By: Janice Hardy
I love villains. And anti-heroes. I even love natural disasters that don't care one way or the other about the hero. Maybe it's my dark side taking over, or maybe I just love how a well-crafted antagonist is written. The better the antagonist, the better the story for me, and the harder I root for hero (okay, sometimes against, but only in disaster movies).
A strong antagonist makes a strong protagonist, which makes a strong story. Strong stories make for happy readers. It's a win/win for everyone involved. Except maybe the antagonist, who probably gets defeated, but that's kind of her job.
There are also plenty of things that make a great antagonist, but the ones who stay in our heads (and hearts) and there one who are more than just cardboard cutouts of "evil" people. They're worthy of the hero, colorful in their own right, and might even make us like them.
Elements of a Strong Antagonist
1. A strong antagonist is trying to accomplish something. The antagonist has a plan, an evil plan in most cases. She’s acting because something is driving her to act and she wants to accomplish something in particular. In plot-driven novels, this is often the event that triggers the protagonist to act. The big bad thing that will occur if someone doesn’t step up and do something. In character-driven novels, this might be represented by the person who is trying to stop the protagonist from hurting herself in some way. Or be the one encouraging her to do so.
2. A strong antagonist is acting on personal desires. Even if the villain is a mercenary hired to kill the hero, she’s still motivated by something. Greed, an enjoyment of violence, a personal demon. The antagonist doesn’t just wake up one morning and decides to be evil for the heck of it. She wants something and has determined her plan is the best course of action to get it.
3. A strong antagonist is highly motivated to act.
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