30 facets of antagonists

Okay, so we’ve discussed protagonists and supporting characters. But what about the antagonist? In a way, they are the second most important character, because the story is about them standing in opposition with the protagonist. Or are they the main character in a different story?

1. The protagonist and antagonist are two sides of the same coin

Basically, the protagonist is the antagonist for our baddie. Each of them want the opposite of the other, and have their own goals and motives. I suppose you could say that the antagonist thinks that he is the hero in his own story, but we don’t normally hear his tale. Both are passive and active; the protagonist is passive as the antagonist hurtles obstacles their way, and the antagonist is passive if/when the protagonist overcomes him. Take Iago in Othello for instance; his motivations are to get revenge on Othello for passing him over for promotion in favour of Cassio and wishes that Othello had chosen him instead. So, he stages an affair which creates conflict between Othello, Desdemona and Cassio. By the same token , Othello is considered to be the protagonist, because the entire story revolves around him. He thinks it is Cassio who stands in opposition to him since he thinks Desdemona favours him. He fails to realise until the end that it’s actually Iago who is behind all of this. Which brings us on to…

2. False antagonists

We’ve all heard of the false protagonist. But a false antagonist? If a false protagonist is someone who we think is the main character, but actually isn’t, then a false antagonist is a wrongly accused aggravator. A very good example of this would be Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, where we think The Beast is the antagonist because he is preventing Beauty from seeing her father. However, when Gaston rallies an angry mob to kill Beast, we learn he is the true antagonist.

3. What’s the difference between an antagonist and a nemesis?

An antagonist, who is often a villain, is usually a rival, enemy, opponent of barrier who/which the protagonist must face/overcome. A nemesis, however, is more often concerned with fate or revenge, and cannot be defeated. An antagonist might be a personified concept such as Death, since everyone is going to die and there is no way we can avoid it. Whereas someone like a bullying schoolteacher, who we will eventually overcome by them or us leaving the school.

4. Who might be an antagonist?

An antagonist could be anyone; the dog, a next door neighbour, an angel, a family member or even a lover. If you think about people in real life, smr have more obviously ‘antagonistic’ tendencies than others; a psychopath, a school bully, a strict teacher etc.

5. Because they are parallel, each should have equal strengths and weaknesses

Okay, one should triumph over the other. However, this is not a case of one being stronger or better than the other when conflict is resolved. Instead, it is about the protagonist meeting their match in wit, intelligence etc. so that conflict can persist throughout the story.

6. The villain lecture

This is a form of Infodumping which involves the antagonist essentially telling either the audience or the protagonist their evil scheme. In pop fiction, it involves the antagonist trapping the hero, usually torturing him, saying “mwahaha!” a lot (revealing his elaborate plan, way to stop him and weaknesses in the process).

William Shakespeare, however,  does this quite successfully in Othello; in his soliloquies , Iago tells the audience his plans to ruin Cassio and Othello. However, it is done in stages and involves Iago musing aloud, rather than pinning Othello down and revealing everything.

7. The henchmen and minions

These can either be like supporting characters to the antagonist, or they can serve as a particular type of secondary antagonist. They could just carry out their boss’s plans (think Gru’s minions). or their might be a narrative thread – particularly in a TV show – that follows their story (Jesssie and James from Pokemon).

8. The secondary antagonist

Like the deutoragonist, these are the second most important antagonist in the story. The difference between secondary antagonists and minions is that they might not be associated with the main antagonist, and could have their own agenda. They might also be the true antagonist, and the main one was merely a decoy.

9. The foil vs the antagonist

In it’s broadest sense of the term, a foil contrasts with another character. The term can also apply to a subplot within a story.

10. Two halves of the same whole

The protagonist and antagonist mirror each other. They are like Yin and Yang: they must work together and one cannot live without the other. Because the antagonist opposes the protagonist, they are the opposite of each other.

12. They don’t need to be bad or evil

The antagonist wants the opposite of what the protagonist wants. If the protagonist wants rationality, the antagonist wants desire, for example.

13. Antagonists need to be smart

Okay, the antagonist needs to have a plan or some ideas about how they will counter the protagonist. Or, they could at least make clever moves without a plan. Point is, if the antagonist was foiled or went ahead with his plan too early, what’s the point in the audience reading on?

14. The protagonist and antagonist can be very similar

Despite being total opposites, the antagonist may share a lot of characteristics with the protagonist (especially if this is a ‘man vs self’ story). They may have similar personalities, interests or behaviours – they may be pursuing the same thing even if they want to do different things with it.

15. Evil for the sake of being evil doesn’t work

Nobody is evil without reason. First, nobody is born evil (hence why The Omen has a rubbish protagonist and plot). For quite another, even if there is no obvious motivation or cause, there is still a reason. Imagine you are a Criminologist; why would the antagonist do these bad things? Are they selfish? Vain? Mentally unstable? Bullied as a child? Generally aggressive?

16. What if there is no antagonist?

Perhaps there is no main antagonist in your story. In Nights at the Circus, there is no one antagonist in the story even though there are men like Mr Rosencreutz and the Grand Duke who appear to want to ‘cage’ Fevvers. It’s quite rare for a story not to have an antagonist, but it can work.

17. If your antagonist is not a human

18. arch-enemy vs antagonist

An an archenemy will be an enemy the protagonist keeps meeting on a regular basis, and the two will be rivals. Whereas the antagonist usually only needs to be defeated once, and will be the main obstacle to the protagonist. Let’s take Pokemon for instance; Gary is Ash’s rival, and Giovanni is the antagonist.

