Friday, May 10, 2013

Creating a memorable antagonist

When we talk of the characters in our books we normally talk of the main character and the other characters who play a supporting role. We write posts on how to make him/her more likeable, memorable and rounded.

I think that in our mad rush to create lovable protagonists, we tend to overlook the antagonist. He single handedly drives the conflict. Creates tension. Is  responsible for the obstacles in our character’s life.

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 (yes, even though the muse is on a holiday, I am still jotting down points and writing scene descriptions and thinking on world building lines).

I realized that I was paying a lot of attention to my protagonist. My antagonist was coming across as a weak one. No wonder then, the conflict in my manuscript was looking pale.

To toughen the conflict and raise the stakes, I had to concentrate on the antagonist. Make him strong. Powerful. Clever and resourceful. If the balance tilts in one person’s favour, the conflict loses its appeal. But if we have two powerful forces (protagonist and antagonist) 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 the antagonist able to capitalize on his strengths? Is he able to push the protagonist into corners? What about the antagonist’s weaknesses?  Is the main character aware of the chinks in the antagonist’s armour? What is the antagonist’s safeguard against the protagonist?  

To make the conflict strong, 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 pitted against each other. Forces that would do anything 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?

I loved Harry as much as I disliked Voldemort. I wanted Harry to kill Voldemort, come what may. They were two formidable forces with an equal number of strengths and weaknesses. Their clashes were page-turners.

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.

20 comments:

  1. Very true Rachna that antagonists are so important to the story theme to keep the reader hooked:)

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  2. So true, Rachna. And the antagonist has to have an interesting backstory as to why they are doing what they're doing. They can't just be evil. It took me awhile to realize that.

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  3. You are so right about this. A powerful antagonist makes the story more interesting and makes the protagonist look better in the end.

    Lee
    A Faraway View
    An A to Z Co-host blog

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  4. I took a course not long ago about developing more interesting villains. There were things like the motifs, his personality, the fact that people are not 100% evil or 100% good. One has to take into consideration that a villain that does evil for the sake of evil is boring and empty character. An interesting point was that the villain does believe he is right and what he does is good, in his twisted vision of the world, that is.

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  5. I think it helps to try and look at things from the bad guy's perspective, the way an actor playing him might do.

    mood

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  6. Yes, developing an antagonist is important to developing a story. I need to spend more time with my current antagonists . . . thanks for the reminder!

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  7. Villains are so important! Here are two of my favorite quotes about them:

    "The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture."
    ~ Alfred Hitchcock, film director

    "The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself."
    ~ Wes Craven, film director

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  8. Spot on! A well-drawn protagonist and a wishy-washy antagonist leaves us with a one-sided encounter that will enthuse nobody. An excellent post making a point that probably should be made more often.

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  9. Good points. I also think we need to make sure the antagonist is a multidimensional character.

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  10. Great post. I do put in as much effect into my antagonists as I do my protags. I like antagonists that have a trait that you can't help but admire.

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  11. Yeah, I'm guilty of pushing my antagonist into the background until much later in the development of the manuscript and then I get into a tizz to make him or her more three dimensional. lol.

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  12. That's a very good reminder to spend time on our antagonists. It does seem like the protagonists get all the love, but a great villain can make a story.

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  13. Hi friends..I have always been partial to the protagonist. More often than not, my antagonist is just an adversary that the main character has to fight. But, nowadays I am trying to pay a little more attention to the antagonist.

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  14. I do agree. I usually like writing the antagonist more than the protagonist - LOL.

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  15. Good post. I couldn't agree more.

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  16. Unfortunately it does seem to take good and evil to make our lives seem full and our books complete! Nice summary of these issues. Writer’s Mark

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  17. We tend to be more invested in the reader's story if he has a lot of obstacles to overcome, and a strong antagonist makes for one of the most formidable obstacles. Great post!

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  18. Writing the antagonist is fun. I love a great villain who's multi-dimensional.

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  19. Some of my favorite TV antagonists are in Once Upon a Time. They're lovable and horrific, all at once.

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  20. Very true, Rachna.

    I like to make sure that my opposition character is as real as my lead character. I make them both human with flaws and strengths and baggage. That way, when the conflict grows between the, there is uncertainty on both sides about who will win.

    Jai

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