The Self-Aware Writer – What is Self-Awareness?

We all possess the conscious ability to be self-aware in our lives.  Whether it’s related to how we interact with others, how we perceive ourselves within our world, or having the insight to better ourselves, self-awareness can positively impact our lives.  While we are also presented with daily examples of politicians, celebrities, and social media videos that show people lacking in self-awareness, having this trait is a definite plus when attempting to exist in the world.

According to, “When you look at yourself and are able to recognize and connect emotions, core beliefs, thoughts, and traits — including weaknesses and strengths — you’re practicing self-awareness.”  Emotions.  Core beliefs.  Traits.  Weaknesses and strengths.  Those definitely sound like areas of oneself a writer and utilize.  

If we dig further, we find that the Harvard Business Review (HBR) identified two types of self-awareness.  The first, “internal self-awareness, represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.”  Again, these are all interesting aspects that can impact our writing and our ability or inability to write. 

HBR’s second type of self-awareness was external self-awareness, which “means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above […] people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives.”

When we write or create, we use internal and external self-awareness to influence what we write, how we write, who we write for, and how we interact with those who read what we’ve written.  Self-awareness is a powerful tool that can be used to empower and help us grow as writers and creative people or can cause us to freeze and cower in fear from our own negative thoughts.  

Self-awareness in your writing should be the ability to create and allow your imagination to run free, but also the ability to step back and make changes to the work for the better when the time comes.  It’s the ability to write fearlessly and not hold back when expressing what you want to say through your characters and story while listening to feedback and making necessary changes.

I know it’s a lot to think about, so we’ll take a whole month to discuss it.  Next, we’ll discuss utilizing self-awareness when creating story ideas and getting the writing process started.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!


Writing Series of the Month: The Self-Aware Writer

Hello, and happy June!  I’m excited to be back with you once again.  Over the next month, I’d like to explore the concept of being a self-aware writer.  It may sound deep and metaphysical, but all writers can become stronger in their craft through introspection and looking at their work from different perspectives.  

Whether you are a new writer or a seasoned one, I intend these discussions to assist you in all aspects of the creative process, outlining and writing, accepting positive and negative feedback, and more.

These posts will be brief and to the point and provide a few quick tips you can implement immediately.

As always, having fun with the entire process is important, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts and ideas with you over the next several weeks!

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Antagonist April: Links & References

Below, you will find links for the 12 blog posts from Antagonist April:

Week #1

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

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

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

Week #2

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

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

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

Week #3

Antagonist April: Week #3 – Antagonist Case Study #1, Veronica Corningstone (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy)

Antagonist April: Week #3 – Antagonist Case Study #2, Paul Dreyfus (Dante’s Peak)

Antagonist April: Week #3 – Antagonist Case Study #3, Colm Doherty (The Banshees of Inisherin)

Week #4

Antagonist April: Week #4 – Antagonist Writing Exercise: Do Your Own Case Study

Antagonist April: Week #4 – Antagonist Writing Exercises, Part One

Antagonist April: Week #4 – Antagonist Writing Exercises, Part Two

In several posts, I referenced a variety of sources when discussing antagonists. Below is a list of those books:

  • Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms.  Harcourt Brace, 1999.
  • Dancyger, Ken & Jeff Rush. Alternative Scriptwriting. Focal Press, 2007.
  • Edson, Eric. The Story Solution. Michael Wiese Productions, 2011.
  • Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing. Simon & Schuster, 2004.
  • McKee, Robert. Story. Harper Collins, 1997.
  • Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story. Faber and Faber, 2007.
  • Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

I hope you enjoyed this adventure into antagonists as much as I did. Happy Writing, and I’ll see you in June!

Antagonist April: Week #4 – Antagonist Writing Exercises, Part Two

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, I’ll provide three days of writing exercises to explore antagonists further.

Let’s continue!

Exercise #4 – Elevating Your Antagonist

  • What makes your antagonist unique?
  • Do they have any hobbies?
  • Do they collect anything interesting?
  • Do they like music?  What kind?
  • Do they have any quirks that make them more relatable to an audience?
  • What do they do for fun?
  • When they’re not being antagonistic, what do they do in their private time alone from the world?

Humanizing your antagonist is a great way to make them relatable and real to your audience.  While we explored some of these items in the previous post’s exercises, here’s your opportunity to examine and find aspects of this important character that bring them out of the realm of cliché and sculpt them into a flesh-and-blood individual.

