Saturday, December 3, 2011

Writing Tips- Antagonists.

Antagonists are very important aspects of a story. In fact, so important, that many authors and how-to books often talk about them.

When we think of the word, antagonist, we often think of some kind of evil overlord who wants to kill everyone and destroy the world. But not all antagonists are "bad guys", in fact some can be good. An antagonist is simply something (as they don't always have to be a person) or someone who gets in the way of our protagonist's goals.

Antagonist as 'something'. (Man vs. Nature)
As I mentioned, your antagonist can be a 'something'. For example, they can be an diesense that is wiping out the population and when your protagonist's love gets sick and prevents your protagonist from getting married.

It could be a test that your character has trouble passing, like a driver's test, and can't make a road trip with her friends unless she gets her license.

One could say these type of antagonists could be easier to write about because they aren't exactly "characters" in the normal sense, yet still play a crucial role in the story.

Antagonists as people. (Man vs. Man)
This is most common type of antagonist. And probably the hardest to develop. What I mean by this is that in order to create a wonderful antagonist, your antagonist should be just as developed as your protagonists. they should have goals and motives just like your 'good' guy. Janice Hardy from The Other Side of the Story, says this about antagonists:
One thing that's help me when writing from the bad guy's POV, is to make them the hero of their own story. Few people actually consider themselves evil or bad, so even if there's a bit of conscience bugging them, they'll rationalize it same as your hero would. To them, the protag is the one getting in the way and messing things up. The protag is the villain.  
Making them real people with real goals also makes it a lot easier to write from their perspective, because it isn't about what they're doing to the protag. It's about what goal they're trying to achieve and what obstacles are in their way -- just like your protag. So make them the protag of their story. The hero in their mind. Treat them the same way you would your protag. Except they don't get to win in the end.
Creating a good antagonist involves just as much time and work as developing your other characters. Remember that even your antagonist should have some kind of redeeming quality. No one (well, except Satan) is evil. Your antagonist should have good and bad traits, just like any person, and a history. He should have motivations for being evil that make sense.

Here's some more great advice on this subject by Janice Hardy (I love her advice):

Next time you’re crafting an antagonist, try thinking about: 
What happened in their life to make them this way? 
Like Magneto and the Nazis, is there a defining event or series of events that crafted why he feels as he does? Is that something that others can understand and even relate to? Is there a way to make readers sympathize with him because of this? 
Can you add some honor or nobility to their actions? 
Magneto is trying to protect his people – the mutants. Can your antag’s heart be in the right place? People do the wrong thing for the right reasons all the time. Maybe your antag is trying to do something noble on the grand scale, but they’re choosing to get there in a less than honorable fashion.
What tough choices have they had to make? 
Have there been sacrifices? Losses? Odds are your antag didn’t win every battle, thwart every foe and have a life on easy street before they met your protag. Are there key moments in their life where a choice shaped them into who they are? And better still, are there places in the story where you can exploit that? 
What about their “evil plan” is worth pursuing? 
Bad guys who want to destroy the world and kill everyone in it never made sense to me because, um, don’t they need those things to survive as well? (Unless you’re a Dalek. Their desire to destroy the world makes sense for them) Bad guys with a plan that has some element worthy of all the nasty things they’re doing are a lot more compelling. You get why they’re acting as they are. 
The more personal the conflict between protag and antag, the more developed that antag should be. 

Antagonist as a society. (Man. vs Society)
When I think of books with this for their conflict, the main type of book that comes to mind most often are dystopian books. In these stories, the society is the antagonist. And they are against your protagonist because he/she may think differently from them or somehow oppose it.

Antagonist as your protagonist. (Man vs. Himself)
These books I imagine are harder to write when there is an internal struggle for your protagonist. I've never written one myself but I can imagine that this would actually be really good. But it'd be hard.

When being bad is good...
How X-men can help you craft a better antagonist.

So what are your favorite antagonists? Why are they your favorites?



  1. That's fantastic advice! Good villains are hard to come by.

    My book kind of has a man vs. self conflict, since my MC has to deal with the negative consequences of a mistake he made five years before the story started. Throughout the story, he also has to cope with huge self-doubt problems.

    One of my favorite villains is Saint Dane from the Pendragon series by DJ MacHale. He totally believes he's doing the right thing, all the way through, which makes him scary.

    Also, I was reading the fourth Eragon book today and the villain Galbatorix came into the story. He honestly is a freaky characters. Again, he believes everything he does is right and justified. He's even scarier because, close up, he doesn't even seem that evil.

  2. Thank you! They are!

    That's really cool, I haven't seen many books with Man vs. self that I can think of. Most of them are Man vs Man.

    I've never read the Pendragon series, they sound familiar though. One of my favorites would have to be Auden from the Skinned triliogy, and then Faustino from the Supernaturalists, or *spoiler* Tunstall from the Beka Cooper trilogy.

    Om! Is the last one good? I haven't read it yet, so I wouldn't know. I bet, because truly, that is what makes a good villain. It's like with Osama bin Laden, he was scary because he thought was he was doing was right.

  3. I highly, highly, highly recommend the Pendragon series. It's AMAZING. It's exciting and epic and funny. With an awesome villain. And they have cool titles, like "The Merchant of Death" and "Raven Rise".

    Inheritance was AMAZING!!!! I just finished it, and I loved, loved, loved the ending. If you liked the first three, you'll love it.

  4. I think Voldemort was a great antagonist. :)

    Thanks for this post! I had to rewrite my first finished draft of my manuscript because my antagonist wasn't fleshed out enough and it prevented the story from moving along. Antagonists really are essential to any good story and they do deserve to "be just as developed as your protagonists" as you mentioned. :)

  5. @ Annie: I'll have to look if my library has them! :D how many are in the series?

    Oh gosh, I can't wait to read it! I'm asking for it for Christmas.

    @ Jenn: Voldemort was! :) Your welcome, I had to do something like that for the first draft of one of my WIPs too. They weren't very good ones, but they're better now. Agreed! :)

  6. @Sareh: The series has ten books total, which might seem like a lot, but it's worth it! The first is The Merchant of Death. Your library probably has them; they're not mega-popular, but they've got a loyal following.

    There are also three spinoff books about the characters' lives before the actual series starts, but they aren't written by the original author, and they're not worth reading, even for a hardcore fan like me.

  7. @Annie: Actually, for me, ten books in a series isn't all that much. :) I think I've seen them before...are they found in the teen section in your library?

    Really? I love spin off books, but I think when other authors write them, they've never as good as if the original author would have written them.

  8. @Sareh: The first couple in the series are sometimes in the children's section. The later ones are usually with the teen books. This has nothing to do with the content and everything to do with the size.

    In this case, the spinoff isn't worth the read. The writing, to me, seemed very amateur.

  9. @Annie: Interesting. I think I've seen series like that before, where they are placed in the library depending on their size. But I think that's kinda silly. If they're part of the same series or category, put them together!

  10. @Sareh: Yeah, it's annoying when they do that. And in my library, there are more than one copies of a few of the books, and sometimes one is in the YA section, and one is in the children's, when it's the exact same book! *fumes quietly*

    It also annoys me when they're not in order. If I see a series out of order, I rearrange it. Haha.

  11. @Annie: That doesn't make sense! Maybe they do it so younger readers don't have to go into the YA section to find it or the opposite.

    Haha, I hate it when there's like, four books in a series for example and my library only have the 2nd and the 4th books! >.< I do the rearranging thing too. It bugs me when things aren't in order.

    Or another thing, when an author has multiple different books and they aren't grouped together. O.o


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