Are Antagonists Also Anti-Heroes?

The other day a person whom I admire posed an interesting question to me? What is the difference between an antagonist and an antihero?

I have to admit that I paused a good while to consider my answer before spouting something rather lame—suggesting correctly that I needed to refresh my memory that there was even ANY difference between the two types of characters. I will use the word “hero” here generically, obviously referencing either a male hero or a female heroine. In this day and age of equality, actors and heroes are either male or female.

Fiction stories with clear protagonists and antagonists are simple to Antagonistfollow and keep readers grounded as to which side each is on. The protagonist is the hero, the main character, the advocate or champion of a particular cause or ideal. The antagonist is the villain, the adversarial character to the hero, the one who actively opposes or is hostile to the hero and his or her cause.

But for thousands of years, dramas have never been that simple—even inGreek Drama Ancient Greece, simple was boring! Characters were and are complex with good and bad traits, and it’s that complexity of character and personality that draws the reader, or draws in the viewer in the case of television or film, into the story to connect with the characters.

Enter the Antihero!! This individual is often described as one whose ideals are contrary to the protagonist. However, that also is the basic definition of an antagonist. So what makes one character an antagonist (the villain) and another an antihero, often a leading character who gains considerable sympathy and admiration from the reader or viewer?

Consider this! The villain or antagonist is always in opposition to the protagonist. This character actively opposes or is hostile to the hero, although the antagonist may not necessarily be mean or a bad person.

The antihero, on the other hand, can be initially antagonistic but who evolves over time to be a protagonist. The antihero may have ideals contrary to the protagonist, but ultimately gives in to the goals and desires of the hero. Antiheroes go through mental, and maybe spiritual, conflicts within themselves and this fatal flaw impacts the decisions they make. Often the antihero teams up with the protagonist, not at all costs, but possibly to get some personal reward—doing the right thing for personal reasons rather than for the greater good.

AntiheroExamples of antiheroes would include Wolverine from the X-Men, Walter White from Breaking Bad, Conan the Barbarian, and Severus Snape from Harry Potter. All of these characters differ from an antagonist because they are notable figures conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities but who ultimately decide to do the right thing. An antagonist (the villain) never decides to do the right thing and is usually (hopefully) defeated by the end of the story.

The antagonist is often the most disliked character in the story—the fly inConflicted Character the ointment, so to speak—but the antihero is the character that elicits sympathy and admiration from readers and viewers because they connect with antiheroes on a more personal level since antiheroes are conflicted characters with tragic flaws, as most of us are in real life from time to time.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

About James J. Murray, Fiction Writer

With experience in both pharmaceutical manufacturing and clinical patient management, medications and their impact on one’s quality of life have been my expertise. My secret passion of murder and mayhem, however, is a whole other matter. I’ve always loved reading murder mysteries and thrillers, and longed to weave such tales of my own. Drawing on my clinical expertise as a pharmacist and my infatuation with the lethal effects of drugs, my tales of murder, mayhem and medicine will have you looking over your shoulder and suspicious of anything in your medicine cabinet.
This entry was posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, About James J. Murray, Accuracy in Writing, Achieving Writing Perfection, All About Writing, An Antagonist vs The Antihero, Antagonist Development, Better Fiction Writing, Better Fictional Character Development, Blog Writers, Blogging, Character development, Character Development Techniques, Character Driven Writing, Characteristics of a Fictional Character, Creating Interesting Fiction Characters, Creating Unique and Interesting Character Flaws, Deciding What Types of Fictional Characters Fit Into Your Plot, Defining The Use of Antagonists vs Antiheroes, Designing Murder Plots, Developing a Writing Career, Developing Better Writing Skills, Developing Effective and Compelling Fictional Heroes, Developing Story Plots, Developing Storyline Ideas, Developing Writing Skills, Elements of Fictional Characters, Fictional Character Development, James J. Murray Blog, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, Plot Development, Plot Ideas and Where They Come From, Prescription For Murder Blog, Protagonist Development, The Writings of James J. Murray, Tools of Fiction Writing, Types of Fictional Characters, Villains vs Antiheroes, Writing Skills and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Are Antagonists Also Anti-Heroes?

  1. Hey, thanks for this, James. Didn’t understand the difference until now.

  2. One of the wonderful things about modern life => I learn something new every day. When I can share some of that new-found knowledge, all the better.

  3. ggiammatteo says:

    Jim, great article, and as I’ve said before, great site. I have a question. In my work in progress, I need to have a ‘friend’ knocked unconscious to the point that she wouldn’t wake when gunshots were fired. It would be important that the ‘drug’ be administered in her wine, or through mixing with food, etc. It would also be great if it were a common prescription, or otherwise explainable, drug that the cops would not automatically suspect was ‘slipped’ to her.

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