This week on the blog I started a character development theme aimed to help you improve on developing important characters in your novel. In this post I will be sharing my ways to create an antagonist that is believable, realistic, and a genuine threat to your protagonist.
Antagonists gives the story conflict and without conflict you don’t have a story. You want readers to hate the enemy of your protagonist. You want your antagonist to give an emotion to your readers that is the opposite emotion your protagonist reflects.
But how do you do this without pulling all your hair out and throwing your laptop against the wall?
Try these steps first:
Step 1: Figure out the need for the antagonist
-Who is the antagonist and what is their ‘job’ specifically?
-What purpose does the antagonist serve?
Do they challenge the protagonist?
Do they give the protagonist motivation to stop them
It’s important to figure out what kind of antagonist you want to create. Is it a rival teenager? A business tycoon that’s trying to destroy the character’s neighborhood? What is their purpose in the story?
If your antagonist were removed, would the story collapse? It should. You want an antagonist that causes the very problem that your protagonist wants to solve.
Think of Katniss Evergreen in the Hunger Games series.
The antagonist was President Snow. He was the villain and made Katniss and everyone’s life a living hell.
If President Snow was removed from the story there would never had any Hunger Games, there wouldn’t have been a war and there wouldn’t have been anything for Katniss to solve.
Step 2: Know how your antagonist looks
Your antagonist’s looks are just as important as your protagonist and besides, your readers are about curious about how they look.
So you need to know how your antagonist’s looks differ from your protagonists’. They don’t have to be black and white different but their appearance can’t be twin like.
Experiment with different ideas. Does the female protagonist look a look better than the bitter old female antagonist like in Snow White?
Or does the antagonist look better like in any teenage story where the antagonist is the popular gorgeous cheerleader and the protagonist is the plain Jane?
Make the antagonist appearance memorable to the reader so the image stays with them throughout the story. Give them something special to make them unique to your readers.
Step 3: Create a Special Trait
Make them reasonably powerful.
By powerful, I mean give them a leverage over your protagonist. Something to make the protagonist feel threaten.
But keep them reasonable… let me explain.
If you are writing a children’s novel and the antagonist is a 10 year old bully you have to give him limited power over the protagonist because he’s only 10 years old himself.
The bully could keep the protagonist off the slides or the swings or beat him up when he feels like it but the bully has no power to give him detention or kick him out of school. He has reasonable power.
This is what you have to remember when creating your antagonist character. Don’t over exaggerate their power and abilities.
Step 4: Give them motivation
Think about why your antagonist dislikes your protagonist.
Does the protagonist stand in the antagonist’s way of achieving their own goals? Let your readers know your antagonist goals and why the main character makes getting their goal hard or impossible.
This step is mostly about knowing the ‘Why’ of your antagonist feelings for the protagonist. It’s kind of the back story of how everything came to how they are.
Does your antagonist feel threaten? Do they feel invaded by the protagonist? Let the antagonist and the reader aware of this.
Step 5: Figure out their downfall
If your story ends with your protagonist as the ‘winner’ then you should know the ends and outs of your antagonists’ inedible downfall.
You don’t necessarily have to know this info before you’ve finished writing the book but at some point it should be crystal clear how the protagonist wins if that’s how your books is going to turn out.
Keep in mind. Just because the antagonist loses doesn’t mean they have to die. They could leave the area, be put in jail, move to another city or be befriended by the protagonist.
So there are multiple ways to end the antagonists reign but you have to know the end at some point. Don’t forget the antagonist while focusing too much on the larger picture because your readers won’t forget.
What more could I add to these steps? Do you know anything I left out or have a tip we can all learn from? Please share in the comment section below.