For every captivating hero, there is an equally enthralling antagonist. To have a powerful main character requires a seemingly unstoppable force they must beat. And this is why writing a strong, fascinating antagonist is vital to an exceptional story. Without a strong antagonist, you cannot have a strong story.
The antagonist is the source of most (if not all) of the conflict for the main character. They are there to build suspense, add a new perspective, and (usually) defeat the protagonist. Unfortunately, the antagonist can fall flat when the author writes the character solely as an opposing force to the protagonist. Without giving the antagonist their own background and personality, they can seem like an accessory to the main character, instead of being their own person.
So, with that being said, here’s what you need to know to write a great antagonist.
The Key Points to Write a Great Antagonist
- The Antagonist’s Goals
- The Antagonist’s Reasoning
- Their Background & History
The Antagonist’s Goals
Just like the protagonist has goals and aspirations, so too should the antagonist. Their goal will usually be the opposite of the main character, but it doesn’t have to be.
Your antagonist should at least have an outer goal, but giving them an inner goal as well can make them more dynamic.
For example: The protagonist’s outer goal might be to save their city from destruction, while the antagonist’s outer goal is to bring destruction to the city. To add depth to their character, an inner goal for the antagonist may be to feel seen. That gives a why to their behavior. Their behavior should make sense, which brings me to my next point.
Another example: The protagonist’s goal is to win a race, and the antagonist has the same goal. In this example, the antagonist isn’t a bad person—a villain—which is the role they most often play. They simply want something that gets in the way of the protagonist achieving their goal.
We root for the main character because that is the perspective we are looking at, but if you were to flip the script and write from the antagonist’s point of view, they quickly become the hero.
The Antagonist’s Reasoning
The antagonist should always have a reason behind their actions—a method behind the madness. Them simply causing chaos (continuing with the example above) for the sake of causing chaos leads to a two-dimensional character. These reasons, as well as the antagonist’s goals, may not be obvious right away, but must still be there. This can lead to plot twists, character arcs, and similar events.
The reasoning is the most important part of bringing a character to life. The reader may not agree with the antagonist’s reasoning (like causing destruction to feel seen), but the understanding is still there. If the character’s actions seem random, unmotivated, or out-of-character, the story won’t be immersive.
If you do anything to bring a character to life, make sure they have reasons for their actions.
The need for a backstory for any character is the same: to add depth. The antagonist’s backstory can be overlooked, or completely forgotten by writers as the focus is on the main character. So, it’s important when writing to take time to ensure you have a well-rounded antagonist.
The backstory may not come up often, but these past events will usually reveal why the antagonist is the way they are.
Just making a character “good” or “bad” doesn’t allow them to feel real. Everyone has positive and negative traits, and the same should be true for the antagonist. These characteristics are the key if you want to write a great antagonist.
To help keep track of all this information, and to ensure your story has no plot holes, I recommend using a story bible. I have a post detailing what a story bible is, its uses, and how to create one, which I will link below.
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