A Good Antagonist

Every fairytale needs a
good old-fashioned villain
.” – Jim
Moriarty in Sherlock (The Reichenbach Fall)

Whether you were taught to fear the power of Sauron and his Ring, or
intimidated by Hannibal Lecter’s character, you can’t deny that the servants of
evil are the cornerstone of any story. It is a universally acknowledged truth
that poorly constructed villains fail to grip the reader’s attention. In this
post, I’d like to outline what every well-written antagonist must possess.

1. Past

Orphaned, harsh upbringing, got into the wrong company, brainwashed,
developed a psychotic desire to take over the world… there are many reasons the
character could have had to swerve off the path of righteousness. It is
important to have worked out a detailed background of the sinister guy in the
story because it can give a lot of insights about his personality. Of course, it
can be a female character too.


2. Personality

Scary, dangerous, clever, ruthless, sadistic, violent, twisted, cruel,
nefarious, secretive, terrible, impatient, obsessed, weird, impulsive, selfish,
rude, treacherous, corrupt, greedy, hateful, two-faced – the list of words that
can describe a baddie is inexhaustive. The key is to make them seem convincingly
terrifying, with clear motivations that make them behave the way they do. Crazy
isn’t really enough anymore.


3. Purpose

These characters are really lucky in the sense that they already have a
definite goal in mind, and unfortunate in the fact that it isn’t a good one. The
one reason that drives them to lose all sense of morality and relentlessly
pursue their dream can be as simple as revenge and as far-fetched as world
domination. Religious motives are best avoided, in my opinion, since it stirs up
unnecessary conflicts and can be construed as offensive. Dan Brown might have
pulled it off, but tread with caution.


4. Presence

A well-written story gives a reader the feeling that evil is always there,
hiding behind a corner, lurking in the shadows, a sleepless malice that watches
the protagonist’s progress intently, planning something new and malevolent at
each step. This helps to maintain interest and curiosity throughout the course
of the story. Writing from multiple points of view, with the antagonist’s making
an appearance constantly is a great way to achieve that. It also gives the
writer an opportunity to reveal the character’s personality and bits of their
backstory. In that way, the work you put into developing the character pays off
too.


5. Partners

What good would Voldemort be without his Death Eaters? Every classic bad guy
(or girl) always has a small group of followers or partners in crime. If the
villain you have in mind commands a gang of equally twisted people, make sure
that some of them stand out (Snape is excellent example). If he/she is assisted
by a few, who have entered into a partnership of convenience (a group of thieves
maybe), the depth of each character is decided by their utility. Just like in a
gang of robbers, different people possess different skill sets, and putting
emphasis on a few central characters is one way to go about it. The added
advantage is that, you can later use a minor character to create an unexpected
twist in the plot, but give them a well-developed personality that is capable of
altering the fabric of the tale, so that it seems plausible. Of course, he/she
could always work alone, with serious trust issues, obviously.

Crafting the perfect nemesis for your hero is an easy task, after all, involving only five
aspects. A story can be judged by the characters who feature in it, and a good
antagonist with the distinct taste of evil would spice it up just right.

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