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?