While you may not utilize everything you think of, these elements can be dropped in from time to time in your story to give the audience a little insight into who this person is when they’re not being oppositional.

Exercise #5 – Your Antagonist’s Opposition

  • Who is your antagonist opposing?
  • Why are they trying to prevent them from achieving their goal?
  • What is their relationship to the antagonist?
  • Why does the hero feel compelled to fight against the antagonist and win?
  • What would happen if the antagonist won?

While the protagonist of your story is the most important character, the antagonist must be a formidable foe there to try and stop them from reaching their goals.  As you develop your main character, think about ways your antagonist can make their lives miserable throughout the story.

Too many times, new writers are afraid to make their main characters suffer, go through trials and tribulations, and have to work to get what they want.  I used to have this mindset, but it changed when I realized something important about fictional characters: THEY AREN’T REAL!  So go for it!  Make them suffer.  Make them fight back, dig in their heels, face horrible moments of doubt and pain, wanting to quit when things seem to be at their worst.

And who can dish out and inflict all those things on your main character?  Your friend, the antagonist.

These two characters need each other.  The story can lose its impact, conflict, and dramatic effect if no one is present, throwing opposition in their way.  

Depending on the type of story, these oppositional forces can be literal or figurative.  Still, they need to exist on some level for your hero to have something to fight against and through to get to the end.  

And it’s your job to give them an antagonist that enhances the story and helps drive the action forward as events unfold and your hero battles through to the end.

Week #4 Wrap-Up

We’ve covered a lot over the past month, all culminating in this final week of exercises you can use to create a strong, effective, and interesting antagonist for your story.  

As you take the time to create and craft the Opposition, never forget to have fun and enjoy the experience.  If you have fun, your audience will as well.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next week!

Antagonist April: Week #4 – Antagonist Writing Exercises, 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, I’ll provide three days of writing exercises to explore antagonists further.

Let’s continue!

Exercise #1 – Your Antagonist’s Backstory

  • Who is your antagonist?  
  • What were they doing before your story began?  
  • What major life events led them to the point where they enter your story as the primary Opposition to your protagonist?

Write a short biography or autobiography that gives you an idea of who this person is and what caused them to be antagonistic to those they encounter.  You can write it in paragraph form or bullet points, and it is for you to reference and have in mind as you write your story.  

It’s important to have an idea of who this character is so they have a past, are dimensional, and feel real within the story’s context.  You don’t want to create a one-dimensional by-the-number villain.  You want them to have successes, failures, fears, likes, dislikes, etc., as they enter your story’s world.

Exercise #2 – What’s Their Motivation?

  • What drives your antagonist?  
  • What makes them want to win?  
  • What has motivated them in the past?  
  • What do they fear most when it comes to losing against your protagonist in the present? 
  • If they do win against your protagonist, what is their next move in life?

What could motivate your character to oppose what your hero has set out to accomplish?  Remember, the antagonist doesn’t have to be a Bond-level villain.  It could be a parent, a friend, or the main character’s boss.  Their motivation to prevent the hero from achieving their goal could be selfless and positive in their eyes.  

Having a strong motivation for your antagonist can help the reader or viewer connect, empathize, sympathize, and relate to your antagonist on some level.  Even if they don’t 100% agree with their tactics to stop the protagonist, having the audience understand the adversary’s POV is important.

Exercise #3 – The Arc of Your Antagonist

Last week, we looked in detail at the arcs of three antagonists in different films.  We explored how these characters entered the story and their final fate by the story’s end.

This exercise is much more intensive than the previous two since you will explore your antagonist’s role as the opposing force to your hero throughout your story.

If you are developing an outline for your manuscript or screenplay, take some time to jot down a basic arc for your villain.  Or, if you are just in the early phases of creating a story, you can brainstorm these concepts as well:

  • How does the antagonist enter the storyline?  
  • What is their initial relationship to the main character and their goal?  
  • At what points does the antagonist pop up to cause trouble or create roadblocks for the hero?  
  • What is their overall motivation for doing this?  Are there moments when they appear to have won?  
  • How does the antagonist’s arc conclude? 
  • What happens during the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist?  
  • Is the antagonist defeated?  
  • Do they come to an understanding?  

As your story evolves, these aspects of your antagonist and their role will also evolve.  It’s important, however, to have the basics down to reference when needed so you at least have a strong starting point once you dive into the drafting phase.

