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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Writing A Believable Antagonist

We all put a lot of thought into our protagonist but there is another character who is just as important that we sometimes overlook, the antagonist. I've read far too many novels with a textbook bad guy that struggles to be even two dimensional. It ruins the book for me every time. The antagonist often drives the plot just as much as the hero, and has a profound effect on the hero. That makes them just as important~or close to it~as the protagonist.

If you want your novel to be believable and your readers to sympathize with the hero, you must make sure your antagonist is fully developed. Get to know your bad guy or gal just as well as you know your hero. What are her motives? What is his past? What makes her do the things she does? What does he want out of the situation and why? These are all things that will make him or her well rounded. Everyone loves to hate a great bad guy so put the work into him or her and make them worthy of both the story and it's protagonist.

There should be something redeemable or sympathetic about the antagonist, yes really. It can be tiny, so tiny most people wouldn't consider it something that makes them that way. Maybe they were abused as a child, or have strong beliefs that drive them to a goal they believe is just. Its not an excuse for why they are the way they are, it's simply part of them that makes them believable to the reader.

A strong antagonist makes your protagonist that much better. They're worth the time and effort even if they die in the end!

Check out this post by Writer's Digest on Crafting Your Villain.

10 comments:

  1. I got this feedback about a bad guy I was writing. It was no effort for the reader to not like him, but then that took away all the tension. It was too easy. When I made him a little likable, everything was harder on the MC, and that was a good thing!

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  2. Yep. Need to make that bad person believable. Have a reason why--even if you don't reveal it to the readers--they became that way. I like to make two nasties in my books, sometimes to keep the protagonist see-sawing (along with the reader), until the end.
    Great post!

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  3. Great point Lydia. If it's too easy then there isn't much tension on his/her part! I created a bad guy who is teetering on the edge of good and bad. He was so much fun to write!

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  4. I love the idea of two antagonists Lorelei. It can be hard to pull off but so worth it in the end!

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  5. This is so true Heather.

    I'm working on this right now for my antagonist. I'm trying to see her version of the story and what makes her tick.

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  6. Perfect timing then Karen! I discovered that once I found something remotely sympathetic about him he was a lot easier to write. Good luck with yours!

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  7. Heather, Thank you for the link to the Writer's Digests''Crafting Your Villain' Excellent! And, for the great reminder to make him fully rounded. What do you think about a bad guy, doing bad things, but for the right reasons? Something that we can identify with...
    You've given me some great ideas! Thank you!

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  8. I love a bad guy who does bad things for the right reasons! Riddick from Pitch Black is one of my favorite characters because he blurs the line between antagonist and protagonist. I love that!

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  9. Yeah, a villain. I need one, and I know one is lurking somewhere. Might be that I haven't pulled enough bedsheets off the line yet, or perhaps he hasn't yet made that crucial 2 a.m. visit to the refrigerator. I'll find the bugger eventually.

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  10. Such great advice, thanks Heather!

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