Creating Antagonists

writing
discussion

#1

Developing antagonists is as equally important as creating interesting protagonists. How can writers make their antagonists interesting? Or challenging ones? Want to know some feedback on development of antagonists.


#2

Make them believable. Having an antag that’s evil for evil’s sake and is just inherently bad works really well for children’s fiction. Possibly YA - but it also isn’t very good, IMO.

It’s all very subjective, but in my opinion, I want the antags to be relate-able. Someone that could’ve been me or a friend. A totally normal person who has their own drive - and if the story was told from their POV, maybe they wouldn’t be an antagonist at all.

Anyways, that’s just me. Not big on the whole “manically laughing and evil”


#3

An antag should be an obstacle for the protag. They should be better than the protag in some way, shape or form. My antag is stronger than my protag even though they are both considered combat geniuses.


#4

Well Antagonists aren’t always villainous. If you read the manga Death Note, the main antagonist was a character named L, who believed in lawful justice while the protagonist, Light, was chaotic villain.


#5

Which is what I meant with

:wink:


#6

Who is your favorite antagonist in that sense?


#7

Probably Gus Fring from Breaking Bad. He’s as much as antagonist as the anti-hero (Walter White)

There’s such a fine line between the antags and the ones who’re supposed to be protags in that series. Love it to death.


#8

I love how they have depths to them. How unafraid they are to express their beliefs. The sheer lack of care and understanding for those that go against their morals. When they had done the same thing.

Good I love good villains.


#9

An antagonist must have a reason for being bad, and not always the desire for world domination. Reasons can be good. As Alan Grant said in Jurassic Park 3 : “The worst imaginable things were often made with the best intentions”.

For example, Krillianor, one of the main antagonists of one of my stories, is an ex royal army general who made an alliance with his ancestral enemies to bring back to life Jinessa, the woman and queen he served and loved. But because of that, he destroyed the kingdom he protected all his life.

Oscar, from this same story, a minor antagonist compared to the others, became a criminal in the hope to allow his brother-in-law Franck (whose the reader think he’s just a henchman before discovering the truth) to undergo an extremely expensive operation to restore his memory and his mental faculties lost in an accident. But because of that, he made a lot of horrible things, and it’s because of him that the heroes were involved in the story.

Vaaliel, one of the main antagonists in another story starring elves, is a metis from two different kingdoms, and not anyone but those who hates each other the most. Rejected by everyone, discriminated, he wants to create a world where metis people could live in peace. But because of that, he caused a lot of suffering and death, and his plans could only bring more of that.

So I’ll join everyone who said that to have a good antagonist, you have to make him / her believable.


#10

Exactly – and not always bad. The antagonist in my book is the protagonist’s sister. They disagree on how to help her son move forward after the death of his father. She isn’t BAD. She loves them both – and they love her. But her vision would break her son’s heart a second time. She’s logically right, but not emotionally so.


#11

One way to make an antagonist interesting is having them start off as a protagonist and over time something happens that makes them change sides, either a better promise from the villain side, if there is one, a plot device that over time causes the character to want to turn against the protagonist, or some for, of physical/mental corruption that leads them to become villianized, such as mind control or the true enemy erasing a character’s memory and convincing them that they’re evil.


#12

He’s the counterweight to the protagonist. The obstacle to their goal. It doesn’t even have to be one single person, it can be an entity or something. But it has to make the path more difficult for the protagonist. Then work your way towards their motivations. A lot have said already, but an antagonist that we can relate to creates conflict within the reader as well.

I think antagonists who are just plain evil work as well. You can play with that throughout the story to deceive the reader. I have an antagonist who appears as the bad guy, the dude who waged war, the big meaning who cased chaos, because he is the embargo on the protagonist’s path. But as the story progresses, there’s another character who is the counterweight to, and you realize the hero most people sing about is actually a pretty disgusting human being. The antagonist of the past of the narrative is the woman most deem great and incredible, but in fact she is pretty terrible. She’s just prone to being cruel. No trauma, no nothing, just parents coddling to her reinforcing that attitude. So even if an antagonist is just evil for the sake of being evil, flesh that out. Make it reflect on other characters, put it into contrast with other evil characters so we can understand just why that level of evilness just sticks around with so many people, or why it stands out. Get into their skin when they’re being shitty. It doesn’t have to be relatable (i HOPE so) but so long as we believe it, it works well.

Just make sure that, whether their a misunderstood person, a misguided individual or just a plain old big meanie for the sake of being a douche, their actions have an impact on the protagonist. It should make the protagonist’s path complicated, it should make the protagonist question themselves


#13

I rarely develop antagonists in my books. Most of the time, my MC’s are fighting both their doubts. life obstacles, or personal demons. But not physical Galactus-type antagonists. :wink:


#14

I love compounding conflicts when I write, so when developing antagonists, it’s important for me to create multiple, dynamic sources of conflict to work with.

My protagonists are typically in conflict with:

  1. Themselves. There is a fundamental flaw they need to overcome. If they do, that’s a heroic arc, if they don’t, it’s a tragic one. (Using the story craft definition of flaw here, as in a core trait that prevents a character from resolving a conflict/achieving a goal, not necessarily “They’re mean.”) E.g. A reformed pacifist ruler who was raised in a Spartan-esque military society trying to reconcile the two defining cultures of her life before the imbalance costs her big time.

  2. Another character. Foils are a great way to characterise two characters at once, whilst exploring interesting dynamics and using the resulting tension to force your protagonist towards the crux of their arc. Eg. An imposing General arguing the blindness of unwavering nonviolence while a pacifist counters with the cyclical doom of war.

  3. The world. Makes it INFINITELY easier to worldbuild when the protagonist is in conflict with the world, because that gives you a foundation to make your setting a character. Eg. A city-state that enjoys the fruits of peace while simultaneously resenting the foreign queen that brought it.

