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        How to Write an Antagonist (Examples & 7 Expert Tips)

        • calenderMay 20, 2024
        • calender 6 min read

        Every great story needs a strong antagonist to create conflict in the story. In this article, learn how to create an antagonist with 7 expert tips! We’ve also included amazing examples from literature to help you. 

        An antagonist is not always the completely evil, bad guy in the story. So what is an antagonist in a story? We’ll quickly define antagonists to explain this. 

        Bring your antagonist to life with in-depth editing!

        What is an antagonist? 

        An antagonist is a character who creates obstacles and challenges for the protagonist (main character) of the story. Their role is to create tension and drama in the story. 

        Strong antagonists are often intelligent, have multiple talents, and have their reasons for opposing the protagonist. Lord Voldemort, The White Witch, The Joker, Darth Vader, and Thanos are some famous antagonist examples. 

        The following can play the role of an antagonist in a story: 

        1. An intelligent mastermindvs
        2. An animal 
        3. An oppressive system 
        4. A bad society/culture
        5. An authoritative character/government 
        6. A natural disaster 
        7. Machines/robots 
        8. Rivals competing for a common goal 
        9. A bad institution 
        10. A supernatural force (e.g. aliens) 
        11. The protagonist’s weaknesses, inner conflicts, and illnesses

        After understanding the antagonist definition and types, let’s see how to create an antagonist.

        How to write an antagonist  

        1. Give the antagonist motives 

        Your antagonist should have a strong reason to oppose the protagonist. This can be a desire for power, success, fame, or a personal stake. The reason can also be due to the character’s past experiences. Some important points while giving characters motives are: 

        • Reveal the motives gradually: Show the motives as the story progresses through the character’s thoughts (inner monologue), dialogues, and reactions to other characters. You can also use flashbacks of past experiences to show the character’s motives. 
        • Use literary devices: Use metaphors and similes to compare the character’s motivation to something else, giving a deeper meaning to the story. Browse through the following antagonist example to understand better: 

         “John’s ambition was like a hungry beast, always lurking beneath the surface, waiting to devour any opportunity that might feed its appetite.”  

        The above example is a simile where John’s ambition is compared to a hungry beast using the word “like”. Now let’s see the next tip to create a strong antagonist 

        2. Make the antagonist relatable 

        To make them relatable, you can give your antagonist flaws and weaknesses that the readers can easily recognize and understand. For example, pride, insecurity, a desire for acceptance, etc. 

        Some other ways to make the characters relatable are: 

        • Highlight similarities with the protagonists: You can show similarities in their struggles, abilities, thought processes, and desires. Use conversations and interactions between the protagonist and antagonist to highlight their similarities in thought processes, values, or perspectives. 
        • Describe their emotions: Depict how the antagonist feels love, fear, vulnerability, and other emotions. You can do this by describing the physical sensations the antagonist experiences during emotional moments. For example,

         “As the news of her father’s death reached Olivia, a cold numbness spread through her body. Her knees buckled, and she felt the world spinning around her, the ground threatening to swallow her whole.”

        3. Develop the antagonist’s backstory 

        To create a backstory, list the key events that shaped your antagonist. You can create a complete timeline of the antagonist’s life using writing apps like Scrivener to make notes. 

        Also, instead of telling your antagonist’s backstory in the order it happened, share pieces of their past at different points in a non-linear order. You can also show the character reflecting on the past using inner monologue. 

        Some other ways to create a backstory are: 

        • Use a framing device: Employ a framing device, such as a character recounting the antagonist’s past to another character, to reveal their backstory. This can create a sense of intimacy and immediacy, drawing the reader into the antagonist’s history.
        • Explore cultural or societal influences: Consider how your antagonist’s cultural background, upbringing, or societal norms have influenced their development. This can provide context for their actions and beliefs, making them more relatable and complex.

        4. Develop the antagonist’s relations with other characters 

        • Develop their allies: Give your antagonist allies who support or help them achieve their motives. Explore what makes these different types of characters stand by the antagonist, and how their loyalty influences the story and other relationships.
        • Create unexpected connections: Surprise readers by revealing unexpected connections between your antagonist and other characters. For example, show that they have a secret history or are related in some way. 

        5. Make the antagonist evolve 

        Challenge reader expectations by having your antagonist evolve in unexpected ways. You can show how they find redemption, or how their growth takes them in a surprising direction. Some ways to show character development are: 

        • Use red herrings: Employ false clues to suggest your antagonist will experience a predictable, negative outcome. Then, surprise readers by taking their growth in an unexpected direction. 

        For example, throughout the story, the antagonist’s actions suggest they are becoming more villainous. However, in a twist, it’s revealed that they were secretly working to reveal and stop the true villain all along.

        • Employ a role reversal: Have your antagonist’s evolution lead them to take on a role that is traditionally associated with a positive character. This role reversal can challenge reader expectations.

        For example, The antagonist, who was earlier an enemy, evolves to become a friend or even a mentor figure. 

