Writing a Strong Antagonist

The antagonist, the villain, the bad guy of your story is the main person standing the way of your protagonist reaching his goal. Of course, your story may have the main conflict be the environment, natural disaster, or within the protagonist’s mind. However, if the chief conflict in your story is a person, it’s important to remember that that character is just like every other character. He has his ambitions, goals, dreams, fears, regrets, secrets, and beliefs, but most importantly, he thinks what he is doing is right—for himself, for his friends, for his family, for those around him. He views himself simply as the misunderstood hero of a story but won’t complain or voice his opposition. He does what he needs to do, and no one will stop him. He may take advantage of his reputation to do what he deems is right even if no one else sees it.

At least, that’s how antagonists should be considered. Too often they’re cast as a cardboard villain. The only reason for their existence is to hinder the hero from reaching his goal. Usually their motives are revenge or world domination.

This is shallow.

It usually happens this way because the writer is so focused on finding out everything there is to know of the hero that they never even think about learning all they can of the villain. However, each character should be created equal, and the author should set aside time to ask the antagonist, “Why are you doing this?” If you ask this of your villain, be completely non-judgmental, openminded, and sincere. Yes, you know they’re going to be wrong, but you need understand that they don’t think they are. They may surprise you.

Now, some writers won’t ask their villain this question because they don’t really want to know the answer. Why? Because they’re afraid the real motive behind all this might change the face of the story as they know it. They really want the hero to be the good guy, but what if the villain isn’t absolutely wrong? What if he has some really good points although his solution may be wrong? What if he makes the hero look weak, shallow, and selfish? Writers may shy away from this because they don’t want to accept the possibility their protagonist isn’t perfect, but what makes the hero a stronger character is a stronger and more concrete villain.

Now though, for a fun exercise that could confuse your villain and maybe even add immediate depth to him, don’t have your hero shout at the antagonist, “You’re wrong! You’re evil!” But rather, have your protagonist pause and look at the villain from another point of view and then say, “You know what? You are actually really intelligent. I can respect that. Doesn’t mean I agree with you, but I can respect where you’re coming from.” This would totally throw your villain for a loop because they may be trying so very hard to show everyone their mean self, and when that suddenly doesn’t work, they falter and stumble a bit. They’re caught off guard. It’s easy for them to live up to the expectations of being cruel or such. If someone says, “You’re so mean!” The villain will merely laugh, “Bwhahahaha! You think this is mean? I will show you MEAN!” and goes to an extreme. However, if the comment is, “You’re quite intelligent,” the villain will automatically want to say, “I will show you INTELLIGENT….” but then pause and realize that makes absolutely no sense. Or even, “I realize it now. You’re doing what you think is right. You’re just misunderstood,” and the villain, “I’ll show you MISUNDERSTOOD!!” As you can see, it simply doesn’t have the some effect, but it is fun to do. Never know what would come out of it.

Now though, it is true that in real life some really bad people do horrible things for absolutely no reason whatsoever. They may be mentally mad or something. You want your story to be real, and that is real, so why not write a villain who just simply doesn’t care? This is entirely up to you and whatever you deem best for your story. However, don’t use this as an excuse not to explore all angles of your antagonist because you may never know what you will discover when you start looking there.

If your antagonist has some really good points, it forces you to develop your protagonist’s view to counter him. So, when you take the time to develop the villain of your story, you are actually investing in your protagonist, and you learn much of both of them! This is better for your story.

Advertisements

Always Try To Write Your Best

I’ve discovered one unchanging fact about writing: it gets more fun the more you do it. Every time you write, it should be your best piece. You should only ever have one worry as you write it, “How am I ever going to top this?” But as quickly as you think that, dismiss it and keep on writing—laugh like a manic as you word the perfect lines and twist the events flawless to your plan.

If you give it your all, it won’t let you down. It will keep you engaged, and it will amaze you—if only given the chance.

I’ve heard writers say how it’s their goal in life to write ‘this specific story’ and that’s it. Once they write it, they would have reached their lifelong goal and their calling as a writer is over. Some reason it reminds me a lot of marriage—some people think all will be perfect and complete once they’re married, and they live their entire single life trying to find The One, and once they’re married they’re left holding the pieces and having no clue what to do from there.

To those writers to tell me that, I look at them and think, “They won’t influence the world of writing much. Their single book probably won’t stand the test of time. It’ll be lost and forgotten in the volumes and volumes of books.” This is not a concern of mine. If that is all they wish to do, that’s their business.

However, if you long to be a real writer—one who turns out lots of books every year—you need to think differently. View every book as an opportunity to get better at some aspect of writing.

For me, for the longest time I wanted to perfect a readable and enjoyable form of description and dialogue. Once I did that, I wanted to capture the essence of a unique character and portray them accurately on paper. More recently I’ve been trying to perfect the antagonist and make them realistic so that the reader can sympathize with them and maybe even view them as the protagonist. Another time I decided to see what happens with a huge cast of characters without any getting cast aside.

Sure, I haven’t perfected all of it, but because I write with that in mind rather than trying to write the most epic story of all times, the story always outdoes itself, and I’m always left to wonder, “How am I ever going to top this?” But I don’t worry about it. I just keep writing, and it keeps surprising me.

Always try to write the best you can, but keep in mind that the best will not be perfect (revision and editing are mandatory). Once you finish it then go back to it, you might groan and say, “I can’t believe I wrote that!” However, at that specific time in your life, with everything you were encountering outside of writing, it was truly the best you could have written. So keep that in mind, and do the best you can. Always try to keep writing fun for yourself because if it’s fun for you, it’ll be fun for your readers to read.