How to Write Unforgettable Antagonists
Ever get stuck writing a character? We bet you often do. Creating memorable characters is a challenging task for all writers and conjuring up memorable antagonists is perhaps the most difficult. We’ve already seen the types of characters common to all stories. In this article, let’s take a look at what are antagonists, what purpose do they serve in a story, and what to keep in mind while writing a memorable antagonist for your next book.
Who is an antagonist?
An antagonist is someone who poses a challenge to the protagonist [LINK], who is the cause of the conflict in the story or IS the conflict. This antithesis to the main character makes the story exciting. They make the readers anticipate the hero’s next move against their diabolical devices. The antagonist is the bad man, the crazy witch, the troublemaker who adds tension, suspense and makes the reader bite their nails to the finish.
Now, you instantly think of these characters as sinister, cunning, evil-looking assholes who’re up to no good. Their whole purpose is being a dick to the hero. By nature, most of them turn out like that, and that’s okay. But antagonists are for more than just baddies who blow up the building when bored, they’re well-rounded characters with their own past and motivations for being and doing what they do.
The antagonist doesn’t have to be a human figure. It can also be a group of people or large entities, such as the government, a tribe, a city they live in or its social system. Forces of nature have created massive conflicts in stories such as Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
Professor Moriarty is an example of an arch-nemesis to the ace detective Sherlock Holmes. Ruthless, vindictive, remorseless, and unstoppable when it comes to destroying Sherlock.
Why stories need an Antagonist?
“The plot doesn’t drive the character, character drives the plot.”
That’s standard advice in every scriptwriting class. Similarly, it can also be stated that “The conflict does not drive the antagonist, the antagonist drives the conflict.”
Antagonists drive the conflict of the story. Without worthy adversaries, your hero would just be a boring dud not worth reading about.
The four main types of antagonists
Rogues come in all shapes and forms. The most important thing to remember when creating scoundrels is that they shouldn’t be painted in black or white shades. You must keep the readers guessing. What’s this punk going to do next? They can evolve from one shade to another, display both good and bad qualities or fall into the grey region. Or be a very complex character displaying manic intentions of good and bad, causing much anguish to the character and the readers. Where they can’t put a finger on his motives.
Let’s take a look at the common types of enemies of the hero:
Type #1: The Evil Villain
The type of antagonist reader is familiar with. They come in the darkest shade of black. You know from the moment they are introduced that they’re going to wreck shit up! They’re commonly found in fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure novels, but their sinister presence can be found in any novel.
- The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- Sauron in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Miss Trunchbull in Matilda by Roald Dahl
Type #2: The evil entity
A villain who is far bigger than the hero. Bigger in size, reach and power and not even human! Now what? Will the hero cause an uprising against the government? Will she escape from the tribe? Will he restore peace in the city? Such villains provide a breath of bad air for the hero to clear up, which the readers love to dig.
- Big Brother in 1984 by Geroge Orwell
- The Capitol in The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins
- VFD in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
Type #3 The bystander
The silent operator. Someone who’s close to the protagonist or is lurking around them now and then and seems like an okay bloke. But as the story unfolds you understand that this lowkey nice boy is a high key asshole who’s been stealing the dragon eggs all along.
- Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- Mr. Charrington in 1984 by George Orwell
- Prof Quirrell in Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone
Type #4 The internal struggle
Sometimes the demons are found within. If your lead character has past traumatic experience, the untimely death of a family member or a freak accident that affected their physical or mental health, such situations can play the part of an antagonist. Anything that makes them cope with that internal struggle.
- Joker in Batman by DC comics
- Willy Loman’s depression in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
- Dorian Gray’s narcissism in Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Typical traits of a villain.
So what are the basic villainous qualities that your antagonists should show through the story? Here they are:
– They have nefarious motives.
– They enjoy and take pride in their villainy.
– Driven by revenge or lusts and not interested in showing mercy.
– They are bullies – mental and physical.
– Villains are charming – they cast a spell on others to achieve their devious plans.
– Bad behavior is second nature to them.
– Always plotting against the hero.
– Psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies
– Greedy, cunning and cruel.
– They’re dangerous.
Any more obvious qualities of a rogue you think can be added to this? Tell us in the comments.
Can I write multiple antagonists?
Yes of course! But it can be problematic. Like we mentioned before, to make your antagonists interesting, they have to be well-rounded characters who have their own back story and a fair share of presence in the story. It will divert the focus of your story to various directions and you’ll end up frustrating your editor. It’s best to pack the power of a hundred baddies in just one or two!
Multiple antagonists work well if you’re writing a series of books. Where old antagonists exit the plot or stop being important as new ones are introduced. That way, readers get to the depth of the conflict between these two main characters of the book. Take the Harry Potter series of books, for instance, Harry has to fight off so many bullies, creatures, evil powers before he takes on the final boss: Voldemort.
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