© Copyright Arabella K. Federico
Writing The Antagonist That'll Make Your Hero's Blood Run Cold
Arabella K. Federico
How to take the typical archetype of "The Villain" and cunningly craft a terrifying Antagonist who's so perfectly tuned to torture your Protagonist, their blood turns to ice.
so what does the antagonist do, really?
So let's go back...
Firstly, if you’ve been with me for any amount of time, you know I am a huge proponent of crafting your characters with deep backstory, misbeliefs (The Lie they believe about the world or themselves), something they WANT and something they NEED. And a Truth they discover to bring it all home. I highly suggest you read my previous blog posts on Writing Your Dream Protagonists Part 1 & Part 2 for a deep understanding of this. But-here’s the secret that so many writers miss and it leads to boring and a bland Antagonist-they don’t craft them like the hero. For some reason, the villain is treated as a lower-level side character, therefore not as much development goes into them because of that. Big mistake. Let’s talk about why.
why the antagonist has to be AS developed as the protagonist
Thirdly, a great villain is so juicy because they aren’t merely an obstacle for your hero; they’re constantly in opposition to their goals-externally and internally. Ideals collide, beliefs differ, misunderstanding run rampant…but, why? Why is this person doing what they’re doing? Motivation is directly tied to backstory, and it’s hard to have one without the other. This person is going to be comin in so hot, so strongly, regardless of what your hero and their friends are doing. They must have their own lives, desires, and motives to be as great as you want them to be. I suggest asking your Antagonist a series of deep questions regarding motive, and why they want what they want so badly. Why is it important to them? How would they feel if they got what they wanted? What if they didn’t? Let’s talk below about how to craft this character in detail.
The Basics of character backstory & development
Who's your favorite Antagonist of all time? Leave it in the comment section below!
a relatable antagonist is a scary antagonist
How to torment-the proper way
One of my favorite Antagonists, Pennywise the Clown, is a favorite because he knows how to TORMENT the Protagonist and other characters. Not just with his scary shape-shifting, but because he’s constantly able to find their biggest weaknesses and exploit them. In IT Chapter 2, there’s a scene where Pennywise is taunting a previously over-weight character. Though in present time this character is buff and beautiful, Pennywise knows he still feels insecure on the inside, therefore feeling unlovable and unworthy. It’s a 2-part system, crafting good characters and also crafting a villain who’ll find the cracks in their armor. It’s all about the internal conflict here, not about the external. Twisting and writhing a character’s deepest issues and insecurities is awful-and yet so painfully beautiful to watch. Remember, this isn’t as much plot related (external), but character related (internal). It’s vital to have this in your villain.
see the antagonist as much more than "the bad guy"
In conclusion, what I want you to take from this blog that the Antagonist is AS important as your Protagonist. Every great hero is only as good as their adversary. Us as humans love polarity in stories because we live polarity in our real lives. Having a formidable bad guy for “good” hero only works because we see true evil in our own world. Additionally, works of fiction help all of us work through the true horrors of the world we live in. As the writer, your job is to mirror the real world in such vivid detail that it can be seen as real. Real enough for all of us to comprehend what evil really is, how it happens, why it is what it is, and how to deal with it. Your audience wants that duality, your audience wants to believe the hero can lose; and the villain can win.