What is an Antihero — And Why Are They So Compelling?

WHAT MAKES AN ANTIHERO Traditionally, heroes are good, and villains are bad. But somewhere in the middle lay antiheroes — morally ambiguous characters that have only grown in popularity. But what makes an antihero so compelling? In this video, we will explain the murky antihero definition, explore some of the most iconic examples of antiheroes, and provide considerations for anyone interested in writing antiheroes. WHAT IS AN ANTIHERO Most people agree that an antihero is the main character in a story who simply lacks the qualities of a traditional hero. But, beyond that, the antihero definition is not set in stone. The boundaries that qualify this character type are subjective because they are based on our own sense of morality. In fact, we consider the antihero definition to be more of a spectrum, and where each character lands on that spectrum is a combination of our understanding (or sympathy) for them and how much we approve of their actions. The bad things an antihero does might seem justifiable for one person and inexcusable for another. The further toward “disapproval” a character goes, the closer they get to being labeled a “villain protagonist,” another category built on subjectivity. WRITING ANTIHEROES It should go without saying that writing antiheroes can be tricky. Unlike the well-established boundaries for what makes a hero and what makes a villain, writing antiheroes is a bit like walking a tightrope. Making them too sympathetic reduces their complexity, but making them not sympathetic enough might alienate the audience from engaging with them. But there are considerations to keep in mind when writing antiheroes. The first is to give them a backstory or present actions that explain how this character has become who they are. The audience needs to understand or relate to these characters on some level. Another related technique that will help engage the audience with the character is using voiceover. Hearing the thoughts and feelings of the character is a common way to build rapport. Furthermore, it helps to give the character an internal conflict. This allows room to change or grow, but it also reminds us of our own moral quandaries. On the flip side, charisma is a great way to counteract any nastiness of the antihero. Likewise, the piece’s tone is also a way to soften the harshness of these characters and their actions. And finally, if the character’s actions and behaviors are tied to the overall theme, it helps the audience understand their purpose. The complexity and ambiguity of the antihero are perhaps what makes them such compelling characters. Hopefully, with these examples and techniques, you can navigate these morally ambiguous characters just as effectively.

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