Everyone knows a story needs a strong hero (protagonist), but all too easily, we writers forget about the antagonist. Or, if we don’t forget about him, we forget that he needs as much development as the protagonist.
For my current work in progress, I stalled for a while, and when I finally went through my list of things a story needs to be fully developed, I came across the antagonist. At that point, I exclaimed a relieved, “Oh! So this is what’s been holding the story up.” Even though I’ve written many stories and been published, I’d gotten so caught up in my protagonist and the other characters that I’d completely missed that I’d neglected my villain. He was a full character in my early chapters, but he didn’t have enough depth, motivation, and clear goals to become a fully dynamic character capable of giving the hero grief. So I had to sit down and get to know my villain, which is always a fun experience.
So how do you develop an antagonist into a character capable of wreaking havoc and truly enjoyable to read and write about?
- Create an antagonist that you enjoy writing. He can be evil, arrogant, psychopathic, or any other thing typically associated with villains, but he must be interesting enough to compel you.
- Give your antagonist just as much depth and complexity as your protagonist, if not more. Like your hero, your villain must have goals, motivations, conflicting desires, dreams, hopes, fears, and everything else to make him fully alive. Determine his past and what made him into the person he is now. None of this needs to be directly revealed in the story, but all of it influences him. And with that knowledge in the back of your mind, as a writer, you will write a character that feels more real to readers.
- Give your antagonist likable traits. This may fly in the face of all obvious logic--after all, villains are supposed to be evil--but in reality, no one is truly all bad. Giving a villain likable characteristics makes him more believable and more intriguing. The juxtaposition creates the draw.
- Remember that not all antagonists fit the stereotype of villainy. Some antagonists are sweet and kind. Some are genuinely pursuing what they believe is a good cause. In fact, an antagonist doesn’t think of himself as the villain. He believes his own goals and means are the right course.
- Outline the story from the antagonist’s point-of-view. This will give you insights into the antagonist and the story. Remember that, just like protagonists, antagonists also have obstacles to overcome, ever mounting stakes, and their own agenda that does not necessarily always involve the heroes.
If you love writing your antagonist, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track to make him as enjoyable for your readers. After all, villains should be just as memorable as the heroes we root for.