  4. The plot. For me, this typically means putting a protagonist in a story they’re unequipped or unable to resolve without overcoming HUGE obstacles and stakes. E.g. A pacifist harbouring an ancestral war god that possesses her if her skin is cut – trying to resolve an epic fantasy war story with nothing but words, promises, and infinite sacrifice because knives are sharp.


#15

Another thing I’d like to add on to here is that the antagonist, no matter who it is, should have a presence. Either menacing, charming, deceitful, anything along those lines that makes the protagonist and by extension the readers, feel intimidated. This character is stronger than the MC we’re rooting for. They pose a threat. They make good, strong points that have the MC doubting their beliefs. You might even go as far as having the readers completely understand the antagonist’s position and even wonder if they might side with them. Magneto from Xmen is a good example of this. Despite his methods, his beliefs are completely justified and align perfectly well with the harsh childhood he had to endure. If your antagonist doesn’t have a presence, then the stakes just don’t feel as high.


#16

I agree! If your antag is fodder then why are they in the story to begin with? If you can find a way to make readers root or feel genuinely feel for your antagonist then you are well on your way to a great story.


#17

Antagonists that work the best usually break into two camps with different interests to them:

Force of Nature vs Dark Mirror

Force of Nature stuff usually means it lacks in motivation but can be interesting as a concept of how you struggle against something that doesn’t necessarily have morality or feelings. To keep with an anime theme:

The latter Dragonball Z villain Majin Buu, or more specifically Kid Buu was basically a force of nature. He exists only to destroy things, without much reason or motivation other than to do it and because of that, can’t be reasoned with or manipulated or anything. Only stopped. There’s an inevitably and scope and scale to these sorts of things. People are also getting tired of them. They are very easy to fall into unmotivated and empty, and are usually pretty bland. Kid Buu isn’t interesting because there’s nothing else to him. Galactus, as a different force of nature, is more interesting because he is doing it only to sustain himself, which asks questions about who we are to other animals. Are we an unstoppable force of nature?

Dark mirror villains, such as Vegeta or Frieza, represent a version of the hero that could exist if only they tried an alternate approach. Or, typically, they’re both in pursuit of the same goal as the hero, and that is what causes the conflict. For example, Vegeta and Frieza both want to establish themselves as the most powerful possible beings in all of space and time and Goku is similar in that he wants to train to be the strongest and have fun fights and blah blah blah. But they all technically share the same goal. This also means that these villains have to have their own motivation and their version of it has to lead them to the types of decisions that set them up to be bad people.

This also comes with its own weaknesses, namely stock backstories in which the villain was betrayed or suffered loss in predictable fashion (wife died because the hospital didn’t care enough, friend they thought they could trust actually sold them out, some form of bad childhood is also a cop-out) which can equally leave them as hollow. Sometimes they’re direct copies of the hero who experienced the same trauma and went the evil way. This is usually just laziness, but sometimes can raise interesting questions. This happens a lot in anime where two parties both go through similar misfortunes and one of them just believes in friendship and justice and the other thinks it shows how the world is bad.

You would just need to ensure an antagonist exists outside of what the hero was going to do anyways and wasn’t their day job. When your day job is saving the world, it isn’t interesting to watch them just do it, and not very villainous. When the Joker makes Batman choose between saving Harvey Dent or saving the woman he loves, he forces a choice with no win. When Superman flies out to stop Zod, he was going to do that anyways because Zod would destroy the world and Superman has to prevent that.

This is also why in a lot of comic arcs you’ll see them open with the hero doing like a routine bust on a villain like it’s nothing, and that’s because it is. That’s just their normal job. Sandman is robbing a bank, as he does, and Spiderman stops him within a couple panels. But then the real story is finding out that Norman Osborne is running for mayor or something, which is way more complicated than just stopping the villain as you do.


#18

For a lot of characters, I borrow a lot of analysis from stage actors. The thing about actors is they are invested in their character over all other characters and treat the process very similarly regardless if they are playing a minor character or the lead role. So I try to think about writing characters in a way that any actor would be glad to play them.

In what I have been taught about how actors work through their process, it goes something like this.

Break down the ultimate goal that character has. For each scene, break down what their objective is for that scene. What are they trying to accomplish?

Then there are the tactics they use to attempt to achieve their objective. And sometimes they achieve an objective, then you just move on and give them a new objective for any given scene. Fun tactics can be like, if the objective is to get information out of the MC, to try seducing them, and if that doesn’t work, intimidating them, or threatening them. Seduce, intimidate, and threaten are all good tactics… as long as they’re serving the objective.

Flimsy objectives are a common problem with antagonists. If you’re going to go around doing evil things, a good motivation is kind of in order or ya risk readers feeling like they just exist to block the MC’s path.

Anyway, that’s my general take on trying to flesh out any given character. Approach them like they’re they only character you care about.


#19

I do not write in the two-dimensional “protagonist and antagonist” perspective. I have characters that react in certain way to things happening around them, the series of events that started everything start way before the book actually begins. They, effectively, start a conflict, but I have protagonist on both sides of the conflict, and the more the novel advances, the more you realize the fact neither are “good” or “bad” guys, they both have different ideas, and unfortunaly, both will do horrible actions to make them happen, at first the government looks like the obvious bad guy, until you notice the way the rebellion acts and what they plan to do once the government is overthrown, IE the same thing but with them on the top


#20

The worst imaginable things were often made with the best intentions”.

This basically just described the government in my book, they are basically envioreomentalist that want to save earth, and save humanity from itself. So they procced to make a worldwide coup that took the life of 500 million people in less than 24 hours and procced to create a government responsable for 1 billion additional years during the 3 years happening before the book begins