Writing Tips: The Antagonist

Storybird moderator shonahmarie is back on the blog today sharing some writing tips for developing rich characters in your stories.

An antagonist is an opponent, competitor, enemy, rival or someone with whom the protagonist must contend.

When reading Harry Potter, did you cheer for Harry or Voldemort? In Peter Pan was Hook more likable than Peter? Who among us wanted to side with the Capital over Katniss in The Hunger Games? Rarely do we read a book and cheer for the enemy. No one likes villains much, unless you are dressing up as one for Halloween; however, the villain will often fuel our love for the hero or give us more of an investment for the cause of the story.

The truth is we all want to be the hero, striking down the enemy in a great triumph! We all want the reward of overcoming evil to achieve the goal of peace and harmony. Does this mean that the antagonist of the story should be less important than your hero when writing? Actually, your antagonist should have just as much thought, character, investment and time put into their development as your hero. After all, what would Harry be without Voldemort? Who would Katniss be without a Capital, and how would Peter be so brave and lovable without Captain Hook?

Our heroes shine when they are reflected off a well-developed antagonist. Where can a story begin if we do not ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of this story? Who are we fighting? What is the cause?” The Fellowship of the Ring would never have been formed if Sauron didn’t create a ring of power, thus throwing Middle Earth into a tailspin of war. Frodo would never have left the Shire had Sauron not existed, but Frodo becomes the hero we know and love him to be through his journey of overcoming the antagonist.

An antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be human either. Have you ever read The Jungle Book or Moby Dick? The antagonists in these stories are animals. Shere Kahn, the tiger, brings unrest and trouble to the jungle, causing Mowgli to rise up and defeat him. Moby Dick, the great whale wreaks havoc in the ocean to a ship of desperate sailors—and even Voldemort used a snake as his accomplice.

Often when we sit down to write a story we get focused in on our hero; how majestic they can be, how lovable they will become, and how their heroic ending will capture the audience. Since we usually want to be the hero, we project all the goodness we want to be in them; but how good and heroic can we be without overcoming obstacles? Who or what are these obstacles?

Do you remember a time when you overcame something or someone and were better for it? What sort of challenges must your character face to become the hero you want them to be? Creating the antagonist is often the first part in creating a great story. The hero will evolve and become a much-loved icon by overcoming the antagonists you create.

Featured art by claudiocerri

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