There’s more to come!  Antagonist April continues on Friday.  See you then!

Antagonist April: Week #4 – Antagonist Writing Exercise: Do Your Own Case Study

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, I’ll provide three writing exercises to explore antagonists further.

Let’s get started!

Last week, we looked at the antagonists from three different films.  Now, it’s your turn to write your own Case Study.

Pick a movie, any movie.  It can be your favorite film or one at random.  Watch it from beginning to end, just experiencing the film as a whole.  Next, rewatch the film, focusing on the story’s antagonist closely.  

ANTAGONIST’S NAME: Who are they?

RELATIONSHIP TO PROTAGONIST:  How do they know the hero?  Are they a love interest?  A boss?  A friend?  A coworker?  A universal threat?  

THE ANTAGONIST’S ARC: Here’s where the work comes in.  How are you introduced to the antagonist?  Outline their interactions with the protagonist, lines of dialogue, and actions that indicate their opposition.  Does their relationship with the hero change throughout the story?  What is the antagonist’s goal?  Motivation?  Why do they oppose the protagonist?  How does the antagonist’s story end?

THE ANTAGONIST’S FATE:  Where does this oppositional character wind up by the end of the story?  Have they been defeated?  Arrested?  Killed?  Compromised with the hero?  Found common ground or understanding?  Fallen in love with the hero?  Note that here.

COMMENTS:  Any thoughts or revelations about the antagonist and their role in the story can be added here.  This is a place to wrap up your analysis with anything you didn’t see directly in the film.

You can also use this to analyze antagonists in novels, short stories, and plays.  I have included a .docx template below you can use.

Back on Wednesday with another Antagonist-themed writing exercise!  See you then!

Antagonist April: Week #3 – Antagonist Case Study #3, Colm Doherty (The Banshees of Inisherin)

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 analyze the roles of three antagonists in three films. Our final entry is The Banshees of Inisherin

Let’s continue!

[SPOILER ALERT: Since this is a new film, I will forewarn you that MAJOR plot elements will be discussed]


RELATIONSHIP TO PROTAGONIST: Colm is Pádraic’s best friend and drinking buddy.


