This time we will be looking at forming our antagonist.
It is important that we get to know our antagonists very well as they will be the main source of conflict in our stories.
We must go through pretty much the same process as creating our protagonist – and creating your antagonist may even be a better place to start off since they are the central cause of everything that goes wrong for the protagonist. (This does not necessarily include every scene problem, just the major problems.)
I’ve already outlined the different types of antagonists we can have, and the different levels of antagonists too. If a character, especially an antagonist, is going to be a recurring character, then we need to know them pretty well.
It would probably be a good start to ask yourself some of these questions.
What kind of an antagonist are they?
What are their goals?
Out of these goals, what do they want most?
What motivates them, and drives them to want this goal?
What events in their past have made them the way they are now?
Of course, creating a character profile or questionnaire may help you to delve deeper into their past and get into their mind-set. We must remember that in each character’s world, they are the protagonist. This most definitely applies to the antagonists – and most likely our protagonist will be painted as their antagonist in their world.
This is a really useful way to get into an antagonist’s head. Not only looking at their goals, but the people who oppose those goals. What reason do they have to oppose the antagonist? (You could look at that question from both an outside view and from the antagonist’s own view.) What does the antagonist think of those who do oppose their goals? How do they react to not getting what they want, or people opposing what they want?
Our antagonist is not going to come out of nowhere with no past, with no backstory. Of course, it is not necessary in a story to tell the reader absolutely everything about the world and its inhabitants, but this information will allow you to shape fully formed people, whose actions happen for a reason. Yes, this even applies to villains – for example, if they are crazy, there must be a reason. Perhaps an event in their past drove them out of their mind, drove them to do what they are doing now? Perhaps you will decide there is no reason – they just are the way they are. But, at least in my opinion, it may help to make them more real and life-like if they were to have a reason for the way they act.
Once we know our antagonist a bit better, and we know exactly what it is they want, then it is easier to pinpoint where the antagonist intersects the protagonist’s life – this is the Inciting Incident. Now this can be literally or figuratively.
For example, in the Hunger Games our antagonist is the system itself, but our proxy is President Snow as he represents the system. The Inciting Incident is when Prim’s name is called. When Katniss volunteers in her place, she steps through the ‘Doorway of No Return’. Now she doesn’t meet President Snow here. But the system opposes her goals. Her goal? Make it through the Reaping with no one she knows and cares about being thrust into the arena. The system, however, has other ideas when her sister’s name is called. Now, I know a system can’t literally think – this is a game of chance. There’s no telling whose name will be pulled. But Katniss did everything to make sure Prim’s name did not come up. And yet it did.
This is the perfect point for the Inciting Incident, and the antagonist is clear. Without the system, there would be no games. Without the games, there would be no reaping. Without the reaping, there would be no need for her to volunteer because her sister’s name would never have been called. So, without the system, there is no Inciting Incident, and so there is no conflict, and so there is no story.
Therefore you can see how the antagonist – the system – figuratively intersects with Katniss’s life. The proxy, President Snow, does not literally walk in and try to take Prim. But, by understanding our antagonists we can find the right point to pit them against our protagonist for the first time – and this will also help in finding a good place to start your story.
This is going to be last in my mini-series on antagonists, and I hope it has been interesting and maybe even have been useful for some of you.
I want to say, before I end my posts on antagonists, that although I have set out some rules here, most rules are made to be broken. BUT we must first understand the rules, to then understand the affect our deviation will have. Many an author has broken the rules I have outlined, especially regarding antagonists in a series. But you must weigh up the risks that go with breaking such rules. For example, if you do choose to have one antagonist throughout your trilogy, you must understand that each book may not have a conclusive and satisfying end on its own. Yes, this makes for a good cliff-hanger, and will propel people to read on to find out what will happen next. But this may also deter people from continuing to read it. Also, should it happen that you never write that next book, your readers will forever be left hanging, not knowing what will happen next, and never getting a conclusive ending. But those are the risks you must weigh up yourself.
Remember, though, that a defeat does not have to completely ‘destroy’ the antagonist, so it is feasible that they could come back. Take Harry Potter as an example. It is quite clear that in each book (and film) we are, in some way, fighting Voldemort. And, though he is ‘defeated’ in each book, each ‘defeat’ does not destroy him to the point where he will not come back. So this series is a really good example of that rule being broken.
Next time I will be looking into what I have touched on in this post: getting to know our characters. I will delve deeper into how to form our characters, and will outline the ways in which I get under the skin of my own characters. I will look at Points of View, and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. I will look at the ‘Lie they tell themselves’ as promised. And plenty more to go with it all. I hope you will enjoy our little trip inside our characters’ psyches!
I would love to hear from you, so please do comment any thoughts you may have on my mini-series on antagonists.