Developing a realistic antagonist

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I have begun working on a new novel. Luckily for me, I began developing the premises for this novel a few years ago. But one area that I didn’t really work on is the antagonist.

The antagonist, the person that will try to thwart your hero and provide conflict for your story, is one of the most important characters to develop. Most authors spend a majority of their time developing the main character. The same amount of time and effort should be devoted to creating a realistic antagonist.

To make your antagonist believable and not just some movie-type bad guy, you will need to develop recognizable personality traits and a well-developed background. You want your reader to empathize or at least understand where your antagonist is coming from. Your antagonist needs clearly established motives.

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Ben Dar – the antagonist from SUMMONED (or at least the photo I used in the book trailer.)

Now typically when one thinks of the antagonist of a story – especially a fantasy novel – one thinks of the person as being a bad person – perhaps even evil. You, as the author, need to understand how they came to be like they are. Everyone has a reason for what they do. No one is evil just to be evil. It can be their quest for power, revenge, or even a mental disorder but there needs to be something the drives this character. We are the culmination of our environment, our genetics, our past, and our choices. You need to know these things about your antagonist though all of them may never actually appear in your story. (Check out this list of motivations for antagonists.)

To help create a well-rounded antagonist, consider giving him some redeeming qualities. And by this I mean something other than he likes puppies. Almost no one is evil all the time. And remember that sometimes the bad guy wins. Not every instance does the hero of the story need to thwart the villain.

Of course, your antagonist does not have to be a bad person. It can easily be someone whose ideas don’t mesh with your protagonist. It could be a business partner who wants to have a successful business no matter what the cost. Your hero may also want the business to succeed but needs to be a man of integrity. These two characters are far from enemies, but their different needs pull them in opposing directions.

And your antagonist may not be one person but a group or even just an obstacle to overcome such as the fear of speaking in front of an audience. But you simply don’t have a story without an obstacle, conflict or bad guy so be sure to create a strong antagonist, and you will have a better, more believable story.

3 thoughts on “Developing a realistic antagonist

  1. Matt Urso says:

    Hi,

    I came across your articles here randomly and I have to say, as an aspiring writer myself I find these articles particularly helpful and useful! I am also working on an original fantasy novel. There are a few other topics I would like to ask about for tips in writing fantasy.

    Thanks for posting these!

  2. […] just for the sake of being evil. (I have already addressed creating a realistic villain in another post. Basically, the villain needs motivation or a reason to be evil.) Of course, many times the villain […]

  3. […] Give your character challenges. Every character needs a few flaws (or in the case of villains a redeeming quality or two). Readers get bored with a too-perfect character. And no story is […]

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