  • We first meet Colm as he sits alone in his home; his best friend, Pádraic, comes to get him to go to the pub, and Colm outright ignores him. Despite Pádraic’s pleas through a window, Colm doesn’t respond.
    • This is our first inkling of the conflict between these two characters, especially since it’s made clear that these two have a history together and a daily routine that Colm is suddenly disrupting for no apparent reason.
  • Colm eventually arrives at the pub. When Pádraic arrives and goes to greet him, Colm greets him with, “Sit somewhere else.” Pádraic has no interest in moving, so Colm exits and sits outside.
    • We’re not that far into the story, and our antagonist has already caused quite a disruption to the protagonist’s daily routine. Since an antagonist’s goal is to throw the hero off-balance, Colm has definitely achieved this task.
  • Undeterred, Pádraic follows Colm outside and confronts him about his behavior. Colm tells Pádraic: “I just don’t like you no more.”
    • Now, the protagonist and antagonist are on the same page regarding why they are at odds. Still, Pádraic is not about to let this statement stop him from inquiring further, which helps increase the conflict between the two throughout the story.
  • The next day, Colm is seated on a stone wall with his violin as Pádraic passes him with his livestock. Pádraic – who noticed the previous day was April 1 – asserts that Colm was joking with him the previous day about not liking him anymore. Colm remains silent at the suggestion, and Pádraic interprets the silence as confirmation of his theory.  
  • Later, at the pub, Pádraic attempts to sit down with Colm, which doesn’t go as Pádraic had planned. The two argue about having better things to do than just sitting together at the pub, “wasting fecking time.” Colm shows Pádraic what he’s been doing instead of wasting time: he’s writing a song to play on his violin. After playing some for him, he tells Pádraic: “Tomorrow, I’ll write the second part of it. And the day after, I’ll write the third part of it. And by Wednesday, there’ll be a new tune in the world, which wouldn’t have been there if I’d spent the week listening to your bollocks.”  
    • Colm has given us more of his motivation as an antagonist and his opposition to the protagonist: he wants to do something with meaning and creativity, something he feels his friendship with Pádraic has been preventing him from doing. This only causes further conflict – and Pádraic calling it a “shite tune” doesn’t help, either – between the two since it’s clear they are now on disparate life paths.
  • Colm decides to talk to Pádraic and clarify things further since it’s clear his former friend isn’t comprehending the new situation clearly. After making it clear that he was too harsh the previous day in telling Pádraic he didn’t like him anymore, Colm says, “I just have this tremendous sense of time slippin’ away on me, Pádraic. And I think I need to spend the time I have left thinking and composing. Just trying not to listen to any more of the dull things that you have to say for yourself.” Pádraic makes a case for “good, normal chatting,” to which Colm says: “So, we’ll keep aimlessly chatting and my life’ll keep dwindling. And in 12 years, I’ll die with nothin’ to show for it but the chats I’ve hat with a limited man, is that it?”
    • During this interaction, it becomes quite clear that Colm is making some valid points about life and not wasting it, while Pádraic doesn’t see any problem with how things are.  
    • Even when Colm gives evidence about Pádraic’s aimless chatting – “two hours you spent talking to me about the things you found in your little donkey’s shite that day” – Pádraic is undeterred, saying, “We’ll just chat about somethin’ else then.” [Pádraic’s donkey, Jenny, is an important part of the story and escalates the conflict later in the story]
    • I love this conflict. It’s realistic. It’s relatable. And it’s one where you can connect at some level with both characters and their positions. Pádraic doesn’t want things to change. Colm does, but Pádraic refuses to let go.  
  • After a church service, Pádraic asks the priest to press Colm about the rift between them while Colm is in the confessional. This only increases Colm’s frustration with Pádraic and his inability to leave him and the situation alone.
  • Colm confronts Pádraic at the pub, and here’s where things begin to escalate as Colm makes it clear to Pádraic and the other bar patrons if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone: “I have a set of shears at home. And each time you bother me from this day on, I’ll take those shears and I’ll take one of me fingers off with them. And I’ll give that finger to ya. A finger from me left hand. Me fiddle hand. And each day you bother me more, another I’ll take off and I’ll give ya until you see sense enough to stop. Or until I have no fingers left…I feel like the drastic is the only option left open to me.”
    • This is a major turning point in the story. Colm has now escalated the situation and given Pádraic clear instructions on what not to do and the consequences if he violates them. This also raises the stakes of the story and for both characters to a whole new level.
  • The next day, in town, Pádraic has a run-in with a local cop, and Colm witnesses the beatdown. Colm loads Pádraic onto his wagon and proceeds to drive him home. Once Pádraic starts crying, however, Colm hands him the reigns and walks away.
    • Colm shows that he still cares and has compassion for Pádraic in this moment, even if he doesn’t want to be friends with him.  
  • A drunk Pádraic confronts Colm later that night at the pub, doing all he can he not be dull. The next day, Pádraic goes and apologizes to Colm for his behavior, and again, Colm asks him, “why can’t you just leave me alone?”
    • Unfortunately, this is the wrong tactic to try when a man has threatened to chop off his fingers if you talk to him…
  • Colm arrives later at Pádraic’s home and throws his first sheared finger at the front door, then walks off in silence.  
    • This is the mid-point of the story and the point of no return. Pádraic’s actions have resulted in something that cannot be reversed.
  • Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán, goes to return Colm’s finger. But before she goes, Colm reiterates that ending his friendship with Pádraic is “about one boring man leaving another man alone, that’s all.”
  • Pádraic visits Colm at home, to which Colm asks him if he’s “fecking mental.” Once Pádraic leaves and goes to the pub, Colm chops off the remaining fingers on his left hand and tosses them at Pádraic’s front door.  
  • Unfortunately, Pádraic missed one of the fingers when he picked them up, and his donkey, Jenny, got ahold of one. She chokes on it and dies, which enrages Pádraic.
    • This is the next big turning point in the story. Colm has inadvertently killed Pádraic’s favorite pet, and now, with his sister off to work elsewhere and his friendship with Colm over, he has no one. And he’s pissed.
  • Pádraic confronts Colm at the pub. Colm tells him, “let’s just call it quits and agree to go our separate ways, for good this time.” Pádraic refuses, telling Colm about his donkey being killed by Colm’s “fat fingers.” Pádraic tells him this is the beginning of things: “I’m going to call up to your house and I’m gonna set fire to it, and hopefully you’ll still be inside it. But I won’t be checkin’ either way.”
    • Another escalation, this time from the protagonist’s side. Pádraic, at this point, has nothing and nothing to lose. He even tells Colm: “To our graves we’re taking this.”
  • And, true to his word, Pádraic goes to Colm’s house and sets it on fire…with Colm inside.
    • We’re at the climax of the story.
  • But Colm escapes the fire, and Pádraic sees him later on the beach near his burned-out home. Colm says, “Suppose me house makes us quits.” To which Pádraic replies: “If you’d stayed in your house, that would’ve made us quits.” Colm apologizes for Pádraic’s donkey, but Pádraic doesn’t care, telling Colm, “Some things there’ no movin’ on from. And I think that’s a good thing.” Colm thanks Pádraic for watching after his dog in the wake of the fire, and Pádraic replies, “Any time,” then walks away.
    • The story ends in a draw between the protagonist and antagonist, as most real-life scenarios do. While the conflict does escalate, they are both men who care about each other, even if one is determined to move on with his life and end the friendship.

