Today on WriteOnSisters we have another edition of “Heather encounters a story problem and finds a way to solve it.” I’ve admitted before that my ideas come from situations not character, hence my posts about How To Choose A Main Character and Creating Character Arc From Plot, so it serves to reason that if I don’t have a protagonist in mind when the idea forms, I don’t have an antagonist either. So how do I create an antagonist? I’ll tell you, but first…
What is an antagonist? On the bare basic level, an antagonist is your main External Conflict and prevents the protagonist from getting what he/she wants.
3 Types of Antagonists
- The antagonist is an obstacle that gets in the protagonist’s way and prevents her from achieving her goal. This type of antagonist can be a person or nature or society (refer to this post for clarification). For example, nature is the antagonist in many survivalist films (like man trapped on mountain because of avalanche). Another example is THE FAULT IN OUR STARS in which cancer is the antagonist. There isn’t a person in that story thwarting the heroine; what prevents her from getting what she wants is her disease. Of course, an obstacle antagonist can be a person too, often seen in teen flicks as the bully character who gets in the way of the heroine for no other reason than because they want to.
- The antagonist is a villain who has a goal that goes against what the protagonist wants. This isn’t quite the same thing as an obstacle, where the antagonist simply blocks the protagonist’s goal. A villain has a goal of his own that often doesn’t even involve the protagonist until she is compelled to stop him because she doesn’t want his horrific plan to come to pass. Not surprisingly, this type of antagonist is common in crime stories.
- The antagonist is a competitor, meaning he wants the same thing the protagonist wants. They have the same goal, and if one succeeds the other fails. This is common in thrillers, action-adventures and heist stories where the protagonist and antagonist are after the same priceless artifact, computer chip, or whatever.
Okay, so I have three types of antagonists to choose from! At first I thought I had an obstacle antagonist because there is a thing in my story that blocks my protagonist from achieving her goal. But that just didn’t seem like enough. I’m not one of those writers who insists every story needs a person be the antagonist, but I did feel as if having a human being thwart my heroine would improve the story. So I set about brainstorming characters who would complicate, disrupt and threaten her goal.
I didn’t think my story required a villain antagonist with a separate goal; there’s already enough going on. So perhaps a human obstacle or competition? However, with these last two the antagonist felt tacked on – no surprise, since that’s exactly what I was doing!
So if none of these worked, what was the solution? Turns out, a hybrid antagonist.
I thought it would be cool if the protagonist and antagonist had the same macro goal (go to college), but different micro goals (my protagonist is taking smart pills to boost her grades high enough to get into college; my antagonist needs a great story for her journalism portfolio to get into a competitive college program). These goals collide because my antagonist suspects my protagonist of cheating and starts investigating her and thus getting in her way. So what does that give me?
- Same macro goal as protagonist = competition antagonist
- Own goal separate from protagonist = villain antagonist
- Gets in heroine’s way = obstacle antagonist
The conclusion? The 3 different antagonists are not exclusive; you can mix-and-match them!
So that’s how I created my antagonist. How do you do it?
10 thoughts on “How To Create An Antagonist”
Loved this analysis, Heather! Thanks for sharing!
Yay! I’m always happy when the inner workings of my brain make sense to other people. 🙂
Well, since I write crime fiction my antagonists are pretty straight forward… a criminal or killer. Sorry, no fancy way of doing things here. LOL But I do like your idea. It sounds fascinating, Heather. Good luck with the story!
Right now, a straightforward villain antagonist sounds like bliss to write! 🙂
Hybrid is the way to go. In my personal writing, which is basically very extended character studies, my antagonists all come out of needing an obstruction for my MC, but quickly develop into more complex (often more complex than the MC, whoops!) characters that aren’t evil, or even wrong, but a creature of circumstance. Of course I’m a fantasy/spec fic author, so I like making sure that there’s no MWAHAHAHAHAH! villain behind the scenes, because that’s boring. 😛
Sounds like a good strategy – working from what obstruction is needed, and then developing the antagonist into a more complicated hybrid. I think that is kind of what I did, but in a more roundabout way. 😉
My first book the antagonist was an obstacle, but also, the main character’s nature. I never thought about how to define the antagonist either. The best I could manage was it was something intangible and not a person.
I resisted defining my antagonist for a long time too. But, of course, when weaving conflict throughout a story, it’s important to know what/who the protagonist is up against, even if her main antagonist is herself.
Hi there – I never thought of the antagonist as being an ‘obstacle’. BTW, I gave a shout out to your blog on my post today on the A to Z Reflections.
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Interesting, because Obstacle Antagonist was the first one that came to mind for me! Though all antagonist types are obstacles at some point during every story, since the antagonist’s role is to prevent the protagonist from getting what she wants. But I find it fascinating how other people approach thinking about story. I know my methods aren’t the universal norm!
Thanks so much for the shout out on your blog and for all your wonderful comments during the A-Z Challenge. Much appreciated!