Hello, and welcome to Character Creation 101! I haven’t worked out our syllabus yet, so bear with me. It’ll take some time to work out what we’re going to do in here.
Or… maybe we could just take it one character at a time.
Yeah, let’s do that.
For the next eight weeks, you and I will explore various character types and traits, and delve into how to write them well, no matter the story you’re working on. After all, characters are some of the most important parts of writing, whether you’re writing novels, novellas, or even short stories. If the characters are awful, no amount of amazing story will help you. Trust me on that.
Last week, we talked about the most basic of the basics: the protagonist. This week, we take the logical next step.
This is the primary character standing between the protagonist and their goal. And yes, just like with protagonists, there can be more than one antagonist in any given story. In fact, it’s not uncommon at all. But, generally, there tends to be one big bad guy, who stands above the rest. I’m not sure why that is, but it seems to be the formula that works best.
How to create a great villain
It’s not as easy as you might think. In fact, if you thought coming up with a protagonist was difficult, you don’t know what you have coming to you. Antagonists are a whole other ball game, and one that requires far more patience and understanding.
See, a protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be enjoyed all the time, doesn’t necessarily have to be someone we all agree with, but the antagonist needs to be a character who everyone despises, who all your readers can rally together in hatred of—and that’s not an easy thing to do.
Use Your Protagonist
Essentially, the best place to start is to make your antagonist be the antithesis of your protagonist. That means that everything your good guy stands against, your bad guy should stand for (and vice versa). They should be the opposite of each other, in nearly every way. So, since you already have your protagonist determined, since you already know what their primary goal is, you at least have a jumpstart in how to create your antagonist.
Use Your Feelings
Don’t be afraid to write someone you absolutely hate. I’ve done that, more than a few times. In fact, some of my books were incredibly difficult to edit because of how deeply I hated my antagonist. That’s a good thing! Those big baddies were always the ones I’ve gotten the biggest response from, from my readers. Write what you hate, because other people will hate it too.
Use Your Head
Or, rather, use theirs. Get inside the mind of your antagonist. See things from their point of view. That, I think, is where a lot of writers miss the mark. We think of the antagonist as the bad guy, the one who must be defeated, and so we forget that in their mind, they aren’t evil at all. Keep that in mind while you write them. Your antagonist thinks what they’re doing is right. They think that the protagonist is the evil, and that they’re the good. Take the time to get inside their head and do this, to show your reader every facet of darkness versus light.
That right there is honestly the best advice I can give you, when it comes to writing antagonists. It’s where most authors fall short, and why most stories aren’t as epic as we’d like them to be.
Remember, in the mind of your antagonist, they are on the side of good.
Be prepared for that to skew your reality, until you’ve gotten used to it. I have one novel where I was in the antagonist’s point of view (first person) for several chapters, and I struggled to get back into my own mind after I wrote him. Darkness is strange like that. It grabs hold and doesn’t want to let go.
But that’s also what makes the best antagonists around.
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