Antiheroines have been on my mind a lot the last few weeks. Because Nia, the protagonist of my new release RAIN, is one.
And she is not an antihero in the vein of Adem (MUD), where he tries his earnest best, and he simply can’t seem to get it right.
Nia is bad. She starts out lonely and sad at the beginning of RAIN, but in her fight to protect herself from these things, she gets downright devious and selfish.
My editor even warned me: You are aware of how terrible Nia is, right? You did this on purpose? Just checking.
Did I do this on purpose?
Um, kind of?
As I wrote her, I was well aware of how terrible Nia was becoming. And I kept writing her that way anyway.
But … well. I am not one to blame my character for what I write about them—after all in my story world, all is whatever I say it is. But let’s just say that as the plot developed, terrible was the only appropriate direction for Nia’s character to go.
And while I stand by the story that is RAIN, I was nervous about releasing Nia to the world. In particular, I was nervous about making Nia my first impression to readers by giving her away to my newbies for free.
If people found this particularly unlikeable character, erm, unlikeable, would they find the novella as a whole unlikeable? Would they find me as an author unlikeable, or worse, unreadable?
Personally, I adore an antihero. I think Amazing Amy from Gone Girl is badass and important. I think Annie from Family Fang is a glorious, beautiful mess. Characters like Katniss, who start out innocent and clean but end up grim and terribly broken—that resonates for me.
(What does this say about me? I do not know.)
But our society does not do well—yet—with women who don’t stay in their tidy little boxes. We find them cute as children (Eloise, Ramona, Matilda) but when girls grow up, we expect them to put on a nice dress, cross their legs, and straighten the heck out.
Even though Amazing Amy was the villain in Gone Girl, and even though Nick was also unlikeable, readers criticized the book for Amy’s unlikeability. Other female antiheroes have gotten similar backlash.
Put otherwise: While male characters are expected only to be interesting, people want to be friends with female characters. (And I would not recommend being friends with Nia, even before her descent.)
But the antiheroine is important. The antiheroine is messy. The antiheroine pushes back on society’s expectations. Perhaps most important, the antiheroine is true.
It is scary, as an author, to put an antiheroine out the world. But, I think they’re important. Necessary, even. Not just because they challenge societal bounds put on women, but because it is honest about the human condition.
And as authors, if we’re not doing that, then what the hell are we doing?
Some great articles about the importance of antiheroines:
- In Praise of the Antiheroine, BookRiot
- Readers Love a Good Anti-hero—So Why Do They Shun Anti-heroines?, The Guardian
- In Defense of Unlikeable Women, Bitch Media
- Not Here to Make Friends, BuzzFeed
- The Problem Isn’t Unlikeable Female Characters, It’s Uninteresting Female Characters, Brooklyn Magazine
What do you think about antiheroines? Who are your favorites?