An antagonist is a character in a story that deliberately tries to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her goal.
Trying to achieve goals and being prevented from achieving them is the basis of almost all stories.
If you think about it, the only stories which don’t have conflict are stories about someone trying not to do something.
Creating An Antagonist
What Is an antagonist?
Depending on the genre of the book or movie, an antagonist can be a very complex character. In some instances he or she is a villain and in others a hero.
The antagonist can also be a dual role, one that is neither good nor bad. In this instance, the antagonist may have started out as a friend of the protagonist but became an enemy because of jealousy or betrayal.
The antagonist is the person who actively opposes the protagonist, creating the main conflict of a story by reacting against the protagonist’s attempts to achieve his goal.
In a mystery, for instance, the antagonist may be the murderer. In a science fiction novel about an alien invasion, it might be an alien leader or one of its henchmen.
In other words, whatever or whoever is standing between your main character and their goal is the antagonist.
What Is An Antagonist?
An antagonist is a character who has his or her own goals and is actively trying to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her goal.
Aristotle stated in Poetics that every story needs a protagonist and an antagonist, and there must be a battle of some sort between them. This is important as the protagonist since without conflict, there would be no story. This opposition creates drama, suspense, and tension.
There must be some sort of struggle between them in order to create interest in your story (and your audience). The battle can take place internally or externally.
Why Your Story Needs a Great Villain
Your book’s plot needs a great villain. And by “villain” I mean, someone who stands in the way of your protagonist achieving his or her goals. A good antagonist is the most important plot device, and you should handle it with care. A great antagonist will enhance your plot and, if done properly, add depth to your story.
So how do you create a villain? Give them powers and abilities that are superior to your protagonist’s. This is the most important step in creating an antagonist. Think about it this way: The antagonist must have more power than the protagonist, otherwise there is no conflict for him to resolve.
If you want to create a strong antagonist then make sure he has powers that are superior to the protagonist’s. Give them an agenda or desire that will thwart the protagonist’s goal.
Give them a motive behind their actions. An antagonist’s goal should never be to simply stop the protagonist from achieving his goal. The antagonist has his own goals as well, and these goals are just as important as or more important than stopping the protagonist from achieving his goal.
Secrets of Writing a Compelling Antagonist
Antagonists are any characters who oppose the protagonist throughout the story. You need an antagonist to create obstacles for your main character. A good antagonist is compelling and makes us, as readers, want the protagonist to succeed.
It’s important to remember that the antagonist doesn’t always have to be “bad.” The conflict can come from within the protagonist himself (as in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure) or from a non-human force such as nature or a natural disaster. But whatever form it takes, a compelling antagonist will make your story stronger.
It isn’t enough for an antagonist to oppose the protagonist; he or she must also be proactive. He or she must take overt action against the protagonist if he is to serve as a true obstacle.
Passive antagonists are not compelling because they don’t drive the plot forward. They just sit there, waiting for something to happen to them (although they may try to avoid their fate by refusing to do anything).
Passive antagonists are boring and should be avoided at all costs. A protagonist needs an antagonist who will make them have an emotional response, even if it’s anger or hate.
Main Types of Antagonists
There are six types of antagonists.
Agents are people who have a job to do, but are not necessarily against the protagonist. For example, a police officer.
Antagonists (or villains) are the protagonist’s main enemies. They can be someone who is directly against the protagonist and his/her friends, or they can be part of an evil organization. Sometimes, this category includes the main enemy’s sidekicks or minions because they work for him/her.
Impostors are characters pretending to be something they’re not. For example, a con artist may pretend to be a policeman to steal money from someone, or a criminal may pretend to be hurt in order to lure the protagonist into his trap.
Passive obstacles are characters or obstacles that get in the way of what the protagonist wants, but do not directly try to stop them from achieving their goal. For example, a dense fog would be a passive obstacle because it does not actively try to stop the characters from reaching their destination; it just makes things more difficult for them.
What Your Antagonist Needs
So what’s the antagonist doing in your story? If you don’t know, or if you haven’t thought it through, you need to do that right now.
The antagonist needs to have a goal that is in direct conflict with your protagonist’s goal. The antagonist needs to have a plan to achieve that goal, and the plan needs to be doable. The antagonist needs to be able to succeed at least partway in his plan, but not all the way (otherwise he wouldn’t be an antagonist).
He needs to have a weakness that your protagonist can exploit at least partway in order for your protagonist’s victory to seem realistic and not just an arbitrary deus ex machina. The antagonist has these things whether you’ve worked them out or not, whether you can see them or not. You don’t need to come up with them all right now. Just start thinking about them. Now think about what your protagonist wants and how the antagonist wants the opposite.
Antagonist: A Hero in Their Own Minds
Want to make your story good? Make your antagonist as interesting, multi-dimensional and sympathetic as you can. Antagonists are villains. They want to take down the hero. They want to be the winner. No problem, right? I mean, it’s a pretty simple bad guy motivation. They’re the antagonist and they’re against the protagonist.
The problem is that, while most authors will take care to build a sympathetic, empathetic and multi-faceted hero, they often do not throw any kind of thought or work into creating an antagonist. If they do, they’ll often paint them as this mustache-twirling bad guy who wants nothing more than to do evil because he’s just so bad.
Your reader wants to read about characters. So even if you have a villain whose sole purpose in life is to obstruct or cause problems for the protagonist, you need to at least make them interesting and complex enough that your reader will want to know whether they succeed.
Otherwise why would your reader care whether or not your hero succeeds? Make sure you know everything about them—their motivations and desires, their backstory, how they came to be what they are now—and weave all of these facets into the story in such a way that the antagonist is compelling to follow throughout the story.
