A – Antagonists and how to make them

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AZChallenge 2017
Antagonists are a challenge for me. AZChallenege blog for April 2017, A

This post is part of the April blogging AZChallenge.  Today it’s A.

I struggle with antagonists.  Almost all of my early stories have no antagonist at all. Or rather, none that is embodied in a handy walking, talking bad guy on the page.

Let’s take a look at some of my early Nanowrimo novels.

The Fairy G – the antagonist is sort of the evil colleague Cherie who steals Caroline’s ideas, but mostly just the magical Forces of Evil which she, the Fairy and hunky ethics consultant Jesmond Fry have to sort out.

Last Straw Summer – antagonist is Dangerous Isolation, and the nasty friends who are mean to our teenage heroine in her new home, sneer at her life choices and never write. There was some sort of deadline/jeopardy in this, but it wasn’t really an antagonist.

The Hollow Ring – Laura must battle the evil Societal Forces which have wrecked her job with their enforced equalism, placing idiots in positions of responsibility…

I was a very angry youngster.

So although you can make these bad guys fit the Antagonist role, none of them can really speak and act – they simply, are, which is boring to read, and write. How can I make antagonists that people hate, or love to hate?

  1. Think of the antagonist first. Yeah, yeah. Plotting not pantsing. But if my second thought after ‘this is a cool idea with a cool hero’ can become, ‘what would kill my cool hero stone dead?’ then I might get started with a human antagonist sooner.
  2. Write horror. The antagonist in horror is the main character so it’s what horror writers tend to think of first, whether it’s a Creepy House, Malevolent Ghost or Highly Educated Serial killing Cannibal.
  3. Write monsters. As above. Fantasy fiction is full of monsters who just want to eat the heroes, which makes for an easy antagonist.
  4. Make the bad guy the hero. I love this, but he still needs an antagonist. I guess that would be a good guy, who I imagine would be easier to come up with. Good guy wants to save the world, etc etc. But what would my bad guy hero want? I’ve still no idea.
  5. Write a sidestory/backstory for the antagonist before he or she went bad. Plotters tend to do this anyway. It’s one way into the antagonist’s motivations.
  6. Make your antagonist another good guy with a conflicting goal to the main character. This is Advanced Creative Writing, but actually easier than trying to justify some monstrous desire. Putting the hero in a position where every choice has merits but cannot make everyone happy, is great drama. Pity I’m rubbish at it.
  7. I can’t be that bad I guess since I just realised this js what happens in my current WIP. I actually have a panoply of characters with good intentions – OK, good-to-medium – whose interests just don’t match up.
  8. Practice spotting the antagonist in everything. Notice how most TV shows make it nice an explicit – the serial killer, the corrupt politician, etc. Some shows take it to a deeper level: in the Newsroom, the antagonists are those who want to commercialise news at the cost of the truth; in W1A, the antagonist is sheer hilarious incompetence.
  9. List your favourite bad guys and, just for fun,  create a mashup of them for your own use. What are their primary characteristics?
  10. Make sure you know how to defeat your antagonist. If you make it so that he can’t be killed, the hero will have a hard time winning. Which is good drama, except that there has to be some way to triumph or what is the point of the story? If Buffy had zero chance of ever overcoming the vampires, why would we watch? Make sure your antagonist has a weakness, like sunlight, or a pointy stick to the heart.

That’s my list for Antagonists. I’ll be back with B for Books, How Long Should They be? tomorrow.

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1 thought on “A – Antagonists and how to make them”

  1. Loved this article, Sef! I struggle with who the antagonist is too. In my first novel. I knew very little about this. My thinking was one thin when I wrote my novel, then I won a free ten page critique from a published author/editor and was advised otherwise. The upside is a learned a lot. No writing is ever wasted and can often be salvaged if you’re up for the task of restructuring. My current WIP seems to fall in your number six category. So, maybe I’m getting closer to figuring this out…albeit slowly. Thanks for this and please keep them coming. If you wrote an article on Protagonists, I must have missed it. If not, I’d love to read that one.

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