How to Flesh Out the Antagonist

As I continue to add depth, magic, sparkle, flow, atmosphere, to my novel, A Time of Stones. I also work hard at eliminating the hackneyed, lazy forms of expression and concentrate on the settings and making my characters float up from the page.

At the moment, I am concentrating on: the antagonist.

Every protagonist needs a worthy opponent. When it comes to crafting the antagonist, it’s important to put just as much work into his backstory and motivations as you did for your hero.

Your protagonist needs a true challenge, and to be challenged, he/she needs an equal.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing the antagonist.

An Antagonist is a Person, Not an Idea

This is my first tip because if you get this part wrong, your whole manuscript might fall apart. An issue might be an essay or an article, but an issue has no plot or character arcs.

An antagonist has to be a person who acts, and in acting, keeps the protagonist from getting what they want, when they want it. In other words, your antagonist needs to be antagging (a term from the Writing Excuses podcast, where the antagonist is being active – protagging is the protagonist being active).

When an antagonist is active, you can have a plot. You can still be inspired and write about big ideas so long as you personify them with an actual person who’s a proxy for the idea.

Every Hero Needs a Worthy Opponent

Make sure your antagonist is as compelling as the protagonist. Remember, your antagonist is a person too, which means they need to be as complex as your protagonist.

An antagonist is the protagonist of their own story.

They have motivations, flaws (and not just the evil part), a good side, a backstory, and values. The antagonist’s values might be skewed or nuts, but they have them.

Imagine them as the star of their show. Make sure the character is meaty enough to carry the story if need be.

A Note on the Beloved Antagonist

Comic books hit every mark with villains: they are the hero’s arch-enemy: worthy, smart, capable, and often a step ahead of the hero. These villains share traits with the protagonist and in many ways are the hero’s mirror image.

Is your villian and antagonist the same character?

In most cases, yes but for complex plotlines and epic fantasy novels – no. For example, Saruman can be seen as the antagonist and Sauron as the villain.

As an author, you’ll have to find a reason why the characters don’t just have a good chat about their issues and resolve them.

My bottom line tip for writing well-rounded antagonist is to respect them. Respect the antagonist enough to create motivations, desires, and an origin story as compelling as the protagonists.

The more people who make choices and respond to those choices, the more interesting your book will be.

Do you believe an antagonist should get the same amount of development as your protagonist?

Please post your comments and answers below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view and answer, please invite them or share this post with them.

#DWTSmith #antagonistdevelopment

Character Conflict

4 thoughts on “How to Flesh Out the Antagonist

  1. These are excellent thoughts on the antagonist vs protagonist aspect of a novel. In the fantasy application, if one has a magical power, the other must have the answer. Even before that, the antagonist must have a belief and a want that conflicts with the belief and want of the protagonist. I’m at work on the follow-up to Justi the Gifted in which Justi has two sons, one legitimate and one the product of a one-night stand. Only one has inherited his father’s power of burning the injustice off your hide. Yet they must have a fair fight. I love the comments here on conflict. The more, the merrier. Write on and prosper.