Photo Credit: Flickr user ‘J’
Antagonists have been called by many names. They are competitors, villains, foes, heels, opponents, adversaries, enemies, and most of all they are generally considered to be the bad guy. Whatever you call them, they are absolutely necessary for the development of your main character. Let’s take a look at how we can develop your antagonist so that you can develop them for your novel.
Internal And External Antagonists
While you are developing the hero of your story you are going to have to come up with one essential question: what will your main character have to overcome in order for them to reach their goal? Whatever that obstacle is shall be considered your antagonist. Most stories will have more than just one antagonist, but most will have a central figure of evil that must be overcome.
Before moving forward, we should remember that It is a fallacy to say that antagonists need to be people. Heroes have to overcome all kinds of barriers, both internal and external. This can include fears and weaknesses, bad guys and bad places. Your first decision will be which of these is the main thing that the main character must conquer in order to succeed.
Your story is simply this: how the protagonist defeats the antagonist. It really is that easy. But let’s take a closer look at these bad dudes.
Photo Credit: Flickr user illusionwaltz
Antagonists Are Driven By Power Over The Hero
At this point, you should freely confess that your hero must overcome the villain, but what drives your antagonist to want to defeat the hero in the first place? You may not have considered this before, but the worst/best part of an antagonist (and what makes a villain work) is that they believe that they will and should win because they think that they are the hero. They believe that their actions are just. Your antagonist will only matter if they believe that they are just as important as your reader believes the hero is important to the story.
Would Darth Vader be so memorable if he didn’t believe in the power of the dark side of the force? Would Cato have been as believable if he didn’t want to prove his worth to his district as much as Katniss wanted to protect her family? No, they needed to believe that their actions were right. Bad guys don’t think that they are the bad guys. Well, except perhaps The Joker. Not every bad guy is the same, after all. Yet even The Joker thought he was doing the right thing, even if he knew it was the evil thing.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Kaptain Kobold
Antagonists Should Scare The Crap Out Of You
Antagonists are dangerous, unpredictable, arrogant, and just about everything but likable. But mostly, your antagonist should scare the crap out of you. Honestly, if your obstacle doesn’t seem all that difficult to overcome to you, then why would your hero (or your reader) really believe that they are an obstacle at all?
I don’t see a lot of sports books about how the heavy favorite defeated the underdog by 45 points. I don’t read a lot of stories about how the detective caught the criminal after interviewing ten witnesses that could all prove where the bad guy lived and what they did. Those stories simply aren’t interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, a creative writer might even find value in making a sympathetic villain. Consider gollum from The Lord of the Rings. He was a bad guy, but only because he was overtaken with the power of the ring. Without that ring, he might have been an okay guy at some point in his life. When he (spoiler alert for those who have been putting off this story for the past six decades) fell into the fiery pit of Mordor.
Antagonists Never Win
Antagonists do many things and they must have layers to make them believable. If you want your villain to matter, then you need to work hard on making your antagonist real. In fact, you should know them just as well as you know your hero. They will fight, they will claw and scratch and do everything they possibly can to defeat your hero.
Your antagonist is every bit as real as your hero. The only difference is that they never win. Well, not if you want to be popular, anyway.
Are you willing to work just as hard on your antagonist as you are working on your main character?