A is for Antagonist

BLAST_AWelcome 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!


Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813). However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

38 thoughts on “A is for Antagonist”

  1. Your first tip is especially powerful to me. There have been times when I haven’t known exactly what my antagonist wants or what’s motivating him, so it’s a good reminder.

    Hi from Nagzilla bloghopping A to Z

    1. Hi, I’m glad I was able to give you a helpful reminder. : ) As a reader I’m always thrilled when the writer has included what the antagonist wants. It makes the struggle easier to follow and makes me feel more vested in the story outcome. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Great tips for the antagonist. I have the problem of going so far into why my baddies are bad that I have to wonder how the good guys are good at all… hence my anti-hero complex, haha.

    Wonderfully written. 🙂

  3. Thanks for this great explanation. I’m reading a series and had it in mind when I was reading your post. Our book has multiple protagonists – but they all lead to one woman who has been a constant. In the beginning, she was just a thought, kind of like Lord V, but now, in Book 4, she’s a regular character.

    1. Hi Kimberly, I’m glad you liked the post. I love A to Z for learning new things, and makes me happy to hear I helped you get more out of the book you’re reading. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Great advice here, Robin! In a lot of stories my favourite character is the antagonist. Sometimes they end up having more layers than the hero (which I guess is a mistake if you want people to root for the hero!)

    1. Hi Sue,
      I love antagonists! I think we all understand the hero should win, but it’s exciting when the antagonist grabs your full attention and will not let go.

  5. I’m loving this theme already! My only problem is I don’t know either of the characters you mentioned as a protagonist. But I’m applying the general stuff to others I know.
    Thanks sisters 🙂

    1. Sorry about that. I try to find examples with a pretty big reader following, but you can’t win them all. I’m glad you were able to find something helpful without them. : )

  6. These are great tips. I think you are right about making the antagonist a complicated character. The best stories are the ones where you understand the antagonist’s motivation, even it is “evil.”

    1. Hi Jessa,
      I believe even the evil antagonists has a history. In it are the roots of why they are evil. And that’s often pretty interesting too. : ) Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Good tips! My antagonists always come out a little odd, and I’ve discovered I very much rely on the idea of the antagonist as someone with conflicting desires/motivations, rather than someone “evil” or “bad.” They’re usually just inversions of my protagonist, someone who makes different choices in extremely analogous situations. I think of them as characters who fulfill story functions, just like “the assistant” or whatever. I mean, the assistant will occasionally make decisions that hinder the protagonist as well… 🙂

    1. Interesting approach. Of course any character can help or hurt the protagonist’s mission, that’s part of the fun.

    1. Hi Cait,
      I’m with you on that one. I wrote a post ages ago about how nature is a fantastic antagonist. Today I was working hard to keep my word count down. I have the tendency to go long, but with Blogging A to Z long post don’t tent to be a hit. Also so many writers are doing Camp NaNo or a pitch contest this month. I don’t a single writers with time to spare.
      Thank you so much for stopping by.

    1. Hi Leetah,
      Thanks. Examples are tricky for me. I want to find something a large number of writers have read, yet I don’t to use the same examples over and over again. I’m glad these two worked.

  8. AWESOME start to the A-to-Z challenge. I love it. I’m just writing my first novel and need all the help I can get 🙂 Thanks for sharing your tips on writing. I’m really looking forward to you posts! This is my first year to participate in the A-to-Z. It’s really exciting to “run around” and check out all these really cool blogs! If you are so inclined, drop by mine and leave your thoughts 🙂 have a great day!

    1. Hi Shawn,
      A computer related April Fools trick from my adorable children has be behind schedule, but I’m off to check other blogs now. Glad you liked the tips.

  9. Good morning. I’ve read Sherlock Holmes year ago. I’m hoping for a re-read this year and once again visit his nemesis, Moriarty. Great post. 🙂

    1. I love Arthur Conan Doyle. I think you will enjoy making his work a writer study, and you will learn a lot.

    1. Hi Rachel,
      I’m with you, we know quite a bit about Voldemort’s backstory, but more would be interesting. And trust me, you don’t have to wait long for one of use to use Star Wars as an A -Z writing example. : ) Dropping in on your blog in a few.

    1. Thanks, Holly. A to Z is tricky, we have to think about how to make the A to Z crowd happy with short posts, while also pleasing readers that know our regular posts. Hopefully we hit on a good formula this year. : )

We love comments and questions.

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