Xlibris Publishing returns with tips for understanding and writing the Antihero.
Another factor that distinguishes between a traditional hero and an antihero is the methods used. In an inverse of the above Robin Hood- Motives example, two characters can have similar if not the same motivations. What differentiates the hero and antihero are the methods they are willing to implement in service to that motivation. In this section we will look at parallel examples of Batman and the Punisher, of DC and Marvel Comics respectively:
Batman’s family is killed before his eyes, that pain and loss drive him to fight and prevent crime. But while his demeanor is dark, and his use of fear ethically questionable, Batman goes to great lengths to not kill even the worst villains he confronts. The Punisher’s family was also killed, similarly scarring him with pain and loss. He too is thus driven to fight crime. But unlike Batman, the Punisher shows no restraint, freely using anything and everything, from his fists to rocket launchers to kill any criminals he catches in his path. This firmly designates Batman as a hero, and the Punisher as an antihero.
In other examples, antiheroes have been known to lie, cheat, steal, betray, and even murder in pursuit of their goals, whether selfish or selfless. This is especially the case with the Trickster characters of various myths and folktales, such as Coyote, Raven, and Loki (pre-Ragnarok).
Perhaps the oldest factor that determined a character to be an antihero was the qualities they possessed or did not possess.
This factor is most dependent on context and the contemporary culture. A character regarded as a ‘sexual deviant’ in the 1800s would be perfectly normal in 2018, and thus seen as an antihero primarily in the context of 1800 Western European norms. Other qualities may be contextual to the story, such as a poor or mediocre fighter in a setting dominated by martial skill or an untalented magician in a city where social standing and advancement depends entirely on magical ability.
More universal qualities would be: selfishness, apathy, laziness, antisocial, cowardly, meek, judgmental, and other such characteristics that would normally make someone with these traits an unlikely candidate to be the hero or protagonist.
Another key element that identifies the antihero are relationships, what relationships they have, and how they handle them.
While it is fairly common for antihero characters to regularly interact with people, at times very positively, it is rare for an antihero character to have more than a few if any close friends or confidants. The tendency for many antihero characters is to have few relationships that are not unhealthy, based solely on mutual self-interests, and lacking in trust. Even the few relationships with close friends or family (especially family) can be wracked with doubt and issues.
This trend of relationships is in large part due to the antihero characters themselves, as individuals with their motivations and methods result in, or are the result of a lack of healthy relationships with others. While it is certainly possible for antihero characters to be written with a number of close friends and family they like, love, and trust, there should still be an element of doubt, often self-doubt, as to whether the antihero feels they deserve such positive relationships. Even the most amicable of antihero characters, with many legitimately positive relationships, will tend to have issues or circumstances that prevent or conflict with having emotional intimacy.
Xlibris will conclude Writing the Antihero in Part 3.
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By Ian Smith