Weaving Different Types of Antagonists
By the time I got to this last column, I was running short on ideas. Our fearless leader suggested I go with how I deal with antagonists in my novels. In films, actors and actresses will often say that playing the bad guy is way more fun than the other roles. There is just so much more to discover, more depths to delve. I agree. They can also be a major headache since they don’t like to play by the rules.
When dealing with Three Act plot diagrams or the Hero’s Journey, it’s primarily about the protagonist and how the situation/antagonist affects his/her decisions. The antagonist is there but left unformed, like a black cloud hovering, inserting itself in as a means to an end. It’s all about the Protagonist.
As the graphic illustrates, ideally the antagonist and protagonist goals and values should provide the theme and main conflict. I’ve seen it written that the writer should know their antagonists before any other character. So many opinions.
In my first book, Crystal Unicorns, my antagonist was known pretty much from the beginning. I needed to make him ruthless and sinister but to also garner sympathy. Fortunately, I had a clear idea of who and what I wanted him to be and a device to make it happen.
In Shark Bait, the reader knows the how and maybe who but why is left up in the air. The antagonist is more a commentary on society’s effects on the individual. Sound fancy? It isn’t. I have to use my Psychology degree somehow, don’t I?
Now in Desperate Overtures, my next novel following a non-fiction work in the Fall, wait, I guess I can’t share that one yet. Let’s just say that this antagonist is a mystery. He is known only by his deeds.
My point is that, while the protagonist has certain expectations due to genre or plot structure, the antagonist is as changeable as shooting dice. Try this writing exercise. Get some dice. Assign protagonist, antagonist, situation, genre (Twelve of each) and then toss a pair of dice to determine what you are working with. This is a good way to combat writer’s block as well.
So what twelve antagonists can you come up with? The traditional villain, the femme fatale, the master manipulator, the jealous lover, the out-for-the money-grubber…all of them fall under the ‘you have something I want’ category. The sadist, the revenge freak, the walk-over-the-bones business mogul are among the gratification mongers. The ‘stab you in the back just cuz’, the ‘throw the scent off them’, the poisoned pen revealer…all are just sneaky lil…you get the idea.
I would rather face an avowed enemy than deal with the sneaky ones. At least the avowed are being honest with their intent. In fact, many antagonists don’t see themselves as bad guys at all. They have their reason and rationale for why their way of seeing things is right and the protagonist’s is wrong.
The prior is by no means a complete list. Feel free to comment with any you might like to add. I by no means suggest I know them all. I’m no expert. Frankly, I don’t think the experts can name them all because we create new characters-new antagonists-with each story.
As writers, the last thing we want is to be boring. By varying what our antagonists want and the means by which they are willing to go about getting it, you take the plot formulas and stand them on their head.