Every Monday for the #MondayBlogs tag I try to talk about some technical aspect of writing. Today, I’m going to talk about the difference between villains and my favorite character archetype: the antihero.
It should be noted that these two terms are not synonymous with protagonist and antagonist, which are literary terms that don’t convey character morality. A protagonist is always the person at the center, the narrator, the POV character, the one whose story we’re reading about, be they good or bad. Likewise, the antagonist isn’t specifically good or bad, they simply create problems and try to block the protagonist from reaching their goal. In a story about a cop and a criminal, protagonist and antagonist are interchangeable depending on which one of them is telling the story.
But villains and antiheroes bring a tone and flavor to these two terms. Let’s see how they differ:
- An antihero is a protagonist who isn’t necessarily a ‘good’ person in the eyes of the law, society, or the basic standards of morality. Antiheroes are pretty popular in this day and age, that’s why we have so many TV shows and movies about mobsters, drug lords, jewel thieves, serial killers, outlaw bikers, and chemistry teachers turned meth makers. However, even if an antihero does bad things, they usually do it for some relatable or justifiable reason. Relatable in the sense that we get why they do it–most of us like money and power, after all, or would love to live a thrilling and dangerous life. Sometimes the antihero’s plight is justifiable–they’re being bad to protect their family or get out of some terrible situation, or trying to overcome their own nature. We may hate some of the things they do but we relate to their story and feel sympathy for them. Or, they might be doing bad things but are actually a good person caught up in something they can’t control. Being a romance author, I hesitate to lump the ‘sexy bad boy’ character in with antiheroes, because they don’t always fall along those lines. However, the antihero is usually my favorite character in any genre, as I think they’re much more interesting and realistic than a downright good guy.
- Villains are an antagonist focused on doing bad, or causing pain and strife, and are oftentimes irredeemable. Not that a villain can’t be relatable or sympathetic–in fact, some of the best, and scariest, villains are the ones we can understand, probably because we hate to see something about ourselves reflected in someone terrible and it makes us uncomfortable. While many villains have their reasons, they cross the lines of morality too far and do things for reasons we can’t so readily excuse as we do with antiheroes. They’re usually much more self-serving and twisted in some way, and their methods of achieving their goals are ruthless. They present a strong force that the protagonist has to overcome. Villains can exist on a huge spectrum depending on the genre, from villains who are evil for the sake of evil, to mentally disturbed people, to people out for revenge or carrying out a sadistic vendetta.
Antiheroes and villains add rich differences and facets to a story. Sometimes the line between good and bad is blurred, on both sides of the equation. This allows for a deeper and more layered sort of storytelling, I feel. After all, real life is rarely black and white, and everyone has their reasons for what they do.
Who are some of your favorite villains and antiheroes?