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Antagonists and Other Bad Characters Part 2

December 8, 2011

A Tale of Two villains.

Continuing along from This post, today I am going to talk about having multiple antagonists or villains in the same story. It is a concept that is not new. I mean Star Wars made it famous with Yoda uttering: ‘Always there are two: a servant and a master.’ Or something like to that effect.

 That relationship Master/Servant, Boss/hireling I feel is not unusual, but the underling is not always as important as the principle antagonist (Ant.) In one of my manuscripts I have such a relationship.

Reasons for using two Antagonists: Allows for a deeper plot. More character interactions. More shifting smoke and mirrors / misdirection possible.

 In my opinion it allows for a deeper storyline to be developed and give the Protagonist and their companions more to struggle against. Why did I use two? It helped the plot out. See, short easy answer. In reality though… The main Ant. was plotting and kniving, but very private and nursing a very long grudge. His hench-person handled the more upfront tasks. The actual hands-on dirty grunt work that moved the evil plot along. The sub-Ant. is frequently the sacrificial lamb. Should the police investigate, or heroic warriors batter down the door the sub-Ant. is the one who is on the receiving end of it.

How critical is the sub-Ant. to the story? The story would survive without one, so it is not critical. However, if I did not use one it would have exposed the true villain much earlier on and forced reliance on fairly anonymous underlings. The sub-Ant. allows me to create layers, especially when the plot is large and complex (as this one was.) The main Ant. is pretty willing to sacrifice his underling though at the drop of a hat should it prove useful to his own desires.

So it is not necessarily a relationship built on trust and mutual respect. Generally the dynamic is founded on fear, dominance, corruption. The sub-Ant is expendable at least to the main Ant. The worse a sub-ant is treated the more likely they are to become willing betrayers. Then it is a matter of what pressure is applied. In the case of Darth Vader it was the realization that he did in fact have some good left in him and that he was about to lose his son. Other times there simply is no appealing to the better nature of a character.

There also sub-ants. who are willing in their servitude. They worship the main-ant and would do anything for them. They are in my view weaker but more reliable for the main-ant. They do not have their own agenda or desires but they will switch causes if one proves mightier than the other. Their main concern is self-preservation followed by support of the main-ant.’s agenda. What purpose do they serve? Commonly they are cannon fodder. Perhaps put in charge of a special piece of equipment, also known as: speed bumps. Because honestly that’s how long they might slow down a Protagonist.

Recap time:

  • The main antagonist is the Big Boss. His will, needs and plans take precedent over any other sub-antagonist.
  • He will employ minor bosses as delaying measures against the protagonist.
  • The sub-antagonist would love being the main antagonist, but is deficient somehow so he never quite manages to make the change.
  •  There are sub-antagonists who are puerile toadies without their own goals, believing that the main Antagonist’s goals are all important.
  •  The relationship between main and sub is strained at best, generally not forged from love or friendship but rather fear or coercion.
  • The sub-antagonist is relatively easy to flip to the opposing side.

Next up: Redeeming an Antagonist, why, how.

Keep it goin’ in the comments section. Thanks for reading today!



From → Antagonists, Writing

  1. my take on it is that there is an antagonist, but he is always some king, or like star wars the emperor, sitting off in a castle/spaceship/corporate tower. The protagonist fights his way through the assistant antagonists. I call them the bully, the traitor and ass who are balanced by the “good guys” the protagonist, buddy and clown. These six characters are balanced so the story doesn’t get lopsided (and lopsided stories become unbelievable with the protagonist fighting off large armies all by himself).
    That’s why I maintain most antagonists are lazy and don’t come into the the story until late in the game. Constant conflict with balanced characters keep a story moving and when the middle doldrums arrive, you just look at the already established conflict between the characters (especially internal conflicts that force all six to act and reveal their real personalities)

    • I would agree that the antagonists should not reveal themselves too soon, but I do not think I would call them lazy. Balance between the sides is important. Thank you for your insight.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Antagonists and Other Bad Characters pt 3. « Tales From Xira
  2. Antagonists and Other Bad Characters pt 4 « Tales From Xira
  3. Antagonists and Other Bad Characters pt 5 « Tales From Xira
  4. Antagonists and Other Bad Characters pt 6 « Tales From Xira

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