an·tag·o·nize - to act in opposition to; oppose
I'm rounding the final corner in the first draft of my wip. One of the many things I'll tidy up in revision is my antagonist. Right now he's flat and unexciting, and I doubt I've done a good job fleshing out his reasons for being such a jerk.
Antagonists play a huge role in our novels since their job is to stand in our main character's way. Here are some of the things I've learned about antagonists:
- They don't have to be evil. They simply need a darn good reason for stopping the Lead.
- There needs to be something that glues the Lead to the antagonist. Why can't they simply walk away from each other?
- The antagonist should be as strong or stronger than the Lead.
After my first draft has cooled, I'll revise with the following questions in mind:
- Is my antagonist interesting?
- Is he fully realized?
- Is he justified in his actions?
- Is he believable?
The Blood-Red Pencil had an excellent post about creating compelling characters. Do you have any advice for me when it comes to antagonists? Please share!
photo credit: google images
I have a similar problem with my antagonist, and I'm planning to work on punching him up today. I wonder if it's the whole being positive conundrum. We work so hard at it it's a process to get into that negative mindset?ReplyDelete
If that's the case, you'd better not visit my blog today... I left you a little prizey prize~
(tease tease ;o)
Yes. Think of a jerk in your life, and use their back story, lol.ReplyDelete
My antagonist starts my WIP and she is an amalgamation of a few people I know. I chose a magazine photo and wrote down all her traits and strengths /weakenesses and what she wants in life. I hope this helps. :O)ReplyDelete
Julie, I am attempting fiction for the first time after 30+ years writing nonfiction, so I am sorry I don't have any advice for you. But there are lots of bloggers who do have good information. Have you checked out Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog?ReplyDelete
I loves me a good antagonist! :D Never pictured yours as the Heath Ledger type - did I spell his name right? Love how you break down the components of a good Bad Guy! My best advice is something you already said - make him/her as REAL as possible. Give him realistic motivations, maybe even something that compels us to feel sorry for him.ReplyDelete
Julie your antagonist has to be as dislikeable as possible. The readers have to really hate him. Then only will they root for the protagonist's victory.ReplyDelete
If it helps I had done a post in August about the Allure of the Antagonist. Here is the link. Hope it works.
Unless you are writing something about superheroes, I'd say try to make your antagonist as "real" as possible. Comic book style villains can have their place, but if they are so far over-the-top compared to the other characters they feel out of sync.ReplyDelete
Always like to make the antagonist have a believable reason for being one - but I write books for children and I need my hero to sympathise a little with the wicked person or animal.ReplyDelete
Good luck revising! Remember that in the atangonist's eye, he's the hero of his own story. Give him real goals, motivations, needs and wants that resonnate with the reader, only it is his methods, lack of scruples and actions to obtain what he wants that make him a baddie.ReplyDelete
Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse
Donald Maass said in one of his books to let the reader see the antagonist being empathetic. So he is real.Great post!ReplyDelete
Jennifer Crusie gave a really great talk about protagonists and antagonists. it made me realize what you said, that they don't have to be the "villain" per se. Just someone is blocking the protagnosit from reaching his/her goal. I had never thought about it like that before.ReplyDelete
Great post! You've hit so many good points already, Julie. Few beginning writers remember that there has to be a compelling reason the protag and antag can't just walk away. They both have to want something with equal intensity, and their goals should be in opposition. But do remember that the motivation for the antag should be internal and external, just as he needs both an internal and an external goal. I think my favorite tip about antags is to keep something in reserve about the antag, something that deepens the conflict at the last moment.ReplyDelete
I like the idea of just blocking the main character's path.ReplyDelete
Hey there! I found your blog on Leigh's today. I've learned that the antagonist must have an element of empathy... meaning the reader must connect with him/her in some way... to know the real reason behind the evil. Perhaps the axe murderer was abused as a child kind of thing. It's important for the bad guy to have a past. Kind of like in The Dark Knight... the Joker explains why he is the way he is. The reader must know this.ReplyDelete
Great post- I admit I never put much thought into what makes a great antagonist so this definitely has me double checking my stuff. Congrats on your wip!ReplyDelete
Personally, I like to create villains more than I do heroes.ReplyDelete
Thank you -- this is such a great post. I've always found the antagonist very, very difficult to write, and the idea that they need to block the Lead's way and can't simply walk away has given me much food for thoughts.ReplyDelete
All I can say is that everyone has an agenda, ~especially~ the antagonist.ReplyDelete
What's their agenda? Usually the MC is sucked into the antag's world, not the other way around. Usually, the MC just wants to be left alone to run with their own, often rote and boring agenda.
While the antag's agenda is exciting, dangerous, and interesting!
So let your antag suck your MC deep into their world.
