When I say "my character type," I mean not just characters I generally like, or even characters I like a whole lot, although obviously the overlap is huge, but specifically characters who jump into my heart and become my passion for a year or more. That's probably the best way to describe it without getting too esoteric (as if that wasn't esoteric enough already). Anyway, they meet certain standards pretty clearly. It's complicated and there are exceptions and weird stretches of these "rules," but three things are important.
The first is some level of emotional or psychological facade--a mask they wear over their true self. The second is a self-destructive or self-sacrificing streak--or, better yet, a simultaneously self-destructive and self-sacrificing streak. And the third is the capacity for terrifyingly intense feeling that tears through the facade--especially if it's in the form of anger or rage. Enhancing all three of these enormously but not really functioning as a factor in its own right is any tendency the text has to code the character in question as special or extraordinary (what? Sometimes I just want a Mary Sue). And below all of that, most important of all is this: I have to be able to boil the character down to a fundamental tragic conflict in their nature.
None of that is new, but what I observed a little while ago is this: when I imprint on this sort of character, they can always be slotted into one of two categories. They're either a tragic mentor figure or a self-destructive antihero. Of course you kind of have to pull on these categories a bit to get them to fit; I don't necessarily mean it in the dictionary-definition-of-antihero way. I'm talking about a definition that's arisen more recently with certain character trends, which tends to mean not so much "protagonist who lacks heroic qualities" as it does "any independent character significant to the narrative who poses questions of moral ambiguity and conflict fundamental to their characterization," possibly sometimes with the additional subtext of "character who examines and deconstructs the concept of 'hero.'"
So I sat and I thought about that, and I realized: the one character who got into me most, back when I was fifteen or sixteen, dodged this divide quite neatly. He initially appeared to me, in the Books of Magic miniseries and Alan Moore's run of Swamp Thing, as a mentor figure, and was developed as an antihero in his own book later. And I laughed and went, man, cheating the system is totally in-character for John Constantine.
But here's the thing that compelled me to sit down and write this tonight, before forcing myself to sleep. (I've had a pretty awful day in some ways. But things will get better.)
I'm playing Fate/stay night, after avoiding it for a number of reasons for six years, after first watching about three-quarters of the appallingly mediocre anime adaptation and realizing that I would be completely smitten with the character of Archer if I could slog through the original canon. I've had nagging doubts, here and there, as I finally pushed through the text, that maybe my conviction about Archer was premature. But they've been fading. And tonight I read through one of his last scenes in Fate route and swooned as wistful headcanon that I'd discarded in the mistaken belief that it was in error hopped back into my head.
And then I realized that Archer is a tragic mentor figure in Fate route, the first third of the game. When you get to the second third, Unlimited Blade Works, then he's a self-destructive antihero. I think I'd better hold on tight.