I recently read a post wherein people discuss the idea of characters needing to be “worthy” of happiness and/or love. In other words, some folks don’t want to read about people who don’t always walk the straight and narrow, or who have had to make some tough (possibly terrible?) choices. I feel uncomfortable with the notion that my characters have to be in some sense morally superior before I can permit them to enjoy any measure of contentment. To me, that feels judgmental. I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. Who then decides if I’m good enough to be loved or to be happy?
Jax is not a sweet person. She can be selfish. She can act impulsively and speak from a place of pain in order to hurt others. She screws up. For me, the best thing about her, however, is that she learns. She changes. She grows. But she will never be perfect. She will never be wholly selfless. Even when she acts to protect others, it’s not because she lacks the instinct to put herself first. She is simply ignoring that impulse, sometimes not without difficulty. I find that much more interesting than when a character seems to experience no inner conflict whatsoever. The perfect, worthy heroine saves kittens, volunteers in soup kitchens, gives blood, goes to church every Sunday, never swears, knits mittens for soldiers, and can paint and/or play a musical instrument. Oh, and small birds and rodents help her clean her house on the weekends. This person also bores me to death.
Obviously I don’t embrace the idea of the heroic ideal. I am interested in exploring the psyches of damaged and broken people. I love the antihero. I adore protagonists who have visited their own personal versions of hell and come out on the other side, perhaps twisted, but still here. The quintessential survivor is the archetype who speaks to me. If nothing more, Jax and Corine share that in common. They are both survivors. They each will do what it takes to live, even if it’s tough or ugly or if other people disapprove. It doesn’t matter; the alternative is unthinkable. And that is the core of their strength.
What archetypes speak to you? What characters do you find most attractive? Do they need to be “worthy” to hold your interest? I invite y’all to share some of your favorite antiheroes in comments. I’ll be back later to do the same.