Antagonist: The One You Love to Hate
Antagonists are one of the most important pieces of a story and can make or break a book. These characters are usually the ones people love to hate. They make the story that much more interesting, when readers can’t wait to see what happens to them and how they will get their comeuppance.
They keep your hero or heroine on their toes, and they can really make your readers feel something. The worst thing is to have a flat antagonist who doesn’t do anything but be mean.
To create an interesting antagonist, ask yourself, what makes this character tick? Why do they do what they do? What is their background? What drives them? What has happened in the past that made them who they are now?
How does this affect their decisions and actions? These are all questions you should be asking about your antagonist to give them more depth and make them more realistic. Above all else, remember that you don’t want to make your antagonist too one-dimensional; give them something sympathetic that draws the reader in.
This could be related to their past or something from their childhood. It could also be something physical like a scar or something emotional like a phobia.
Antagonists Type 1: The Classic Villain
The first type of antagonist is the classic villain. This is the “bad guy”, the one who is known by everyone to be a bad person. You might have even used him in one of your stories because his reputation precedes him. This type of antagonist has a few characteristics that help define them, but they are not so over the top that they become cartoonish.
They have some good qualities along with bad ones. In fact, sometimes, they are so charming and likable that you even have to stop and remind yourself why you don’t like them in the first place! The classic villain is usually cunning and calculating. He or she has a plan for everything and doesn’t just go off on a rampage like other antagonists do.
They would rather sit back, observe, and let things play out according to their plan. They like to play games and win, which gives your hero something to strive for, since the villain’s plan needs to be foiled. The classic villain also has a deep-seated hatred for your protagonist, but it’s a hatred that may not be easily understood at first.
It could be anything from jealousy to revenge for a wrong committed against him or her (or it could simply be because your hero got involved).
Antagonists Type 2: The Everyday Antagonist
The everyday antagonist is the character that you could very easily be friends with. They can be a little goofy and a little clueless, but they’re nice people who mean well. The problem is, they’re also the kind of person who has no idea how their actions affect others.
If they did know, they wouldn’t care because they’re too nice to do anything malicious or mean. These are the kind of people who don’t realize that what they say can be hurtful, even if it’s unintentional. They don’t want to cause trouble or harm anyone, so they just keep doing what they do and hope that everyone around them will be okay with it.
Unfortunately for them, this makes them a prime target for other antagonists, who tend to draw them into their worlds because easy targets make their work easier. The disapproving parent is usually an antagonist from the first time you meet them, although sometimes they can be an innocent bystander in the conflict.
They disapprove of something about your protagonist (their job, their hair color, their choice of partner) and try to change them in some way or another. This can range from trying to subtly convince them to change something about themselves to forcing them to stop pursuing their goals (albeit temporarily).
Antagonists Type 3: The Internal Antagonist
The most common type of antagonist is the one that lives inside your protagonist, and this can be a very effective way to create tension. The internal antagonist exists in every one of us. It’s the voice that tells you to give up when things get tough, or it’s the instinct that makes you doubt your own abilities. It’s the villain inside your head, and all it wants is for you to lose.
You can use an internal antagonist as an ultimate test for your protagonist—the final hurdle he must overcome to succeed.
Make Your Antagonist Menacing
I recently read an interview with a novelist who said he never included female antagonists in his books. He said that, since most of his readers are men, he’d had to deal with the fact that women were not as scary as men.I had never thought about why some characters frightened me more than others, but he shed some light on the subject.
As it turns out, it’s not gender we should be concerned with at all—it’s stature. The most frightening antogonist is someone who is larger than us. That isn’t just true of people—it applies to animals and even things like storms and darkness.
If you want your antagonist to be truly menacing, make them large enough to represent a real threat to your protagonist or the goal they’re trying to accomplish. The easiest way to do this is to give the antagonist power. Power can come from many different sources: physical strength, money, influence, etc.
Your antagonist doesn’t have to win every fight for them to be menacing; they simply have to be large enough that you know they could beat you if they chose to do so. Of course, this works both ways; if you have a strong protagonist on your hands, make sure her antagonist is large enough for her
Be Sure You Have an Antagonist and Not Just a Story Obstacle
The antagonist is the person or thing that’s perceived as being against the hero. The antagonist also prevents the hero from getting what they want. So, if you’re creating a story where your hero wants to get married, but their parents are not in favor of them marrying someone at all, then your parents would be considered the antagonist.
Thing is, there can only be one antagonist at any given time in a story. If another person or thing comes along that’s against your protagonist, then they’ve just become an additional obstacle in the story (and they should be facing off against each other).
Think about it this way: if you had two brothers who were trying to get you to do something you didn’t want to do, and one was always against whatever the other was for, then neither of them would be an antagonist because they’d both be obstacles—one for each brother—but there wouldn’t be one universal villain for both brothers.
The Difference Between a Villain and an Antagonist
A villain is the character in a story who brings about the “villainous” events that occur in the plot of a story. Villains are very significant in stories and can be distinguished from other characters by their actions, motivations, or nature.
In certain situations, villains have been given characteristics that are not entirely negative. For instance, they may be depicted as funny or likable to distract from the fact that they are indeed doing something nefarious. A person who is the cause of another’s pain is sometimes called a “villain”.
Antagonists are characters in a story that are opposed to the protagonist. Usually, an antagonist will have less at stake than a protagonist does, although this isn’t always true. Antagonists can be thought of as obstacles between a protagonist and what he/she wants.
The distinction between an antagonist and a villain is blurred because they both oppose a protagonist, but they differ in terms of their intentions and motivations. Some authors use these terms interchangeably, while others use them to refer to different categories of characters.
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