What Makes a Strong Antagonist

This week I’ve decided to focus on antagonists since it’s a natural extension of our character discussion last week. Besides your protagonist, your antagonist is the most important character of your story. They drive your plot and protagonist forward, create suspense, and provide the conflict that your story needs. So how do we make a good villain?

First by making a good character. Last week we discussed what all characters need: goals/motivations, flaws, and traits that make them relatable. This is especially important for antagonists. A bad guy your reader can relate to is a bad guy who will chill your reader to the core.

Give them flaws and vulnerabilities, and on the other end of the spectrum, do not make them too powerful. You want your antagonist and protagonist to be evenly-matched in order to build suspense and believability. If a villain is indestructible, how will the protagonist ever win?

Keep their goals in mind. The antagonist’s goals should be directly in opposition to the protagonist’s goals to create conflict and force your protagonist to act. You should know your antagonist’s greatest goal and their biggest fear.

Think from your antagonist’s POV. Every villain is the hero of their own story, so practice thinking from their Pov. This will help you understand their justifications and enable you to make your antagonist a three-dimensional character.

Compare and contrast your antagonist with your protagonist. Highlight similarities between them and contrast their different decisions and reactions. Similarities equals complexities and will add depth to your characters.

Finally, spend as much time developing your antagonist as you do your protagonist. This will help you avoid the pitfall of a two-dimensional, clichéd caricature of a villain who twirls his mustache as he laughs maniacally. Make your villain as well-rounded as your protagonist; your story will thank you.

On another note, you should know your antagonist’s history and what makes him tick, but be careful not to add too much backstory into your work. The present story is what’s important and you should only add in backstory that drives the present story forward.

What are your thoughts on what makes a strong antagonist? Comment below and happy writing!

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