You know, writing this out, and thinking about your post has been pretty inspiring to me. Now I gotta do some writing!
PS, and the best antag's don't block the MC at all. They lead them in a different direction and leave the MC changed for the journey.ReplyDelete
Batman is a prime example. Joker wasn't blocking Batman at all -- he was ~leading~ Batman into his world, by the bloody hand.
Great tips, especially about the antagonist being a blocker instead of evil...those antagonists who do lead the protag into danger probably are evil.ReplyDelete
One more thing I've read is that the antagonist thinks he/she is completely justified in his/her actions. Figuring out why they feel that way can go a long way to making your antagonists less flat.
Evan an antagonist has to have humanity.ReplyDelete
I love the line that they can't walkl away from each other...very thoughtful : )ReplyDelete
That's one creepy picture!ReplyDelete
You make excellent points about antagonists. They're pretty important to our stories so they can't be one-dimensional.
First off, that picture of joker is sort of scary, ha.ReplyDelete
You really hit all the points for me especially the one about the antagonist being strong or stronger than the protagonist. This is what I'm working on right now in my revision. My antagonist was sort of a wimp so I'm ramping her up to the same level or higher than my protagonist.
Good luck with your future revision!
I love your insight that the antagonist is simply blocking the protagonist-- not necessarily evil, just standing in the way.ReplyDelete
I think my advice relates to this observation: if your character is 100% evil, it will be cartoonish and flat, because people are never 'all evil all the time', just like they're never good all the time.
We know that protagonists shouldn't be perfect, and that a few human flaws make us able to relate. Same thing goes for the antagonist. The evil has to be flawed by something good, or at least human.
Make him as evil as you can make him...then make his actions completely "right" in another character's eyes. That should make your leads toil and bubble a bit. Even Hitler and Stalin had followers...ReplyDelete
"Is he fully realized?" Good one and very important! Nice work as always Julie...Short, sweet & to the point! And the Joker was an awesome antagonist :)ReplyDelete
Ooh, great post Julie. I love the list. I'm heading close to the middle of my wip (woot) so I'll keep my eye on this when I get to the nitty-gritty with the antagonist. ;)ReplyDelete
Good luck with fleshing out your antagonist. And I'm #300 of your followers. Yay!!!ReplyDelete
You guys rock. I'm absorbing your advice like a sponge. Thank you!ReplyDelete
I'm sorry. I was distracted by Heath Ledger. And now I want to watch the Dark Knight again. He was bloody brilliant and one of the most perfect antagonists.ReplyDelete
I love to do one of those personal questionnaire sheets on my antagonist. It really gets me inside their head and reveals their deeper motivations. That always helps me add layers.ReplyDelete
This is a great post, Julie. I sometimes think about antagonists in my own books, but not enough. This will help me as I work on my revision, so THANK YOU!ReplyDelete
BTW, I gave you an award on my blog today, so check it out when you have time.
P.S. That picture of the Joker is so incredibly creepy. He was seriously a nutso antagonist.
Your second bullet point was great. Thank you.ReplyDelete
Great post, Julie. With antagonists I think you just have to go all out. You have to spend as much time with them as you spend with the protagonist. Antagonists are just as important as protagonists, and sometimes it's importantly to really have your readers feel a certain way about your antagonist. Especially if your antagonist is the main character, like in the Magicians series I'm working on.ReplyDelete
Thanks for checking out the premier. Glad you enjoyed it, and thank you so much Julie. I really appreciate that you took the time to read it and leave a comment.
author of the Magicians series
I find this very interesting. I like antagonists to be compelling. I don't think anyone in real life operates under the assumption that they are evil, so I don't like an antagonist that is simply evil; it makes them one-dimensional.ReplyDelete
I love the underlying notion that there needs to be glue binding the antagonist to the protagonist. It's a great thing to keep in mind while writing. Thanks, Julie.ReplyDelete
Congratulations Julie! You're amazing! keep it up.ReplyDelete
First...Congrats on 300 followers! :)ReplyDelete
Yeah, so with antagonists, a lot depends on the genre and the story (sometimes the antagonist is the protagonist; he's his own worst enemy. Think Catcher in the Rye, for example...or it's a situation that's the antagonist and not a person at all.), but assuming you're talking strictly 'bad guy' I think it is very important to not fall into cliched, flat bad guy syndrome. They need all the depth, layers and quirks as any other MC, and we need to (eventually) understand his motivation. I like complex, believable antagonists.
You know, I loved Heath in that role (and many other roles), I still can't believe he is dead. Man was he talented. :(
Have a wonderful weekend, Julie! :)
Oh brilliant writers, thanks so much for all your nuggets of wisdom. Great stuff.ReplyDelete
Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)ReplyDelete
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