THE ANTAGONIST’S FATE: With all the fingers gone from one hand and his house burned, Colm and Pádraic eventually come to an impasse and appear to go their separate ways for now.  

COMMENTS: Despite its period setting, the situation is one that people go through every day around the world today. Most of us have been in Pádraic’s shoes; other times, we’ve been in Colm’s when it comes to the ending of a friendship.  

While Colm takes his desire to no longer be friends with Pádraic to the extreme, audiences can still empathize with him and his need for more out of life. Colm’s motivation for creativity and his interests, working on his music, and teaching others is reasonable and justifiable.   

Pádraic should have given him space to pursue his endeavors, which might have resulted in a more peaceful resolution and Colm retaining all his fingers.

I think it’s also important to note that just because a character is an antagonist, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Just being in opposition to the main character and creating a conflict with them can cause a character to be seen as the antagonist in a story.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: Could the case be made that Pádraic is the film’s antagonist? Yes. His inability to accept Colm’s life changes and leave him alone can appear oppositional at times. Still, he’s the one whose life is upended by Colm, and he’s the one who has to adapt and change to this new situation throughout the story. That makes him the protagonist, in my view.

What do you think?  

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Case Studies! I’ll be back next week with some Antagonist-related writing exercises as we close out Antagonist April. See you then!

Antagonist April: Week #2 – Developing 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 discuss developing a compelling antagonist for your story.

Let’s continue!

Let’s Talk About the Opposition to the Opposition

After all, without this individual, the antagonist would have free reign to create chaos and do whatever they want.  And while that’s fine in theory, the protagonist exists to give the antagonist some pushback against what they want to achieve.  This, in turn, creates conflict, increasing the story’s stakes.

Both characters need to have something to lose if they fail.  The back and forth between the two should lead to an escalation in the stakes, and this escalation helps to propel the story forward.  

“For the actions of the main character to be experienced as heroic, you need a very powerful antagonist.  The more powerful the antagonist, the greater the likelihood that the main character will be perceived as heroic” (Dancyger & Rush 60).  Let’s talk about a familiar movie: Die Hard.

When John McClane enters Nakatomi Plaza, he’s an unarmed NYPD cop just there to visit his ex-wife during a Christmas party.  Little does he know that Hans Gruber and his goons are on their way to disrupt and wreak havoc throughout the building.  

McClane is outnumbered but slowly takes out the opposition, goon by goon.  But Gruber has the upper hand all the way to the climax when he has McClane’s wife at gunpoint, and stakes are escalated to a fever pitch.  

Die Hard shows us that it’s okay – in fact, important – that your antagonist be stronger and more resourceful than the hero.  Suppose they begin their conflict at the same level, or the protagonist has the upper hand from the start.  In that case, it can drain any potential conflict or drama from the story.  So, knock that hero off his pedestal.  Have him wrongly accused of murder (The Fugitive), have them captured by terrorists and seriously injured (Iron Man), or send them to law school where they’re ostracized and an outsider (Legally Blonde).  

At the same time, make sure the antagonist has the upper hand.  They have all the tools, resources, and people to cause problems for the main character.  Make the hero work for their goal, and allow the antagonist to enjoy their time, making the hero suffer.

Have Fun

I’ve said this in past posts, but it’s worth repeating: you must have fun and enjoy the process.  Writing can be challenging, but creating a compelling narrative with strong characters should be an enjoyable experience.  

