From an analysis standpoint, I'm trying to determine what classification the antagonist and protagonist in my story would fall under in terms of the classic literary labels of "hero," "villain," "antihero," and "antivillain" (or whether they fall under something else entirely).

In my story, the primary antagonist is a Nobel Laureate scientist who wants to effect a massive change on humanity. He has decided what he thinks is the ideal state for the human race and he will stop at nothing to bring his vision to fruition. The protagonist has decided that the scientist is an insane terrorist, and likewise will stop at nothing to prevent him from achieving his goals.

However, even so, the antagonist takes great pains to avoid killing, while the protagonist has no problem killing any of the many minions opposing him in the scientist's "terrorist organization."

This is because of the protagonist's convictions that the scientist is an insane terrorist, and because the scientist has, despite mostly avoiding violence, committed what could easily be considered a violent act on the protagonist by using him as an unwilling guinea pig for testing out the changes he wants to make to humanity.

The protagonist is a charismatic warrior with a strong sense of justice, while the scientist is a cold and calculating pragmatic thinker with an occasional flair for the dramatic.

Ultimately, the protagonist fails, and the scientist succeeds in his plans and causes the massive change in humanity he wanted.

However, it turns out the scientist's changes to the human race actually are for the better, and despite having them forced upon them, the people ultimately come to accept the changes as beneficial.

For his part, the protagonist was so busy trying to stop the scientist from doing to others what was done to him that he never stopped to think about whether or not what was done to him was a good thing in the first place. He finds himself conflicted and "on the wrong side of history" as the people turn against him and demand that he end his crusade against the scientist.

My question is thus: In this scenario, how would one classify both the protagonist warrior and antagonist scientist?

Is the scientist a villain, since his motives are clearly impure an he is "evil" in a classical sense, or is he an antivillain, or even an antihero, as the world is made a better place through his actions, regardless of his means and motives?

Similarly, is the warrior a hero, since he clearly has "pure" motives of justice and "good" by "killing the bad guys," is he an antihero due to his greater willingness to kill, or is he a antivillain because, despite being classically "good," he is ultimately working against the benefit of humanity?

  • 3
    Hi Stix, and welcome to Writing. Questions asking what to write are off topic here, and while this isn't exactly that, it feels pretty close. You might have better luck getting this answered if you refocus the question on what the requirements are for the villain, antivillain, hero and antihero labels, and only use your own setting and story as an example where you're having difficulty applying those. Putting your actual question on top, and then adjusting the remainder as necessary to go along with that, should be a decent start toward that goal.
    – user
    Jul 27, 2019 at 7:25
  • 2
    I didn't say that this was a "what to write" question; I specifically said that "while this isn't exactly that, it feels pretty close". It does because you spend a lot of time describing your characters, then ask in that scenario what label to use to describe those specific characters. Obviously you don't have to change anything; I'm just suggesting how to reduce the likelihood of your question being closed as off topic while still getting answers that should be helpful to you.
    – user
    Jul 27, 2019 at 16:39
  • 1
    Would this fit the literature.SE? I don't think so, as the story doesn't exist yet for others to analyze. I don't think it's a "what do I write" or asking for critique, so I see it DOES fit here best. Perhaps to make it more a "useful reference Q" for the future, the asker could edit it more to be like "what's the boundary between antihero/antivillain, and how does that affect the story? Or How do you handle/how have others handled a "mad scientist" protag so he's not as evil as he first seems, without making it look like a heel/face turn? (It may also be worth ... Jul 29, 2019 at 14:52
  • 1
    ... going to literature.SE and ScienceFiction.SE to ask for examples of antihero/antivillain science characters (and the rest) and what made them effective/believable/etc. TVTropes may also have some useful examples, but I must give the standard warning - tvtropes can eat your soul. (Lots of links to follow, and everything you can think of IS a trope, but that's not a bad thing.) Ultimately, I think this question still belongs here better than elsewhere, imho. Jul 29, 2019 at 14:54
  • 2
    @aCVn I don't see how this is in any way a "what to write" question. The story is written and they are having trouble analyzing and revising their work. That is absolutely on topic. Stix, perhaps if you include why you want to figure this out people would be more easily able to help. How does knowing the literary archetype for your characters help you as a writer?
    – linksassin
    Jul 30, 2019 at 2:22

4 Answers 4


I'd call the hero an anti-hero, and the villain an anti-villain.

The quick definition you get of anti-hero when you google it states that it's "a protagonist that ultimately aims for good but lacks some or most conventional hero qualities". Your hero labeling everyone helping the villain as a "terrorist" and having no qualms about killing them, even if they are pretty heroic in every other way, makes them an anti-hero. Valuing human life of all forms is one of the main structures of a hero, after all - that's what makes Deadpool an anti-hero and Iron Man, despite his similarly arrogant qualities and wrong decisions, an hero.