19. Minor antagonists and henchmen

These are different to secondary antagonists. Minions and henchmen help the primary antagonist and serve as… well, his minions and henchmen. A minor antagonist can be a cameo character, or one who doesn’t appear very often but has a one defining trait for humour.  The minor antagonist could just be generally disliked

20. Lawful, neutral and chaotic


The Lawful antagonist is like Eris

That is, they create chaos and discordance. Eris was the goddess of chaos in Greek myth and her opposite was Harmonia (the goddess of harmony). Out of her comes her 13 children – sorrow, battle, manslaughter, toil, forgetfulness, famine, disputes, folly, lies, lawlesness, quarrel, murder, and false oathes. Therefore, your antagonist will create a lot of these problems similar to the ones Eris gives birth to. Joking aside, it seems there are a lot of women who are attributed with either the fall of man or evil – Pandora, Eve, Eris and Lilith to name a few (even if it is more common to have a male antagonist). Point is, it doesn’t matter whether your character is male, female or whatever, they cause trouble whether it’s intentional or not.

21. Even if there is no antagonist, there will be conflict

Everyone has problems, oppositions and conflicts. And, you have two choices as an author (or character); either resolve the problem or be defeated by it. We’ll see a lot of character change; how it makes them think, feel, dream, eat and behave.

22. The antagonist destructs

The protagonist must fix and the antagonist must break. Creation and destruction. If the hero tries to save the castle, the villain blows it up.

23. A few of the best…

1. Bertha Mason

Mr. Rochester’s insane wife locked away, she is the thing preventing him and Jane getting married and being together. It is assumed that she is of Creole heritage and that Adele is her daughter. She is a good antagonist because she is a victim of insanity and racism.

2.Frankenstein’s Monster

Intelligent, superhuman and lonely, The Creature is a very interesting case. He was abandoned by his creator, and left to fend for himself in the wilderness. He wants nothing more than human company or a family. He even goes so far as to hide behind the household of the DeLacey family, learning French from them. But, as his kind acts are increasingly rejected or that he is faced with prejudice, he starts to live up to the rotten, sinister label society gives him by murdering people.

3. Milton’s Lucifer

The Archangel who caused a rebellion against God on Heaven, he is banished to Hell for all eternity. Now he is the ruler of Hell, and Paradise Lost tells the story of his fall. He is a good antagonist because people can relate to his pride and ambitions.

4. Doctor Donally

The strange witchdoctor with a forked beard of red and purple, he is considered a shaman and a magician in the Barbarian tribe (who seem to resemble Celts or Vikings). He tattooed Jewel’s back with biblical images, as well as educating him, and wishes to being forth a new version of Christianity. It is assumed that he was a Professor, only we never find out of what profession – several guesses are made, including Music and Literature.

5. Loki

Thor’s rival in the Marvel’s Avengers series, he is Thor’s adoptive brother. Misunderstood, intelligent and sarcastic, for the first few films he seeks vengeance on Thor because he thought he had been passed over to be the king of Asguard. However, in Thor: The Dark World, he shows a more noble side by teaming up with Thor, and helping him defeat their common enemy.

24. And a few of the worst…

1. Dracula

Evil for the sake of being evil. The traditional eccentric aristocrat who lives by himself (save for his three brides). He wants to enslave humanity and drink everyone’s blood. Love the novel, hate the enemy.

2. The Joker

He’s just a highly sarcastic, clown-like man who’s disfigured under the most ridiculous circumstances. He’s insane, sadistic and has no apparent reason for being in the Batman comics.

3. Alec d’Urberville

One of the most arrogant men in literature of all time. He can’t take a hint that Tess doesn’t feel the same way for him, so he rapes her.

4. Maleficent

Really, Disney? The original “wicked fairy” was annoyed because she wasn’t invited to the princess’s christening. Whereas Maleficient is deliberately left out because she was already sinister and corrupt.

5. The Wicked Witch of the West

She’s just a stereotypical witch; bad-tempered, warty, with a cauldron and cackling. Although she’s upset about her sister being killed, she doesn’t seem to care that much and is more concerned with the Ruby Slippers (originally the Silver Shoes in the novel).

25. Create a Frankenstein antagonist

That is, take various different parts from other great antagonists and piece them together to make a monstrous hybrid! most characters are blended from various different people – except maybe minor ones – and the antagonist is no exception.

26. Don’t cross the line!

Nothing too drastic that’ll drive the audience away. We’re talking anything irrational, insane, overly tabbo or anything like that i.e. machine gunning dolphins, extreme S & M etc.

27. Yin and Yang

Each works in harmony with the other and one cannot exist without the other (well, maybe at the end when the antagonist has their ultimate defeat). Fire and water, black and white and so on.

28. What are their flaws and bad bits?

Are they ugly? Untidy? Rude? Badly dressed? liars? Stupid? What is it them that annoys the audience and/or protagonist? This is the probanly one of the easiest factors when creating the antagonist, since we’re encouraged to dislike them.

29. What are their merits and virtues?

Perhaps slightly harder. Do they have a loving family? A soft spot? A good-looking face? A charming voice? Intelligent/witty? If the antagonist is actually attractive, we’ll hate to love them, and this makes them more complex as characters.

30. Finally, will they be defeated or will they triumph?

You may have won the battle but I will win the war! This can go either one of three ways. The first route is for the antagonist can win all the way through but finally lose at the end. The second is for them to lose all the way through but have victory at the end. And finally, there can be equal wins and loses.

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