Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why is it Important to Hate the Antagonist?

Antagonists by and large are loathsome creatures; evoking dislike  and rage not only in the Protagonist’s mind, but also in the mind of the  readers.  I have noticed that the more we  (readers) dislike an antagonist, the more we root for the protagonist. If we really hate an antagonist  we are  more deeply  involved  in the story, as we are dying to know what will happen to the antagonist. We can even say that a reader’s dislike of the antagonist  is equal to his or her love for the protagonist which makes for a page turning read.

Right from childhood we have been taught that good is ultimately rewarded and evil punished. Being good is nice and has a big pay off. This mental set up sees us disliking every villain we come across, whether in real life, or in our  literary life. We know that in life  every good deed  however small is rewarded and  no bad deed goes unpunished. When an antagonist is thoroughly whipped by the protagonist, our hearts swell  with joy. We as readers  know that justice has been meted out. That truth, honesty and goodness has ultimately triumphed.

For Writers -  To make an antagonist absolute vile we have to make him do evil things not just to the protagonist, but also to other characters who the readers have started to love. The antagonist has to be full of vices, he has to be  completely  evil, his lust for greed and power should be unquenchable and unsatiated. He must torture everyone (not just physically, but emotionally, mentally and psychologically too).  If an antagonist is extremely powerful or  invincible, then his or her downfall is all the more welcome. Everytime the villain  torments  other  characters; especially the main character, he accumulates plenty of hatred from the readers.

Even if a protagonist is not very likeable, we stick on with a story if our dislike for the antagonist overrides our love for the main character. In  this case hate really works in capturing a reader’s attention and eyeballs. For this we have to create a vile, vicious and a sadist  villain who has made evil his main profession and who can stoop to the lowest level to get his way.

Is it important for you to hate the antagonist? Do you feel that you are glued to the pages if the  antagonist is loathsome? What do you do to make the antagonist evoke hatred  from the readers? We all are eager to know as we have our own vicious villains to craft.
             
          

18 comments:

Misha said...

Good post. I don't know. My antagonists remain largely distant for the first book in my series, but the seguels have three really really bad people involved.

Can't wait. ^_^

Tana Adams said...

I think in some small way I need to like or feel for them. It adds that extra dimension I'm looking for. Of course history has given us loathsome characters that I neither liked nor cared for, but, I also wouldn't want to read about them. I think part of the escapism of reading it the well rounded emotions each character evokes.

Karen Lange said...

I don't know that we have to hate them, but I don't know that I'd be loving them either! Great info and food for thought.
Have a good week,
Karen

Lynda Young said...

You make good points. I also think sometimes we can push the 'hate' thing too far and the antagonist becomes a cartoon character lacking any real dimensions. Finding a careful balance is key.

Jai Joshi said...

I like antagonists who are complicated but not necessarily hateful. I think it's more important that the reader understand that what the antagonist wants is wrong but that doesn't mean that the antagonist is a bad person. For example, in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the antagonist is Zuko but you quickly find out that he's not just a cut and dry villain. He has many layers and is just trying to do what he thinks is best. He doesn't realise that his goal will lead to a destruction of his world until much later in the story.

So I try to look at it from a layered perspective and get deep into what makes the antagonist tick and why he believes what he believes.

Jai

WritingNut said...

Sometimes I'm very undecided. Even though I can truly hate the antagonist, and this makes me root for the protagonist a whole lot more... I find that I sometimes also wish that he/she learns, and changes his/her evil ways. I always feel like there should be much more than just pure hate... it's good to know what made them that way too.

Great, thought provoking post!

Lydia K said...

I have a problem with making my antagonists too 2D. I agree with what Jai said. Great post, Rachna, and excellent food for thought.

Julie Musil said...

What great points about antagonists. Like James Scott Bell teaches, I think of mine mostly as opposition. They get in my protagonists way, but they're bad for a reason. I like to show the human side of the villain.

Terri Tiffany said...

To make an antagonist absolute vile we have to make him do evil things not just to the protagonist, but also to other characters who the readers have started to love.
This is a great point! I am not sure I make my antagonist hurt those other people--but I will now!

Robyn Campbell said...

Everyone has something good about them. Even antags. We need to show that part of them too. I mean, everyone has something. He might be the most hated man in the country, but he loves his granny. Or puppies. Or something. :)

gargimehra said...

In my 2nd novel, I made my antagonist a secondary narrator so the reader gets to see his view of things too. Though he does unpleasant things, he believes he is justified in his views. I like the antagonist to have a reason for his evil, like JK Rowling does by giving Voldemort his complete history and background.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi friends..I am really intrigued by everyone's points of view, regarding the antagonist. I agree with the theory that the antagonist has to have a reason for his evil and if we end up showing that reason, all the better for our stories.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Good point to consider, Rachna; although I'm of the opinion that the antagonist has to have some sympathetic traits, just as the protagonist has to have flaws, and for the same reason: to avoid two dimensional characters. Also to keep the the reader turning the pages. When the protagonist is too wonderful and the antagonist is too evil, the reader knows right off that the good guys are going to win and there's no real tension or suspense.

Saumya said...

This is a great post!! The best antagonists are the ones whose motivations we can understand. In Ramayana, we know what drives Ravana to do what he does (sorry for popping out that example...it was the first antagonist I ever learned about). Voldemort's motivations are also clear. I love it when the antagonist has favorable traits that they twist into being unfavorable. Or when they were not "bad" their entire life.

Melissa Crytzer Fry said...

I actually think antagonists have to have SOME redeemable qualities to make them more human and relatable; I think that leads to more of a reader connection (you keep the reader guessing: "is this guy as big of a creep as I thought? Wow -maybe he's not," given what he just did. Then WHAMMO, he does something idiotic again. Heightens the tension, makes you reassess and hate him again.). Plus, even villains have some good traits.

I am also going to play Devil's Advocate on another point you made, that "good is ultimately rewarded and evil punished in real life." I actually don't think it IS that way in real life. I know plenty of bad people who get away with bad stuff/never get caught, and plenty of good people who get handed a tough deal, despite their angelic nature. I think THAT is why it's so important, in fiction, for us to MAKE the "good triumphs over evil" a reality. It helps us believe in something positive, even if reality isn't actually that cut-and-dry!

Alternatively, when we put characters in these situations of "good doesn't always pay off," we get rich, conflict-ridden plot lines that make us think, think, think!

Rachna Chhabria said...

@ Melissa...I too have seen that more often than not bad people get away with the bad stuff they have done, while the good get handed a raw deal, because its just not in their nature to fight back or complain. I think thats why it becomes all the more important to make good triumph over evil in fiction, as it makes people believe that something positive can emerge from being good.

But...I have seen that ultimately the bad do get punished, maybe not in the time frame we wished for, but at some point when justice is meted out, their punishment finds its way to them and the good too get their rewards. Loved your view, it brought a whole new perspective to the post. :)

Ellie said...

Ooo...scary picture.

I think you need to have a protagonist that has bad points and an antagonist who has good ones, because in real life nobody is either one or the other.

Cheryl Klarich said...

Rachna- you always give me something to think about!!

Sometimes the villian is born out of conflict and circumstances beyond his control, and, had things been different, would have been a cool hero, like the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera; but because of the evil things he does, the other guy- the count- must rise above his natural sort of less-exciting self to be more heroic... fun, fun, fun!!