Posted in Character Development, Writing

Antagonists Are People, Too

It’s hard to have a good plot without someone to drive your protagonist forward. Often times, that someone happens to be a “bad guy.”

Someone who is not nice, someone who isn’t your protagonist’s number one fan, someone who wants the spotlight for themselves and goes about it the wrong way. There are a lot of reasons a protagonist becomes a protagonist. Often it’s something bad, but sometimes it’s not.

antagonist

Who is the antagonist?

The antagonist is a character in your novel. Often times they are the “bad guy,” the person the protagonist is trying to stop, the person the readers don’t root for.

However, you have to remember that the antagonist is just as important to the novel as your protagonist is.

There are many different types of antagonists.

  • The Psychopath
  • The Hater
  • The Power Hungry
  • The Insane
  • The Rival

There are more types of villains, of course, but those are just a few. You can tell which type of antagonist you’ve created based on their personality, their background, and their motives.

How to create an awesome antagonist

Just like your protagonist, your antagonist should have a story too. Give them a personality, give them a background story. Things that have happened to them in the past may have made them out to be who they are now.

Antagonists should…

1. Have a motive.

They need to have a motive for why they do what they do. They should be trying to accomplish something for their own benefit, acting on personal desires.

Good motivations can stem from the seven deadly sins, such as greed or envy.

2. Get in the way of the protagonist.

The antagonist’s wants are most often the opposite of the protagonist’s. They may be racing each other, they may be trying to stop each other.

Speaking of envy, some antagonists are jealous of the protagonist and that ends up being a motivation for hate.

3. Be trying to hide something or trying to gain something.

Antagonists should have secrets. They should have a deeper, internal motive for doing what they do.

In turn, they should be trying to gain something. Most antagonists do what they do purely for selfish reasons.

4. Have flaws.

No one is perfect and that includes protagonists and antagonists alike. Some people may believe the antagonist’s motives are their flaw, but there should be character traits that allows the character to stand out, that allows the antagonist to be known as the antagonist.

Remember…

Antagonists are a character in your story. They should be fleshed out just as much as the other characters in the story.

The only difference is, a villain is someone whose story hasn’t been told.

How do you write antagonists? Do you have any tips to create memorable bad guys? Let me know in the comments below!

Did you enjoy this post? Why don’t you check out Why Does Your Protagonist Matter?

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

31 thoughts on “Antagonists Are People, Too

  1. I write my villains the same way as my heroes, but they tend to be more flamboyant in personality and actions. Villains tend to have fewer scenes than heroes, so I have less time to flush them out and make them more ‘human’. I also like doing groups more than lone maniacs. At least so far, this has worked out for my stories.

    1. It sounds like you have a nice groove for your characters and stories though. I’m actually planning a series where the protagonist is the antagonist. So that’s tricky.

  2. I think it’s important to remember that every unlikable character is not the antagonist. You can have an unpleasant character, or one who doesn’t like the MC, and that doesn’t make them the antagonist. They might just be a jerk!

  3. Nice post! For me, the mark of a good antagonist is that I can imagine a plausible world if he wins. If I asked “what if the antagonist won?” and the answer is that there would just be a scorched earth with miles of death an destruction, then I need to work on my villain some more. I find it hard to believe that anyone really wants that, y’know? The antagonist’s perfect world would have to be something that he would enjoy living in.

    1. That’s a really good point! Then again, there are some really crazy people in the world. Who knows what would happen? 😉
      Thanks, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    1. I hope so, too!
      We put our protagonists through a lot of pain and antagonists usually have a rough back story. The difference between the two is that the protagonists try to do something good about it and overcome it, whereas the antagonists don’t.

  4. If the main character is a villain, or at least an outlaw (like in Macbeth, or Walt in Breaking Bad), is that character still a protagonist because their actions drive the story? And are the “good guys” trying to thwart them the antagonists?

    1. I think so, yes. A protagonist is just that: a character the story is about, the one who keeps the plot going forward and making all the decisions. An antagonist isn’t necessarily always the “bad guy,” but kind of like a rival to the protagonist.
      So, you can have the bad guy be the protagonist and THEIR antagonist would be “good guys.”
      That sounded a lot better in my head, so I hope that made sense. 🙂

  5. The most convincing way I found is to make them mysterious from the outset. Thereby you give the reader little idea of what they’re about I.e. show don’t tell and reveal their character traits as the story progresses. Characters should ‘evolve’ not be set in stone as sometimes people aren’t always what they initially seem.

    1. Yeah, I think the best antagonists are when the reader and the protagonist alike are trying to figure them out. It keeps you guessing and wanting more.

  6. I don’t always do this, but I feel like it helps to write a short origin story for an antagonist. It doesn’t necessarily need to touch on the exact notice that makes them the bad guy, it just has to at least be a quick window into their personality.

    1. I agree. Every character, main or bad guy, minor or secondary, has a story to tell, a background that’s waiting to be revealed. It helps in creating any characters, I think.

  7. Reblogged this on Wind Eggs and commented:
    We usually think of antagonists and villains in relation to mysteries, thrillers, etc. But antagonists are important even in novels about everyday life, school, work, etc. Conflict drives every novel and the one of the best ways to create conflict is to introduce one or more antagonists. In my YA novel Seeing Jesus my heroine, Sara, faced villains in the school bullies (mean girls), a foul-mouthed boy, one of her teachers and even, at times, her parents.

    The joy of writing antagonists is that they don’t have to remain antagnists. Sara’s parents don’t realize they’re the villains until they see the effect of their decisions on Sara’s life, one of her antagonists comes the the rescue and becomes her friend. And some villains remain villains.

    If you use antagonists well, they can add dimension and excitement to any novel. Rachel Poli offers tips on how to develop antagonists.

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