I think in our mad rush to create wonderful and lovable protagonists, we are forgetting a very important character in our manuscripts. The Antagonist. Who single handedly drives the conflict. Who creates tension. Who is responsible for creating obstacles in our character’s life; of plunging their lives in darkness, for dumping problems and anxieties in their lives.
The protagonist and antagonist are two sides of the same coin. Without them our manuscript is incomplete. Having a strong antagonist is as important as having a strong protagonist. While working on my current WIP, I realized that I had paid a lot of attention to my protagonist, but, where my antagonist was concerned, I had a weak one. It was no wonder then, that the conflict in my manuscript was tilted in the protagonist’s favor. Alas, that would not make for a good and intriguing book.
To have a tough conflict the antagonist has to be as strong as the protagonist. If the protagonist is powerful, then the antagonist has to be equally powerful. If the protagonist is clever and resourceful, then the antagonist has to be equally clever and resourceful. If the balance tilts in one person’s favour, the conflict loses its appeal. But if we have two powerful forces, that’s when the conflict becomes interesting and the battle between them engrossing and intriguing. Till the last minute the reader must keep guessing who is going to win the war.
We have to constantly ask ourselves what are our antagonist’s strengths? What are the advantages he has that give him an edge over our main character. Is he able to capitalize on his strengths and advantages to thwart their attempts? Is he able to push them into corners? What about his weaknesses? Is the main character aware of the chinks in his armour? What is the antagonist’s safeguard against the protagonist?
To have a strong conflict, I have to give both the protagonist and the antagonist an equal number of strengths and weaknesses. A battle grips us when there are two powerful forces; forces pitted against each other, forces who would go to any length to win. Who is about to find the chink in the other’s armour first? Who is able to capitalize on the other person’s weakness first will decide the winner?
In a nutshell to create an edge of the seat conflict and a memorable antagonist we need:
1. A lovable protagonist opposite a dislikeable antagonist.
2. A strong and clever protagonist against an equally strong and clever antagonist.
3. The strengths of the protagonist equal the strengths of the antagonist.
4. The weaknesses of the antagonist is on par with the weaknesses of the protagonist.
5. Who is able to find the other’s weakness first? This will decide the outcome of the conflict.
I loved Harry Potter as much as I disliked Voldemort. I wanted Harry to kill Voldemort come what may. Both were equally powerful forces and their clashes were page turners. They were two formidable forces with an equal number of strengths and weaknesses.
Is the antagonist on top of your character development? Do you believe that powerful antagonists drive the conflict better? What are the things you all are doing to create powerful antagonists? We all would love to know.