What’s the Difference Between an Antagonist and a Villain?

What’s the Difference Between an Antagonist and a Villain?
September 10, 2018 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice Phoebe Darqueling

People often use villain and antagonist interchangeably, but there are some important differences to keep in mind.

What is an Antagonist?

The person, group, or force in opposition to the protagonist (main character). This entity brings conflict into the story and stands in the way of other characters’ goals. This could be a single person, but could also be an organization. The protagonist could be part of the organization or society and somehow resisting the status quo, or they could be outside of the organization. Protagonists, or their own flaws to be more precise, can also act as antagonists. Other forces, such as grief, can stand in the way of the protagonist as well, and often lead to character growth.

Examples of Antagonists

  • Individual antagonists include: Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter Series), Boba Fett (Star Wars films), the mayor in Jaws.  
  • Groups/Societies as antagonists include: the worlds of The Hunger Games and The Giver.
  • Character flaws as antagonists: Pride, sloth, cowardice
  • Forces that can act as antagonists: Loss of loved ones/sorrow, biological needs of the protagonist or (hunger, shelter etc.) or the needs of the antagonist (animals need to eat, too.)

What is a Villain?

A character with evil or selfish intentions that causes harm to others. They are aware of the protagonist’s goals and intentions, and will work in direct opposition to them. If a villain is present, the protagonist is usually the “good guy” with the classic virtues of a “hero.”

Examples of Villains

  • Most comic book antagonists
  • Ursula (Little Mermaid)
  • Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter series)
  • President Snow (The Hunger Games)

How are Antagonists and Villains the Same?

In both cases, these people or forces bring conflict to the story. They present obstacles for the protagonist to overcome, and their actions help drive the plot of the story. A villain is one type of antagonist.

How are Antagonists and Villains Different?

Not all antagonists are villains. Villains are much more deliberate about their actions and how they interact with the protagonist than an antagonist needs to be. Because conflict can come from within or without, you don’t have to be limited to single individual (or even them and their minions) to bring conflict to your story.

Find out More

Do you have a favorite villain from film or literature? Do you prefer certains types of antagonists and conflicts over others? Share with us in the comments!

Phoebe Darqueling helps kids in grades 5-8 craft compelling skits through her curriculum writing at United States Academic Triathlon. Check out her unlikely but unabashed villain in her dark retelling of Pinocchio called “The Marionette” in The Queen of Clocks and Other Steampunk Tales.  

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Phoebe Darqueling Phoebe Darqueling is a speculative fiction writer who also runs SteampunkJournal.org. You can find her writing in contributions to the Collaborative Writing Challenge, including their newest Steampunk release, Army of Brass. During the academic year, Phoebe is the Creative Director and curriculum writer for a creativity for middle school students, which has given her an understanding of and appreciation for intelligence and creativity of all shapes and sizes.

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