We sometimes think of heroic characters as very “squeaky clean” types. They slay dragons, they hold the door for strangers, they give up their seats on the bus to needy folks, and they rescue baby animals from all kinds of predicaments. Except when they don’t.
The antihero does the hero’s job, narratively speaking: he or she is integral to solving the story’s problem, he or she is in conflict with the villain, and if it’s a romance, he or she will probably be part of it. However, an antihero goes about these tasks with a very different moral attitude than a traditional hero. Antiheroes, by definition, have some characteristics that make them seem unsuitable for or undeserving of the hero’s part.
Greed, lust, a short temper, long-held grudges, and a tendency to party hard are just some of the features we can find in an antihero. They’re not just a hero with a flaw – they are deeply flawed or troubled characters who may even come across as villainous in the first part of the story. However, writers should be careful not to add too much grit when they’re creating an antihero. The contest to see who could create the darkest, edgiest, meanest antihero ended in the 1990s, and readers are more likely to be bored than entertained by characters who are defined entirely by their roughness.
A large part of the appeal of antiheroes comes from their potential for deep, complex development as people over the course of the narrative. They almost never lose the characteristics that made them ‘un-heroic,’ but they generally develop improved strategies for coping with their world and maintaining the relationships that are most important to them. While your antiheroes definitely need to have their share of faults and rough patches, they also need to have the capacity to learn and grow as people.