When it comes to the idea of the antagonist, this is a very tricky concept to talk about, as it has multiple variables that affect the writing of a set antagonist. Without a strong antagonist, the story falls away, but an antagonist must do more than give the hero something to do. Introducing your antagonistic force can be done in various ways and is not limited.
Usually, the protagonist represents the theme of a story. The antagonist is the opposition, allowing the protagonist to reveal their personality, desires, fears, and beliefs. As a result, the reader can see the theme that your protagonist represents through the opposition of the antagonist. Think about it If the protagonist wants something and it is easy to get, there will be no story.
The central role of the antagonist is to oppose your protagonist’s character. This concept of opposing can take on many different forms. There are three main types of antagonist characters: villains, conflict creators, and the protagonist themself.
A villain is defined as the bad guy in a story. It’s essential to note that all villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains. For evil purposes, villains can serve minor roles or be your story’s primary source of conflict. Villain characters don’t always have to be the antagonist. Sometimes villain characters can be the protagonist of a story. Follow me if you want to make your story more powerful by writing a powerful antagonist.
How to write a good antagonist? (With Example)
Every great antagonist is the protagonist of their own story. In their mind, they are the hero doing the right thing for them. Your antagonist wants something, usually its power, and they will do everything they can to obtain it. Griffith from Berserk is an example of an antagonist with a well-written backstory.
As a child, Griffith comes from a humble origin. Born poor and having to work his way up to become a noble, Griffith dreams of becoming the next king and ruling his kingdom. He was remarkably determined, charismatic, and a great leader. Griffith becomes a villain after suffering the consequences of his actions.
Griffith would later develop into an antagonist that commits some of the worst atrocities in the series. The best antagonists are those who cannot be separated from the protagonist. They should aid in the protagonist as character development through their inherent opposition to them. There has to be some thread that connects your protagonist to the antagonist.
An obvious example of this can be seen in the Harry Potter franchise. Lord Voldemort murdered Harry Potter’s parents when he was a baby and left a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. This magical scar intrinsically connects the two characters throughout the story. It’s also a symbolic reminder of the connection between the two characters. Moreover, it foreshadows that the fates of the protagonist and the antagonist depend on one another. Even if your antagonist shows themselves much later in the story, their presence should be felt everywhere.
In many comics, manga, and web tunes, the main antagonist has an army of subordinates that serve as minor antagonists. Wherever your protagonist turns the aftermath of your antagonist, their actions should always be on display. Your antagonist should have an effect on the world around them. Here are more tips for writing an antagonist. Let’s go!
1. Create a belief system
A mistake I see many writers make is that they agree with their protagonist’s beliefs. They need to create strong opposition. The antagonist and the story are weak, one-dimensional, and the bad guy. It’s a serious problem. Have you ever watched a film and thought that it was preachy, too simplistic, or too obvious? What likely happened is that the writer spent too much time reinforcing the protagonist’s beliefs while creating a weak, easily defendable antagonist without real philosophical beliefs.
Beliefs do not matter unless they are tested, and your antagonist is here to test the beliefs of your protagonist to their absolute limits. In Snowpiercer, our protagonist is Curtis, a man at the back of an apocalyptic train trying to get to the front to defeat Wilford, the story’s antagonist. Curtis believes that the people at the back of the train are treated unfairly. Their children are taken from them. They eat bugs, and they live in cramped quarters. However, Curtis will find Wilford at the front, a man who believes that to keep the train moving. Certain sacrifices must be made for the good of the small sliver of humanity that remains alive on Earth.
Wilford challenges what Curtis believes when Curtis reaches the front of the train. His choice of what to do needs to be clarified. Wilford challenges Curtis with a dark truth, and that is that Wilfred’s tough decision-making is what is kept humanity alive. Wilford challenges Curtis’s point of view. Wilfred’s beliefs directly oppose what Curtis believes.
In The Dark Knight, Batman tries to rid the city of organized crime and create law and order. Batman believes people need law and order to live in peace. However, these beliefs are directly challenged by the Joker. The Joker believes the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. He challenges Batman’s view of the world by trying to show him that everyone in Gotham will turn against each other if they get desperate enough.
Joker shows Batman the ugly side of people, and Joker destroys Harvey Dent to show Batman that anyone can fall when times get hard. Joker’s beliefs directly oppose what Batman believes. A strong antagonist has a clear want and takes action to get it. That forces your protagonist to react.
2. Set an opposite goal
Your antagonist will have goals like your protagonist once, and these wants will directly oppose what the protagonist wants. It can manifest in different ways. Sometimes your antagonist will be directly against your protagonist.
Sometimes your antagonist will work towards what they want, and suddenly the protagonist is in their way. Like in Snowpiercer, Wilford is not trying to fight against Curtis. Curtis starts his rebellion and suddenly becomes a problem that Wilford must deal with. He sees Curtis as a threat once he makes it to the front of the train.
- The clash between your protagonist and antagonist needs to be impactful to the story, meaning every time they meet, someone is losing something.
3. Show the confliction
There is a cost or sacrifice to their conflict. Through this sacrifice, we see how vital the wants and beliefs of the characters are. Back to Snowpiercer, Curtis loses his friends and allies as he cuts through Wilfred’s men. By the time Curtis gets to the front of the train, he has lost everyone close to him. He made sacrifice after sacrifice to get to the front. So we realize how important it’s to him that he gets to Wilford and kills him.
In The Dark Knight, The Joker kills Rachel and destroys Harvey Dent with the death of Rachel. Batman has lost the most important person in his life. His fight with the Joker has cost him greatly, and we see his beliefs’ importance. That was meant to inspire. Batman has to decide if his fight is even worth the sacrifices he has to make. It’ll invest your audience into your story’s conflict and force your characters to change as they must handle the consequences of their fight.
- Part of creating good story conflict is that your protagonist and antagonist are working with a similar level of power.
They have to be able to be a challenge to one another, or your story’s conflict will die too quickly. If the antagonist cannot put up a protracted fight for any good reason, you should look for another character who will. Many times the protagonist starts by being completely outmatched by the antagonist.
For example, in The Matrix, Neo doesn’t have the power to fight against the agents of the Matrix. However, he gains power throughout the story and can fight against them. But the protagonist must have the ability to rise to the occasion and take on the antagonist. You would not pit Paddington Bear against Thanos. The conflict needs to make more sense. There has to be some push and pull. You must have clashes where both sides are forced to sacrifice and adapt their strategy to beat their opponent.
- Does your antagonist have to change? Your antagonist can go through change, but it isn’t necessary. Ultimately the story is the protagonist’s story. More often than not, your antagonist will stay the same.
Many times a protagonist beats an antagonist. By going through change themselves, the antagonist becomes the vehicle for change in the protagonist. A protagonist can also be in opposition to nature or themselves. For example, in The Martian, the main antagonist is the harsh reality of trying to survive on another planet. Mark Watney and NASA are constantly at odds with nature as they all work to rescue Mark from Mars. Your story can also have multiple different oppositions.
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s main antagonist is Sauron and Sauron’s servants, but it’s also the mountains, valleys, and cliffs he has to go through on his journey. It’s also Frodo’s struggle against the power of the ring. The antagonistic forces are not all characters. They are also nature and the self.
In conclusion, a perfect antagonist is a character who stands in the way of your protagonist achieving their goals. They create conflict and help propel the plot forward. By interacting with your antagonist, your reader can better understand your protagonist as beliefs, insecurities, and goals. Drop a comment below about your favorite antagonist from any comic manga or anime series.
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