Writing a Strong Antagonist

Writing a Strong Antagonist
June 20, 2017 1 Comment Writing Advice J.K. Allen

This month we are talking about character development. There is one character that is often underdeveloped or cliché in our stories. The antagonist. Too often he is an all black wearing, mustache twirling, cackling villain who monologues too much for his own good. He’s a cardboard cutout and greatly weakens your story. So how do we write strong antagonists? Let’s take a look.

  • Your antagonist is just as important as your protagonist. Without your antagonist, you don’t have conflict, which means you don’t have story. After all, there’s no need for a hero when there’s no baddie in sight.

[bctt tweet=”Without your strong antagonist, you don’t have conflict, which means you don’t have story. #amwriting #writingtips username=”hijinkswriter”]

  • Your protagonist and antagonist should be evenly matched. In both abilities and weaknesses. If one is all powerful, there’s no question of who will win in the final showdown and no reason for the reader to read on to see what happens next.
  • Make your villain human. This means make him a well-rounded character and fully fleshed out, even if he isn’t human. He needs a personality, a goal to work towards, a flaw that holds him back, and a history.
  • Give your antagonist a reason why they are doing what they’re doing. This goes along with their history. The past shapes who we are today. So why is your baddie bad? Or doing bad things? You don’t want an antagonist who’s bad only for the sake of being bad or because they are just pure evil. Make them complex. Give them some grey areas instead of all black and white.
  • Make them complex. No one is completely good or completely bad, so it’s not only more interesting to make your antagonist complex, but it’s more realistic. It’s harder to write a cliché villain when you’re focused on making them three-dimensional.
  • What are their hopes and fears? What do they want more and why? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Explore these and really figure out your antagonist.
  • Make them the hero of their own story. Spend just as much time developing your antagonist and their backstory as you do the protagonist.
  • Give them a code of conduct to live by. Give them a moral code that shapes them even if their morals are skewed. Everyone has a line they won’t cross, so what’s your antagonist’s?
  • Connect your antagonist to your protagonist. Give them some similarities they can share, whether it’s a similar past or a flaw they are both dealing with. For example, both Tom Riddle and Harry Potter had similar loveless upbringings that made Hogwarts an important chapter in their lives. They dealt with similar emotions, but their actions are what made them very different.
  • As with any character, do your research. If your character is a sociopath or a psychopath, research those conditions until you understand them inside and out. Research any condition you plan on writing about, go beyond stereotypes. If your antagonist has a certain belief, whether religious or philosophical, study that belief before you write about it. Also research any career or hobby that shapes your antagonist or the plot.

Make your antagonist an integral part of your story to make your story stronger and more suspenseful. Avoid clichés and stereotypes. What are your tips for writing a strong antagonist? Share below and happy writing!

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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.
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  1. one Comment

    Adan Ramie

    Ah, the antagonist. I definitely agree that we should research the point of views they espouse, but I would caution against too much research before the first draft is done. I find a little research at the beginning is enough to get the ball rolling. The time between first draft and introductory edits is a great time to do more intense research, and will bring a lot to the final manuscript. Thanks for a great post!

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