Your actual question as to whether your villain is an anti-villain is actually way simpler. Another quick internet search concludes the anti-villain definition as, essentially, "a villain who thinks they are on the good side, doing noble things". And from what you've described, your villain sounds exactly that. Whether their success ended up being good is irrelevant because they are taking immoral actions, imposing their will on everyone against the people's consent, and they think it's the right thing to do. You can safely put your antagonist's face in the definition of anti-villain on a dictionary.


Congratulations! Seems that you have a story with a vary conflicting, gray scale of morals. That's usually a good sign.

Coming to your question,

I'd say your hero is an anti-hero,

or rather a revenge-driven hero. You mention him having a strong sense of justice, yet he has no problem on killing (so using any mean to an end) and it seems driven mostly by personal revenge (something that rarely goes along with justice, in a law-abiding sense). As you mentioned, the protagonist never stopped considering if the scientist plan was good, misguided or bad. He just cared for revenge. He can be charismatic as Edmond Dantès, but it has some markings of the anti-hero.

As for your villain,

we could label him as a Well-intentioned Extremist [TvTropes link]

I understand your confusion, since I'm not sure if we should call him a full-fledged villain or an anti-villain. He surely has a lot of anti-villainesque traits, like pursuing a goal that he perceives as "good for humanity at large" and his distaste for violence and murder. Yet of course human experimentation is bad per-se, and we can't judge the morality of his actions with hind-sight (ergo, it's still bad to mass experiment on humanity even if the results turn out to improve everyone's life).

So, they are both in a moral grey area, and both dangling over the "dark" side of a white-black spectrum.


I think this is an opinion piece, but IMO the protagonist is a hero, and the scientist is a villain, and the ending is a mixed bag.

For starters, anybody trying to coerce everybody against their will is evil, a slaver, no matter what their motivations. Just because he happens to be right or happens to help people does not mitigate that evil, he forced people against their will. And BTW, if he's so smart, why couldn't he find a way to prove his approach is better? Why can't he convince any other scientist anywhere that he is right, and try to build his credibility by scientific consensus? (I am a full time scientist, and I don't understand why he is a lone wolf here, if his science is actually demonstrably valid.)

Why couldn't he find a single volunteer to test his idea upon? A paid volunteer, anywhere in any country.

Why couldn't he hire an ad agency to promote this? No matter what you're selling, there are effective ad agencies and lobbyists that will promote it if you pay them.

And the fact that he had to TEST his invention, and not on himself, is proof enough he wasn't certain it would work and thus proof enough he was willing to kill somebody else to prove his idea.

Also, testing on one person is never enough, there is a whole spectrum of sensitivities and responses (including fatal responses, and long term responses like cancer or other diseases) to the majority of human trials. There is no such thing as a one-and-done human trial. So deploying his invention to all of humanity, after testing on a single person, is quite likely harm and kill people, particularly the elderly, already ill, and those compromised by diseases like cancer or AIDS or treatments like chemotherapy. He's willing to harm them, too.

So the fact that the scientist succeeds in his quest is as much a matter of luck as brilliance, he could easily have murdered half the population of the world.

Second, the protagonist is trying to protect the world from being coerced and experimented upon by a sociopathic or psychopathic scientist. The fact that the hero failed doesn't mean he was ever wrong to oppose this. It only means Right failed to prevail over Might.

Nor is the hero an "anti-hero" for killing minions of an evil scientist; in general, in fiction, those who knowingly protect or do the bidding of an evil person are themselves evil. (An anti-hero is a person that is rude, steals, perhaps gets drunk and stupid and otherwise behaves badly but is at heart, when the chips are down, an altruistic hero. An anti-villain is the opposite, a person that always seems to be kind and concerned and doing good, but is at heart, when the chips are down, going to serve their own selfish interests at any cost, which is essentially what villains do).

Which is why I call the ending "mixed;" the villain prevailed and the hero failed, but the ending was, luckily, not a complete disaster. Nevertheless, the population was forced to participate in an experiment without their permission and against their will, they were raped.

If a woman is raped, and bears a child as a result of that rape, and loves that child because she knows the child is innocent of any wrong-doing and had no control or choice in their own conception (just like herself), that does not excuse the rapist or make the rape any less of a crime.

  • 2
    The rest of your commentary mostly holds, but the "if he's so smart why can't he convince everyone" argument is really weak. You think a scientist will be able to convince the entirety of humanity that his genetic changes are beneficial when we can't even convince people to vaccinate their kids? XD
    – stix
    Jul 28, 2019 at 0:22
  • @stix Perhaps I wasn't clear, but I did not say "everyone", I said "a single person". But I also said "them", I'll fix that.
    – Amadeus
    Jul 28, 2019 at 10:19

The word which means "protagonist" and does not have potentially unwanted connotations of heroism is "protagonist". Anything else is an excuse to not write your novel.

Write your novel.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.