What is an antihero? – Literary Terms 101

Antihero: “A central character, or protagonist, who lacks traditional heroic qualities and virtues (such as idealism, courage, and steadfastness). An antihero may be comic, antisocial, inept, or even pathetic, while retaining the sympathy of the reader. Antiheroes are typically in conflict with a world they cannot control or whose values they reject,” – The NTC’s Dictionary of Literary Terms

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My Take on The Antihero

Honestly, this is my favorite type of character. They fall under other archetypes like tricksters, desperados, lone wolf, and the like. Ostracized, brooding, angsty, mischievous, chaotic, and neutral only when they want to be. These characters are near and dear to my heart probably because I’m the antihero of my own life. As I write my novel, I have several characters that fit this mold. I just love them.

I think what’s most important about this definition is the very last sentence: “Antiheroes are typically in conflict with a world they cannot control or whose values they reject.” The most prominent attribute of the antihero is conflict. This comes from their ambiguous alignment (not always lawful, chaotic, good, or evil), their “many shades of gray” point of view, and their autonomy. They conflict with many elements of the story because of their independence and resourcefulness. It’s them against the world, no matter if they have a few allies or not. Although these traits can be admirable, there is a lot of stress that comes with it, which is probably why they gain sympathy from the audience. Freedom isn’t free and you always have to watch your back. Antihero’s often come off as hardened, distant, or mistrusting. The conflicting circumstances they run into simultaneously reinforce the skills they have sharpened from their independent nature and challenge the morale they have for their lifestyle with ethical questions. I love watching a character who does their best to be neutral struggle with their ethics because it really is relatable; it’s how you establish your own personal philosophy.

Have you designed an antihero before, fellow writers? Do you favor this archetype more than others?

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