Tag Archives: antagonist

Writing tip Wednesday: “Take offense”

Need to give your antagonist (or maybe even your protagonist) an antagonizing tactic. Consider one (or more) of these…




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Writing tip Wednesday: “Giving the Bad Guys Their Due”

6 Ways to Write Better Bad Guys

by Laura Disilverio


Luckily, transforming your antagonist from a one-dimensional paper doll into a force to be reckoned with—and remembered—is completely possible if you implement a few simple but powerful methods for creating antagonists and expanding their roles. You can build a worthy adversary during the outlining process or beef one up when you revise your already completed draft. It’s never too late.

Mother and dauther in special glasses

Make your antagonists as interesting as your protagonists.

The antagonist is, quite simply, the person who acts to keep your protagonist from achieving his goals. Note the key words person and acts. I’m using person here as a catchall for a sentient being or creation of any kind that is capable of emotion and has the intellectual ability to plot against your protagonist. Thus, a personified car (as in Stephen King’s Christine) could be an effective antagonist, but an abstraction such as “society” or “Big Pharma” cannot. (More on this later.)

The antagonist must act to prevent your heroine from achieving her goals, whether that action is whispering reminders that she’s totally useless, plunging a knife into her back or anything in between. The type of action your antagonist takes will depend on his nature and the kind of story you’re writing. But your story must have an antagonist. (In some stories—Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comes to mind—the protagonist is actually his own antagonist.) Without an active antagonist, your hero could take a leisurely Sunday stroll toward his goal. Lacking the obstacles a worthy antagonist would provide, he would also lack the opportunity for growth or the necessity to change, and his character arc would flatline (as would your sales).

With the following tips in mind, reread your manuscript with an eye toward making your antagonist as compelling as your protagonist. Some effort on your part could even put your villain in the heady company of Professor Moriarty, the White Witch, Simon Legree and Nurse Ratched.

1. Remember that Antagonists are people, too.
I stop reading novels in which the antagonist is obviously nothing more than a device to move the plot in a certain direction. If I can’t empathize with the antagonist, believe in her motives or understand why she’s dishing out evil, I put the book aside. Flesh out your antagonist. Give us an origin story (how she became the way she is) or show that she regrets something and might change if given a chance.

If working with a nonhuman antagonist, personify him at least a little bit. Think of Frankenstein’s loneliness, HAL’s (the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey) jealousy or Shere Khan’s hatred of the “man cub” (The Jungle Book). Show the antagonist doing something nice. Even villains love their mothers or cockapoos, volunteer at soup kitchens or help snow-stuck motorists push their cars out of intersections. Do this early on. Give him believable, even laudable, motives.

Inspector Javert from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a strong antagonist because his obsession with finding Valjean stems from his belief that stealing is wrong. How many readers would disagree with that? Javert’s insistence that theft is always, without exception, wrong, however, turns his crusade into persecution. His inability to believe that good and evil can coexist in a single man leads him to suicide. His death is one of the story’s tragedies because he has been so thoroughly developed as a character and because we have, from the beginning, understood his motives and his flaws.

Other was include:
2. Eschew the totally evil antagonist (except, possibly, in some horror or monster stories).

3. If you’re tempted to say your antagonist is a corporation, disease or war—don’t.

4. Make your antagonist at least as smart, strong and capable as the protagonist.

5. Keep the tension strong when the antagonist is a friend, ally or loved one.

6. If your antagonist remains hidden for much of the story (as in a mystery), give him proxies or let him work behind the scenes.

For more on these other steps, go to http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-ways-to-write-better-bad-guys?et_mid=636328&rid=239626420

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