        6. Give the antagonist redeeming qualities 

        You can do this by showing some moral principles antagonists follow, despite the wrong actions they commit. For example, the antagonist refuses to harm children or innocent bystanders, despite their willingness to commit other crimes.

        Some other ways to depict redeeming qualities are: 

        • Show their positive relationships: Depict your antagonist’s positive relationships with other fictional characters, such as a loyal friend, a loving family member, or a respected mentor. For example, the antagonist has a close bond with a sibling who brings out the best in them.
        • Give them moments of mercy or kindness: Include scenes where your antagonist shows mercy, kindness, or forgiveness, even if it’s brief or unexpected. For example, the antagonist spares the life of a character who wronged them, showing compassion.

        Now let’s see the last tip for how to write an antagonist. 

        7. Make the antagonist’s defeat satisfying 

        You can make the antagonist’s defeat satisfying by giving hints of the antagonist’s downfall before the final conflict. For example, showing a mistake the antagonist makes, an unexpected event that makes the good forces stronger, a secret weapon that the hero uses, etc. 

        Some other ways to do this are: 

        • Use a twist or revelation: Employ a surprising twist or revelation that contributes to the antagonist’s defeat. This can be a hidden weakness, a secret alliance, or an unexpected turn of events that shifts the balance of power. For example, It’s revealed that a character who is the antagonist’s trusted partner has been working against them the whole time. 
        • Show the consequences: Depict the consequences of the antagonist’s defeat, both for the story’s characters and the larger world of the story. For example, The antagonist’s defeat leads to the liberation of oppressed people or the restoration of balance in the story’s world.

        Now let’s see 3 exciting antagonist vs. protagonist examples in literature. Every example also includes a tip that you can use to create suspense and intrigue between a protagonist vs. antagonist. 

        Antagonist vs. protagonist examples 

        1. Professor James Moriarty vs. Sherlock Holmes 

        These two characters from the story “The Final Problem” by Arthur Conan Doyle are famous for their conflict. The protagonist Holmes is portrayed as a brilliant detective, while Moriarty is depicted as a criminal mastermind. 

        A strategy used: Creating mystery by withholding information. In this story, specific, detailed information about crimes Moriary committed and how he did them is withheld to build suspense. For most of the story, Moriarty is an unseen presence, orchestrating crimes from behind the scenes. Following is Holmes’s description of Moriarty to explain this: 

        “He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.”

        Readers learn about Moriarty’s crimes through the information Holmes’ has gathered, rather than through direct confrontations or detailed descriptions of Moriarty’s actions. This secondhand account creates an air of mystery around Moriarty’s character while emphasizing his criminal activities.

        2. Iago vs. Othello 

        In William Shakespeare’s play Othello, Iago is the antagonist whereas Othello is the protagonist. Iago manipulates Othello by planting seeds of doubt about Desdemona’s faithfulness. 

        A strategy used: Rhetorical questions and ambiguous statements 

        For example, in Macbeth, Iago questions, “ “Did Michael Cassio, when you woo’d my lady, / Know of your love?” Through this action, Iago creates doubt in Othello’s mind about Cassio’s knowledge of his relationship with Desdemona. Iago also makes ambiguous statements like “Men should be what they seem; / Or those that be not, would they might seem none!” This ambiguous statement suggests that men should be honest about their true nature, but it also implies that some men, like Cassio, might be deceiving others.

        These lines show Iago carefully choosing his words to imply something inappropriate about Cassio and Desdemona’s relationship indirectly. By asking rhetorical questions and making ambiguous statements, Iago lets Othello’s imagination fill in the gaps, exploiting his insecurities.

        You can make your antagonist utter ambiguous statements and rhetorical questions similarly to create doubt. Now let’s see the last example. 

        3. Sauron vs. Frodo Baggins 

        In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is the antagonist whereas Frodo is the protagonist. 

        A strategy used: Motif (The Eye of Sauron) 

        In “The Lord of the Rings,” the eye motif is closely associated with Sauron and appears throughout the story, constantly reminding readers of Sauron’s presence and power. One notable example is the Eye of Sauron, depicted as a fiery, lidless eye atop the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr in Mordor. The characters, particularly Frodo, feel its gaze, as he journeys closer to Mordor. 

        You can similarly create motifs for your antagonist. 

        This concludes our guide about antagonists! You can bookmark this article to revisit the definition of an antagonist and tips. After understanding the antagonist’s meaning, you can start developing a strong protagonist using the best writing software like Novlr and Novel Factory. 

        With this, you also need to brainstorm: What is a protagonist and antagonist’s ultimate outcome in their conflict? Deciding a logical outcome that makes sense is essential for a satisfying conclusion. 

        Once you complete the story, the next step is to edit it. As experts in editing and proofreading services, we’d love to help you perfect your story! 

        Here are some other useful resources for you: 

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        Priya Linkedin

        Priya has a talent for academic research and enjoys simplifying complex topics. When she's not helping students improve their writing, she can be seen reading poetry, playing the harmonium, or learning classical dance.

        One comment on “How to Write an Antagonist (Examples & 7 Expert Tips)

        1. Edward Gardner says:

          Excellent information

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