Welcome to day one of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Cue the cheering! Heather and I are so excited to be participating again. Today we start the Write On Sisters 3, 2, 1 … BLASTOFF to Stellar Writing series with A for Antagonist.
Much like space travel, writing the antagonist is venturing into the unknown. Most writers don’t lie, cheat, steal or kill people, so creating this character challenges us like none other. We can feel like we are free-floating without experience or memories to guide us.
Here are some antagonist writing tricks. Let them act as your tether while you negotiate the vastness of character development space.
3 Tips for writing the Antagonist:
The antagonist must want something. And their goal should oppose the hero’s goal. This one factor is the key to all good story conflict. If you don’t know what your villain wants, neither will your readers.
Create multi–dimensional characters. A memorable antagonist is a mix of traits, good and bad. They should ignite the reader with emotions, fear, anger and sometimes even pity. It’s the weaving of traits that makes this character seem realistic to readers.
Balance the forces of good and evil. Make the contest between these two sides a fight, not a slaughter. If the antagonist has the physical, emotional or financial power, give the protagonist’s side greater numbers, or a cunning plan. It’s the back and forth action of wins and reversals that make readers hang on until the antagonist’s defeat.
2 Examples of Great Antagonists:
Lord Voldemort: In part because of the depth of this series (7 books), Rowling needed a complicated antagonist. The way she ages up this character in juxtaposition to Harry’s own development is brilliant. In book one he’s little more than a parasitic worm relying on minions to keep him alive. Book two he’s a school boy of 16, still a child, yet he’s starting to develop the evil nature that will bloom at the end of book four. If Rowling wrote Voldemort full strength from the start no one would have bought into Harry’s success. By the series end readers are totally vested in Voldemort’s destruction, even to the extent of seeing countless favorite characters killed off in the process. This is an antagonist with a surprisingly full character arc.
Professor James Moriarty: Again, this character has depth in part from the volume of later interpretations and adaptations. This seldom seen, behind-the-scenes villain is the perfect foil for Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty is considered the first super-villain of literature, the puppet master, the planner. His actions can seem chaotic and without purpose, yet they always revolve around a huge crime. The size of his crimes are often so extraordinary that no one can fathom the attempt, let alone his near success, except Sherlock, of course. Moriarty is one of those rare antagonists, someone you can admire for the scope of his intellect, while your skin crawls from the level of his single-minded evil.
1 Link for more helpful antagonist tips:
This post shows the diversity of cringe-worthy antagonists:
Casting Call: It’s Good to Be Bad
Some writers are scared to write unlikable characters, and they tend to pull back too soon. Every antagonist doesn’t need to be a monster, but they do need to oppose the protagonist!
Remember…no guts—no glory!