Morally Gray Characters Versus Antiheroes ~ What are they? What is the difference? Why do we like them?
Morally Gray Characters are the intermediate between villain and hero, neither wholly good nor completely bad. According to the Urban Dictionary they are a character who does too much bad to be good, yet too much good to be bad, like Robin Hood or Iron Man.
Hmm, so a morally gray character could be someone who breaks the law to help those in need or someone who does bad things for the right reasons like maybe killing bad guys the law can’t or won’t touch? I’ve written a few characters like that, especially my character Phil Archer from The Leeward Files Series.
So what then is the difference between a morally gray character and an antihero?
An antihero is a central character who lacks conventional heroic qualities and attributes— Such as idealism, courage and morality.
When I was researching antiheroes, I found a long list of familiar characters, I’ve chosen some of my favorites: Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind, Dexter Morgan from Dexter, Hans Solo from Star Wars, Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, etc., Man with No Name, Catwoman, Wolverine, Deadpool, Snake Pissker from Escape New York, etc. and Harley Quinn.
An antihero might be a character you sometimes hate. As with Scarlett, there were times we just wanted to thump her between the eyes, but we still couldn’t help but root for her. Other characters like Hans and Jack Sparrow were often difficult to take seriously. Their selfishness and self-centeredness made them less than heroic, yet they were still likeable and came through heroically in the end. Still other antiheroes may react with over-the-top violence but only towards those who truly deserve it. They are redeemable by their acts of kindness, gentleness or honor towards those who are innocent or weaker and in need of a hero.
Morally gray characters have a moral code, it may not be exactly Captain America’s code of honor but there are certain lines they will not cross. Servius Snape of the Harry Potter series is a bad guy in many ways but even he has limits and lines he will not cross. He is willing to risk death to save Harry’s mother.
The modern Sherlocks of television and movies each have cavalier attitudes towards women and sex, drug addiction and even using people, but they are brilliant at solving crimes. They will employ any means necessary to solve a crime even doing something illegal, immoral or mean. This character tends to be narcissistic, believing they are not only the smartest person in the room but that their agenda is the only one that matters. Even as some of Sherlock Holmes’ traits make him less likeable, he finds redemption through a variety of techniques: their moral codes, their relationship with Dr Watson or other shows of weakness not evident to the casual observer.
In Blake Crouch’s Good Behavior, Letty Dobesh is a repeat offender. She has recently been released from prison for theft and is in the middle of a burglary when she overhears a murder plot. What can she do? How can she stop it? She can’t go to the police, but she cannot allow an innocent woman to be murdered.
In my Leeward Files Series, few of my characters truly embrace the conventional qualities of a hero. Phil Archer starts out as a socially inept, creepy stalker but his quick reaction saves Rae Lynne’s life in Chrome Pink. Through his actions might have been to save himself, in his misguided way he was trying to rescue the citizens of Leeward especially Rae Lynne and her friends. With each consecutive story Phil’s backstory is revealed and readers begin to understand the reasons why he does the things he does. While Phil can’t exactly be called a hero, he does have some heroic tendencies. He tries to protect children, even if his methods aren’t typical. He wants to see the bad guys pay for their crimes and he is willing to do whatever is necessary to make them pay.
Rae Lynne Grimes the cornerstone of my Leeward series more morally gray than antihero, she does have a code of honor but she is also a recovering addict, a rape survivor and many of her actions are self-centered because she is doing all she can just to survive.
For me, I believe morally gray characters and antiheroes are more interesting than traditional heroes. I still love my good guys, but I want them flawed and fighting their own demons.
As a reader, what type of characters do you like to read and if you are a writer, what are your favorite characters to write?