by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
If you look around the internet, you can find a variety of definitions for 'antihero' or 'antiheroine,' some of which are rather involved. For simplicity's sake, I'll go with the one from Webster's Eleventh: "a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities." There. That sounds like a good person to hang out with, doesn't it?
Hanging out with characters in books - for some readers, that's what it's all about. You'll hear certain readers say, upon occasion, "I couldn't stand X book because I hated the main character." Just like some readers don't like books written in first person or don't like books written in present tense - or the opposites of those things, or any number of variables - there are readers for whom, unless the protagonist is someone they can cozy up to, someone they'd want to be friends with or even emulate, all is lost. It's valid. Hey, it's important for people to know what they want in books and there are times when the lack of likability in a main character is problematic for even those of us who don't mind or even embrace unheroic characters; some stories, after all, depend on reader sympathy to work.
Of course, if we made likability the sole criteria for protagonists and their books' worth, some pretty notable characters would need to be thrown out, Scarlett O'Hara and Ebenezer Scrooge among them - the former is a self-absorbed witch-with-a-B, while the latter is the Grinch in a top hat.
But for those of us who like variety, in our reading and our writing, thankfully there are those who embrace the antiheroic.
I've written more than my share of problematic characters in my time and none more so than Jane Taylor from my debut novel, THE THIN PINK LINE. At the beginning of the novel, Jane thinks she's pregnant. When she experiences positive reinforcement for this from others, and when her live-in boyfriend doesn't seem too bothered, she's thrilled. So when it turns out she's not pregnant, not wanting to lose the feelings she's found, she figures she'll just get pregnant...quickly. And when that doesn't happen in time, and for one reason and another, she decides to, oh, you know, fake an entire pregnancy.
OK, I admit it: Jane is spectacularly antiheroic. In fact, she's the most self-absorbed, misguided, borderline-sociopathic character I've ever created.
And yet, for some - by no means all! - readers, she works. Yes, for those who insist on likability, she's never going to work, despite some authorial sleight of hand: 1) shifting the mirrors, so that her family's even worse than she is and her coworkers aren't much better; 2) investing her with a best friend who readers do love and who loves Jane unconditionally, despite that he's the only one who sees all her warts clearly, knowing her better than she even knows herself.
I didn't create Jane Taylor so that people would want her to move next door to them. I didn't create her so she'd give readers a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. And I certainly didn't create her so that anyone would try to emulate her by trying on a fake pregnancy of their own. I created Jane Taylor because I thought she was interesting, also because I thought it would be fascinating for me to see just how she manages to pull off - if she manages to pull off! - the insane task she's set herself.
Because that's the thing, isn't it? For those of us who don't mind problematic protagonists? Sure, it's nice if some protagonists are heroic. But not everyone has to be a role model. In the end, as a reader, I simply want characters who are interesting. I simply don't want to be bored.
If you want to check out just how crazy Jane is, so you can judge for yourself, for the next 24-hours-ish, THE THIN PINK LINE is just 99 cents!
So, how about you? Who's your favorite antihero/heroine?
Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of over 30 books for adults, teens and children. Visit her at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBaratzL