In the eternal fight of good vs. evil, the rules are simple and well-known.
Evil Forces of Darkness want to take over the world, bring total annihilation, destroy humanity, enslave everybody, murder our children, and rape our women. Awesome. Evil.
Heroes of the Light can do no wrong, they save puppies and Christmas, they walk into a fight outnumbered, run into a burning house to rescue a girl, follow the rules, repay debts, fight for what they believe in, give up their lives for the “greater good.” Stupid. Brave.
The tale of a hero who goes on a quest to save the kingdom or the world (depending how ambitious he or she is), is a classic. However, I always felt that a story like that offers very little in terms of conflict and character development, mostly because heroes are predictable. You always know what they’ll do, because the only thing they can do is to do the right thing.
So after I finished yet another novel where the protagonist saved the world because someone asked him to and because it was The Right Thing To Do, I started to think that the fantasy genre (it was back in the days when I worshiped at the altar of Fantasy and hadn’t yet discovered futuristic dystopias) had nothing more to offer me. I was ready to divorce my favorite genre because it was starting to be… boring. And then came a revelation. I came across a story where the main character was saving the world because it was supposed to end on Monday, and on Wednesday there was a big Manchester United game he had his money on (that’s British soccer team that apparently rocks. I’m more of a FC Barcelona girl myself). The world could end for all he cared, as long as it ended on Thursday.
To be honest, the story wasn’t all that great. It did, however, introduce me to my very first antihero. I fell in love with the concept immediately. The idea that the main character could be fighting the evil warlock not because it was the right thing to do, but because the evil warlock didn’t pay him for kidnapping the princess, turned out to be highly addictive. And judging from the boom that happened not so long ago, I’m not the only one addicted to the concept.
It begs the question, why are antiheroes so popular? Not only with readers but with writers as well.
I know why I love antiheroes as a reader. They are deliciously unpredictable, very little rules apply to them and it seems that they will do as they please, no matter the consequences.
For the writer in me, the reasons to love antiheroes are slightly different. Antiheroes are deeply flawed, even more so than your regular Savior of the Mankind (trademark belongs to John Connor, thank you very much), and flaws are what makes characters interesting to work with. Thieves and murderers and mercenaries go about things in a completely different ways than knights in shining armor. For one, they have no qualms about torturing people to get important information. And there’s the act of actually killing the bad guy at the end of the novel to make sure he doesn’t come back to bite their collective ass (redemption is overrated anyway, isn’t it?).
On the other hand, writing antiheroes is more challenging (at least for me). The usual arguments don’t work on them. They don’t care about doing the right thing (or they do, but they are pretending otherwise), the money they are being paid will only motivate them till they reach a certain point of the journey, not to mention the fact that getting them to actually start the journey might need some amazing negotiations.
But once they get on the right track, the potential they have is unbelievable. The character growth (which I consider one of the key points when developing the plot), the relationships they can (and if played nicely, will) develop, the inner conflicts… All of that makes my inner writer bounce up and down with excitement.
And the possibilities don’t stop there. After all, I can make my character a complete antihero, making everything about him scream ‘bad guy’ and forcing the reader to wonder what his agenda is, because he can’t be helping from the goodness of his heart (what with readers wondering whether he has a heart at all). But I can also take one or two unpleasant flaws, tweak the personality just a bit to make him kill the puppy instead of saving it. Make him mean and cruel and sarcastic, but capable of seeing what has to be done. When deciding what my antihero should be like, I’m like a kid in a candy shop.
And now it’s your turn to tell me I’m not the only one in love with antiheroes. I’m not, right?