Creating and developing a worthy opponent for your hero can be a cathartic experience.  Most antagonists play by their own rules and moral code, so you can have a great time making them as eccentric and evil as you wish.  This is the time to get it out on the page and explore this character’s many dimensions.

What can you bring to your antagonist that will make your hero fight harder than they ever have?  What can you create that will make readers perk up even more when the antagonist appears?  

If you are having issues and problems with your antagonist, you may want to look at their relationship with the protagonist and figure out how to mold the opposition into a character that really gets under the hero’s skin.  One thing to think about as you create this important character is that “[a]ttacking the hero’s weakness is the central purpose of the opponent” (Truby 95). 

Play around, enjoy the process, and have fun creating this key character in your story!

Week #2 Wrap-Up

This week we explored ways to develop a strong antagonist for your story.  We discussed crafting a backstory for the character to give them depth and events in their past that could influence their current actions.  We discussed their motivations within your story and talked about why they oppose the protagonist.  

Then we discussed crafting an arc for your antagonist and ways you can elevate this character from a one-dimensional villain to a person with substance and nuance.

And finally, we discussed how this character’s role is to make life hard for the hero.  

Once again, I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts and insights on antagonists, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks.

Starting Monday, we’ll look at Case Studies focused on three movie antagonists.  See you then!


Dancyger, Ken & Jeff Rush.  Alternative Scriptwriting.  Focal Press, 2007.

Truby, John.  The Anatomy of Story.  Faber and Faber, 2007.

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

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 continue!

The Arc of the Antagonist

Once you’ve established where they came from and their motivations, you have to decide where the antagonist is in their life when they enter your story.  Much like the protagonist, they are doing something else before they come across their current situation and are determined to reach a goal by the end of the story.

Both characters, of course, are out to prevent the other from achieving their primary goal.  And, like the protagonist, the antagonist should be “as complex and as valuable as the hero” (Truby 89).  So, while your main focus when writing your story should be on your hero and their actions, motivations, goals, and arc from start to finish, it’s also essential to give time to the antagonist and see what’s going on with them as the story unfolds.

After all, if they are human, they are experiencing emotions, feelings, setbacks, and victories, too.  For readers to connect with the antagonist on some level, we have to be given insights into them as the story unfolds.

Look at Scar’s arc in The Lion King.  His backstory – being second-born and having a nephew in line for the throne – motivates his desire to wipe out Mufasa (and Simba, too) so he can become king of Pride Rock.  And his plan actually works!  But he’s an ineffective leader.  Once Simba returns from his self-imposed exile, Scar must face the consequences of his actions and is ultimately vanquished.

When it comes to “[a] novel, play, or any type of writing, really is a crisis from beginning to end growing to its necessary conclusion” (Egri 117).  Giving readers a strong hero is important, but the opposition has to be equally as compelling and interesting to keep the story moving.  You want to keep the audience in suspense, unsure how that hero will defeat their adversary or if evil will win in the end.

Think about other films or books where the antagonist has a strong story arc.  These are usually the ones we remember best and have become a part of pop culture.

The Elevated Antagonist

What makes us like a villain?  What makes them intriguing to us?  What aspects of who they are can make us sad to see them go?

They aren’t just cookie-cutter, boilerplate bad guys. There’s something more to them.  Something about them that connects with the audience.  They make us laugh.  They have a way of speaking or emoting that captivates us.  We know they are the antagonist of the movie or book, and we know that we should be rooting against them.  But when they’re around, we can’t look away.

The antagonist’s stance is “powerful and compelling, but ultimately wrong,” but that doesn’t mean they have to be a one-dimensional character (Truby 90).  Finding ways to draw the audience into their world and humanizing them is a great way to give this character something more.  

As you develop their backstory, jot down other activities they enjoy.  Do they cook?  Garden?  Play board games?  Do they enjoy dad jokes?  Puns?  One-liners?  These are all things that can influence who they are and give readers a stronger sense of who they are as people.

The villain in your story “can only be humanized by making them vulnerable” (Vogler 74).  Maybe they’re lonely and long for love, friendship, or happiness.  Could you give us a relatable connection to them?  It can still inform their actions and motivations even if it’s not mentioned outright.

Who are some antagonists that you have connected with and why?

There’s more to come!  Antagonist April continues on Friday and all month long.  See you then!


Egri, Lajos.  The Art of Dramatic Writing. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Truby, John.  The Anatomy of Story.  Faber and Faber, 2007.

Vogler, Christopher.  The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.  Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

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.