Antagonist April: Week #2 – Developing An Antagonist – Part One

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 discuss developing a compelling antagonist for your story.

Let’s get started!


A strong narrative “requires that the Adversary be an actual person,” and it’s essential for you as the writer to know who they are and where they came from (Edson 57).  This may be information that only you know; past experiences, traumas, or victories this individual had in their life before the story you’re writing.  But these elements help add dimension to your antagonist.  These aspects can assist you in deciding how the antagonist approaches problems, makes decisions, and how they react to a variety of situations.

You don’t have to travel back to when they were born, but if there are events in the antagonist’s childhood that explain why they are the way they are, then jotting those moments down can be helpful.

By giving your antagonist a past, you lift them out of the realm of a one-dimensional villain.  There’s something in their background that affected them to the point that they have decided that your protagonist is their current opponent.  The person who’s preventing them from getting what they want.

Taking the time to think through a bullet-pointed timeline of the antagonist’s life can also come in handy if they need to explain themselves at any point during the story.  There has to be some legitimate reason – in their mind – why they are doing what they’re doing.  Having those moments decided ahead of time gives you a story from their past to utilize.

In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos has a moment like this with Doctor Strange.  

In this brief conversation, Thanos reveals aspects of his backstory that inform his quest to acquire the Infinity Stones and eliminate half of all life in the universe.  Notice how Thanos perceives himself versus how Doctor Strange perceives Thanos and his plan.

What’s My Motivation?

What is the reason the antagonist is doing what they’re doing?  Why do they oppose the hero and their goals?  Something happened in the antagonist’s life, either in the past or currently, that has driven them to the point where they must stop the main character at all costs.  It could be something the protagonist did to them (Changing Lanes).  It could be a plan the antagonist had in place that the protagonist tries to stop (Die Hard).  No matter what it is, the antagonist must be motivated in their actions against the hero.  There has to be a WHY!

While they can have the motivation to stop the main character, there has to be something larger in the antagonist’s world that they want to achieve.  This is the element that the protagonist’s actions are preventing.

What motivates them?  Greed?  Power?  Revenge?  Those are fine motivations.  But suppose we don’t know why they are motivated toward these goals.  In that case, the character lacks any real weight, dimension, or interesting qualities.

Let’s look at Syndrome from The Incredibles.  When he was younger and went by the name Buddy (aka Incrediboy), he wanted to help Mr. Incredible.  Instead, he was told to “fly home.”  

This rejection by his favorite superhero motivated Buddy to become Syndrome.  His backstory influenced his motivation to transform into a supervillain determined to exterminate all superheroes from existence except himself.  His final goal and motivation are given in the video below:

Notice that Syndrome and Thanos both have motivations based on past events that influence their behavior and goals in the present.  This is why taking the time to create a backstory for your antagonist can often assist you in crafting a strong motivation for them as the opposition in your story.

We’re getting started!  I’ll be back on Wednesday as we continue to explore antagonists all month!  See you then!


Edson, Eric.  The Story Solution.  Michael Wiese Productions, 2011.

Antagonist April: Week #1 – What is an Antagonist? – Part Three

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.

Let’s continue!

Help Wanted

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…

Antagonist 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.