Antagonists and Other Bad Characters pt 5
The antagonist’s journey is not usually one of great distance (emotionally speaking of course.) They sit in their den, palace, battlecruiser or hovel and manipulate the world to their whim. They have entered a world fully formed, with all of the tools in place to fulfill their purpose. Why then do they need to grow? They are supposed to be an obstacle in the path of the protagonist. And as we all know, obstacles do not usually move by themselves.
When then can an Antagonist grow or change?
If they are sub-antagonists a moderate amount of growth is acceptable, and in the case of a story where the Antagonist is for example a competitor to the protagonist, they grow just enough to realize something important. Too often though you see the antagonist defeated, no growth and if still alive (romantic comedies for example) acting the same exact way. No lesson learned, no change in behavior.
Growth can be a delaying tactic I think. To stave off the protagonist, the antagonist learns a new skill or trick. An interesting example might be Lord Voldemort from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. He adapted and changed several times. Eventually he regained a physical body and was able to briefly grab hold of power. Though he grew and changed slightly it was not enough to fend off the hero.
Is there some way to allow an antagonist to reach for more and hold off the protagonist?
Looking across literature it is difficult to find a good example of this. There are cases where perhaps in a series the antagonist does move through some form of change (see the Harry Potter reference.) Ultimately though the Antagonist is soundly defeated and punished. I have yet to find a way to keep the antagonist alive, changed without altering their role in the tale. At least without some kind of full conversion bringing the antagonist out of their role.
Allowing growth in the antagonist makes them more compelling I think. A static villain is fine, traditional, in short expected. An antagonist that can adapt and reach for new knowledge and skills provides a more dramatic and dynamic conflict for the protagonist. Which at the end of the day (or story) is what we ought to be providing our readers. Imagine tales told of evil wizards blithely sitting back and sending wave after wave of minions to attack our hero, who happens to be armed with the ultimate minion slaying weapon (+2). Endless descriptions of the hero clawing his or her way through the piles of green-skinned bodies would ultimately tire us as well as them.
Next up we look at getting into the villain’s mind, bring your hip waders it’s bound to get slimy!