Heroes, Villains, And Anti-Heroes: An Introduction

Characters are the most important part of storytelling. Join me as I explore the 3 most popular character types in fiction: Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes.

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What’s the most important part of a story? This very question has been the subject of many research papers, textbooks, essays, and academic journals for quite a long time—all written by people much more qualified than I. Still, I cannot help but be enamored by the subject, and as a result, I have much to say about it.

In order to answer this question, we must first examine the parts of the story. There’s setting, theme, writing style—even something as basic, yet integral, as plot. But if you asked me, I’d say character. For it is through them that we experience everything. Characters’ thoughts, words, relationships, worldviews, and more are what inform every narrative that is ever told.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten for writing is the following:

“The best stories are told by making two characters with opposing viewpoints, and giving them the same goal.”
In other words, it is the conflict between characters, and how these conflicts are resolved, that make for the most engaging and compelling stories. And so it would follow that these characters should be interesting, yes?

I’m sure you are wondering where I’m going with this. Well, as the title indicates I aim to talk about three of the most popular character types of our current era, but have also stood the test of time: Heroes, Villains, and Anti-Heroes. However, seeing as all three could be decoded and fleshed out at length, I have decided to give each of them their own article.

Over the course of the next few weeks, each of these character types will be explored in-depth. I will explain what each of them means, the typical ways they are used, give examples of them, and finally explore what each of them means to me personally—as a reader and writer. I may even take characters who represent their respective types and compare them to one another to see which of them does their role more effectively.

In the end, while this will be an extended analysis of character writing it will also be a celebration of it. Characters are quite literally the heart and soul of a story; without them (or rather, without good ones) we wouldn’t have any emotional engagement, let alone amusement, whilst reading. It is my goal for these analyses of what are often the most important characters to hopefully give you more appreciation for them in the long run. Stay tuned for the first article, which will explore the iconic and often re-invented archetype of the Hero.