It’s Antagonist April, and all this month, I’ll be doing a deep dive into those characters that give our heroes and main characters opposition to their goals. This week, we’ll explore the characteristics of an antagonist.
Last time, we discussed how a narrative “requires that the Adversary be an actual person” (Edson 57). More importantly, this needs to be a singular entity that directly opposes the main character. That doesn’t mean, however, that the antagonist doesn’t have help. If the hero can have allies, so can the villain.
We see this all the time in action movies and superhero movies. The adversary sends out his legions of henchpersons and minions to eliminate, stop, kill, seduce, or maim the hero. Of course, we know as viewers that these attempts are in vain; the protagonist will eventually come face-to-face with the antagonist, and a final battle will ensue.
When these characters aren’t just nameless, faceless drones, the story and their interactions with the main character are more interesting. These antagonist-related characters are an extension of their boss, so while they have the same enemy – the protagonist – their tactics can vary to give them their own personalities and depth.
And speaking of tactics…
An antagonist will use every resource, ally, and weapon available to them to stop the hero from achieving their goal. Depending on the genre and situation, the sky’s the limit on how much opposition can be thrown at the protagonist throughout the story.
Just as the protagonist is active in pursuing a goal, the antagonist must also be active in their opposition. Pick any action movie and list all the active verbs that can be used to describe the antagonist’s tactics.
Some basic ones could be: to stop, to kill, to pursue, to seduce, to assault, to eliminate, to destroy, to prevent, to coerce, to convince, to arrest, to capture, to chase, to imprison, to invade, to evade, to hide, to attack, etc.
The more tactics the antagonist employs, the greater the danger for the protagonist as they work to achieve their goal. Don’t make things easy for your hero. Make them work for what they want. Make sure the opposition doesn’t let up and gives them a fight.
Week #1 Wrap-Up
As week one of Antagonist April comes to an end, it should be noted that “[t]he importance of the antagonist is constant across genres, but the nature of the antagonist depends on the level of realism associated with particular genres” (Dancyger & Rush 78). While these characters should be present to create conflict, make sure that the opposition serves the story and genre you’ve chosen.
We’ve covered a lot over the last three days. We learned what an antagonist is and the types of antagonists. We talked about why it’s important to only have one main antagonist in your story, how things aren’t always straightforward regarding antagonists being all bad, and the need to humanize the opposition through empathy and sympathy. Finally, we covered the role antagonist allies can play and the various tactics an antagonist can use in a story.
I’ve had a lot of fun, and I hope you have, too! Next week, we’ll discuss creating an antagonist for your stories and give you some tools to make that happen.
Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next week!
Dancyger, Ken & Jeff Rush. Alternative Scriptwriting. Focal Press, 2007.
Edson, Eric. The Story Solution. Michael Wiese Productions, 2011.