How to Create an Antagonist
There are many ways to put your antagonist in the way of the protagonist’s plans.
- The most basic, of course, is to create a villain antagonist. In this case, you would want the villain to be frightening and intimidating, perhaps even seemingly invincible. In a traditional story, the villain should be wicked and hateful, and the audience should sincerely be rooting against them throughout the plot. This reaction can be created by giving the antagonist characteristics that are universally disliked, such as cruelty, deceit, etc.
- However, many antagonists are not evil villains – they may simply be misguided idealists, or bumbling fools. In comedies, the antagonist is sometimes the protagonist’s friend or partner, but creates problems due to incompetence or stupidity.
- Regardless of which type of antagonist is used, it’s helpful to make the character at least somewhat understandable. Without this quality, the antagonist can seem one-dimensional and cartoonish, and thus less interesting. Of course, it might be difficult to create a villainous and understandable character, but when it works it can be very compelling.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to create an antagonist out of a former friend or ally:
- Harvey Dent was friends with Bruce Wayne before becoming a villain
- Professor X and Magneto started their lives as friends
- the young Anakin Skywalker was a friend of Obi-Wan Kenobi before becoming Darth Vader.
The gradual evolution of friend into enemy can be a great basis for a story.
When to Use an Antagonist
Antagonists are primarily a feature of fiction, of course, but they can also be valuable in non-fiction writing, especially biography, history, and journalism. In these genres, you can make your writing more readable by presenting the information in the form of a narrative, with a protagonist and antagonist that stay consistent throughout the story.
When choosing a protagonist and antagonist, of course, it’s important to remember that the majority of historical episodes had no clearly defined “good guy” and “bad guy” – just two sides that had a political or territorial dispute. For example, if you were writing a story about the Napoleonic Wars, your protagonist could be the British admiral Horatio Nelson, in which case the antagonist would be Napoleon; but you could also write the opposite story, with Napoleon as the protagonist and Nelson as the antagonist. Be aware that your choice of perspective will place a significant (perhaps unfair!) spin on the history.
A good antagonist can improve any kind of narrative-based writing, whether fictional or non-fictional. This is obviously less important in argument-based writing, though. And, of course, you could always consider leaving the antagonist out and writing a no-antagonist story.