How to Create a Believable Antagonist

Characters are incredibly important to a story.  Without good characters, the story would lack that breath of life to keep readers interested.  Characters — good characters — make a story relatable, make for a better story line.  Characters must also vary.  You shouldn’t have multiple characters with similar personality traits.  Think about it, if this world was filled with people who were always happy, always willing to compromise, always content with what they had and where they were at in life, we wouldn’t have as complex or interesting a history we do have.  It’s the same with stories.  Without unique characters, there would be no conflict and it would end up looking like a story a five-year-old tried writing because he thought it might be fun.

But a lot of people just focus on the hero’s personality, or the hero’s sidekicks.  The antagonist (“bad guy”) is often just an after-thought.  Sure, people give him or her a motivation, but for the most part the antagonist wants to take over the world, wants to grind out the hero, wants to become the hero of the football team, the most popular girl or guy in school, or in general just wants to be on top.

J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series does a good job exploring the other side.  We get glimpses into the past, both of our hero’s, the villain’s, the hero’s parents, and the mysterious one everyone hates, but no one really knows who’s side he’s on.

“Okay,” you say, slow and uncertain, but understanding what I’m saying.  “So how do you suggest I start creating this bad guy?”

So glad you asked!

First of all, you can create the general idea of the plot, your characters standings, the basis of the story.  When you have that down, ask yourself, “Why?”  Why is this character so convinced to take of the world?  To crush my protagonist?  What is his or her reasons?  What happened in their past that causes them to act this way now?  What’s their favorite color?  Why is that their favorite color?  Have my antagonist and protagonist crossed paths before?  Do they remember each other if they have?  What happened?

The list could go on and on.  When you have this down, you will have a much better, much more complex story.  You could stop there, maybe apply the same treatment to some of the other characters, but you could go deeper.  Set up a character interview.  Imagine you’re sitting with your characters, or maybe you’re talking to them from the other side of the glass on the computer screen, like an insane asylum.  You could interview your characters yourself, but it’s always good to get another perspective of things.  Invite a friend who you know won’t tease you for talking to your own imaginary characters to ask some questions.  Sometimes another creative mind is helpful, and can ask questions you couldn’t think of after all that other question-asking you’d just done.  Write down the questions, then enter the mind of your character and answer them.  It’s sort of like acting in that, way, you have to enter a different mind set, a different world view, even a different body.

The key question to keep asking yourself (or the antagonist, depending on how you look at it) is “Why?”  It creates deeper characters, since it forces you to go back and explore your character’s past.  So next time your preparing for your next big writing project, just ask “Why?”

Remember, all the characters are your babies, not just the hero.  Don’t pick favorites.

This is The Raven, off in search of Inspiration.

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4 thoughts on “How to Create a Believable Antagonist

  1. Wow! All your posts are so interesting. I’ve never tried writing, but if I ever do I’ll be using some of your thoughts. Can’t wait to read about the antagonist in your future kid-gang book. Keep it coming!

    M*m

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  2. ^Great way to get to know your antagonist. It is always good to focus a little on the bad guy, as you said it creates a more complex story. There is usually a reason the bad guy is acting the way he is, and why hide it from your reader. The writer should tend to stay neutral in most situations unless to emphasize something and the truth is, it is all up to the reader to take a side.

    Stories do tend to get boring when it is always a happy ending, at least for me, so to add some uniqueness to ones story telling why not make the bad guy win sometimes, they do in reality. If they didn’t you would think bad guys would soon figure out that they were never going to win. As you said all the characters are your babies don’t favor one over the other. (Although sometimes I feel like I want to blow up the villain because he is so cruel, and since I am in charge I can. lol) And really it is all about creativity, so come on and use those creative juices!

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    • Yes, it is a little boring when you know the hero will always win. It’s always more interesting when the hero doesn’t win. But even if you know the hero will win, the next great accomplishment for the writer is to get the reader excited to find out HOW the hero will defeat the antagonist.
      Thanks for commenting!
      The Raven

      Like

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