There are a myriad of characters that play many different roles in novels and comics. Of them all, I find the antagonist, or the villain, if you will, most intriguing. In my part of the world, the antagonist has a different name; a name that screams “Guilty!” and goes straight to the point – Killer. Who is a killer and what criteria must a character meet to earn the infamous badge of the antagonist?
Pay attention; antagonists hate to be misunderstood. An antagonist is a being or creation of any kind that is capable of emotion and has the intellectual ability to plot against your protagonist. The antagonist must act to keep the protagonist (referred to as ‘Blowman’ where I come from) from achieving his/her goals. The antagonist may be the one enslaving a kingdom with dark magic, or may be the one presenting a poisoned apple to an unsuspecting fair lady, or someone who simply wants the world to burn because her cat died and it just wasn’t fair that the world hadn’t dedicated enough resources to advanced feline health care. The point is, your antagonist is mostly pissed and wants to do some major damage.
Now, dear reader, take a walk with me down the eerie Antagonist’s Hall of Fame. Gaze upon the portraits hanging on the maroon walls of this dimly lit hall. There is Dr Hannibal Lecter smiling right next to the portrait of Professor James Moriarty. Ah, look, there’s the Joker, Victor von Doom, Freddie, Jason, Darth Vader, Magneto, Agent Smith and just beside Lord Voldermort, is Norman Bates.
All these characters have made lasting impressions on the minds of readers across the world. They show up in our sleep sometimes and torment us. We discuss them with our friends and argue over which of them is the most “bad-ass”. Whether we love them or loath them, these hall of famers stay in our minds and hearts all our life.
I know you want to see your character in the Antagonist’s Hall of Fame. I know you want your antagonist’s portrait hanging on those maroon walls. I know you want to know how to create a great antagonist. Is that not why you took this walk with me? Is that not why you came?
I believe in you. I know you have the ability to create a memorable killer too. Here are five things you must keep in mind if you want to create that remarkable antagonist:
- Give your character an unforgettable name.
It’s all about branding, people! All the great bad guys have names that are easy to remember. You find these names easily rolling off your tongue (my Top 3 Favs: Agent Smith, Magneto, and the Joker). Although the name must be easily remembered, it shouldn’t sound too mean or too silly.
- Give your antagonist a rich backstory
You find that most writers spend so much time and effort creating the perfect protagonist that they end up creating a one dimensional antagonist. Your antagonist must have a great backstory. You must write from his/her point of view sometimes. Let your reader go on a journey with your antagonist. Let your reader see how your antagonist grows through his/her challenges to become what he/she is now. Readers want to know the antagonist just as much as they know the protagonist. We want to know that serial killer. Was he sweet or was he a troubled young boy in an orphanage? When, how, and why did he finally snap? We want to know how it all began – his first kill, how he got better at what he did etc.
- Give your antagonist a distinctive feature
There must be something your reader must think of every time he or she hears your antagonist’s name. There must be something about your antagonist that just captures your reader. It should be something your reader will simply love or love to hate about your antagonist. It could be a physical deformity or the way he laughs/talks, his choice of clothes, diction, or the kind of car he drives.
Your antagonist must have a proper motive. Your antagonist must not be burning things and shooting up the block just because he/she woke up one morning and felt like doing some evil stuff. The antagonist must have a good reason for doing what he/she does. It has to be something reasonable that can even have the reader siding with the bad guy for once. The antagonist must see goodness in his/her work. The antagonist must think of himself a saint or justified in his actions.
- You win some; you lose some
Yes, light must conquer darkness, the good guy must win, and someone must live happily ever after … blah, blah, blah. This doesn’t mean the bad guy must lose the moment he meets the good guy. Let your antagonist win some battles against the protagonist. The antagonist may not win the war but, at least, let him/her win a battle or two. Let the antagonist revel in some success, no matter how fleeting. We don’t want an antagonist that can be easily vanquished.
I know you already have a great antagonist on banging your mind’s door. Let these five tips serve as a guide in your quest to create an antagonist worthy of the Hall of Fame.
– R. D. Ansong.