I read and liked this post from Ana Franco’s blog about the appeal of anti-heroes a while ago. It gives plenty of definitions of anti-hero right at the beginning, so if you want all of them; go read that. 🙂
I’m sticking with this one, from good ol’ Wikipedia, for the purpose of this here post.
An antihero or antiheroine is a leading character in a story who, unlike a traditional hero, lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, and morality.
I mentioned a while back that in the comments of my story’s Under The Microscope segment someone referred to my narrator as an anti-hero and that made my day, because nothing in that segment of story indicated heroics of any kind in my opinion, only that Ali was determined to care for her sister and eventually she became an assassin. One could argue that it was heroic of her to take care of her sister, I suppose. Even though to me caring for Eleanor is her selfish motivation and not the heroic act (that comes later), it’s not an incorrect assumption to make.
In Ana’s post she points out Draco Malfoy as one such anti-hero. Malfoy was a reluctant villain. He was in over his head and eventually he realized that. There was nothing even slightly heroic in that the way I see it.
A lot of posts I’ve read have pointed out charismatic villains as anti-heroes. To me the difference is in the character’s actions. To me an anti-hero has to commit heroic acts, either reluctantly or unwillingly, for his own selfish motives. They’re usually characters who care even though they don’t want to. A hero works for the greater good while an antihero may favor the greater good, but works only for himself. For profit, revenge, redemption… Some form of personal gain. And a villain is a character who works to cause harm to others without care or remorse. The villain’s motives may have been initially noble, his or her convictions may be sound, but the villainy is in the character’s choices and actions and how they impact on others.
The Joker or Hannibal Lecter for instance; they are interesting and charismatic, but they are not anti-heroes. They’re villains. I love The Joker, but I don’t root for him. Nor do I root for Hannibal Lecter.
Take Snape, from the Harry Potter series now; he save’s Harry’s life repeatedly, protects him, and he does so not for Harry himself, but due to his feeling for Harry’s mother, because of the guilt he felt for causing her death. Those were his selfish motives, the ones he truly sacrificed for.
Looking at my book characters, Ali would be an anti-heroine, while Eric would be leaning more towards a heroic figure (he’s literally a knight in shining armor, what did you expect? lol).
That’s how I believe these categories should work.
So here’s what I’d like answered by any fellow writers out there if they wouldn’t mind weighing in on this:
a) Does being the protagonist in a story automatically make your character the hero despite not doing anything considered to be heroic? Everyone automatically calls a protagonist the ‘hero of the story’ nowadays, but what if the main character leans more towards the villainous side of the spectrum? Can’t there ever be a villain protagonist then? The terminology is confusing!
b) What really constitutes a hero nowadays when even superman who was the ultimate boy-scout has been given a much more ‘human’ and flawed portrayal in the Man of Steel movie? Is a hero still the character who can do no wrong? Are there no true heroes anymore, only anti-heroes? These questions… They need answers!
Needles to say, all the labeling is confusing to me. It has always been. That’s why the only thing I truly like to think of my characters as is ‘human’. Human is a label that contains all the others and then some. It’s much simpler to just go with that.