protagonist be about the same age and be of the same gender as the reader? All of these things can help you craft a protagonist that your ideal reader will connect with.
It is important that your protagonist take action and advance the plot of your story. Don’t let your antihero sit at home and wait for things to happen to him/her, make him/her the driving force.
Your protagonist should face conflict throughout the story, so you need to craft a strong and independent antihero in order for him/her to pose as a viable threat to your antagonist. You need to craft a protagonist that can stand up to your antagonist’s actions.
Next week I’ll post about antagonist archetypes. If you’re interested, make sure to come back here next Tuesday. Until then, have a great week.