Antagonists and Other Bad Characters pt 6
Descending into something unpleasant is not always necessary with an Antagonist. Truly it depends on what kind it is. For the sake of this post we will be looking at very wicked archetypes.
The question of the day is: How can a mild-mannered person write convincingly a character of pure evil the likes of which makes your skin crawl just reading the printed words.
I do not think that just flinging gross out material endless onto the page makes for a chilling villain, no matter how imaginative it may be. I described the antagonist as having a desire to watch the world burn. How to approach this? Basically what makes the antagonist evil/creepy? One way is to draw on those items that cause fear in yourself. Introspection is often beneficial when planning out a villain. I read once that fear of loss is pretty universal, so that is a good place to start. Using your own personal fears gives you something real to work with and expand on. It is also more relatable to others especially if they share the same fears.
The components that make up an antagonist can be broken down into a few categories. Physical, Mental, Behavior, Goals.
Physical: The physical description of the antagonist ought to reflect their personality or nature. If your antagonist is a elemental mage who uses ice it might convey them better if they were cold/aloof, perhaps dressed in cool winter colors. Mentally unstable, perhaps that is suggested by lack of attention to hygiene, personal grooming. So their physical manifestation should be a reflection of their inner-self.
Mental: An antagonist should be at least as smart as the protagonist. Balancing the rivals means that one side is not going to win outright. There is a area of uncertainty surrounding the outcome. If they are criminally insane it may be tricky to measure intelligence. One thing that could be done with an unhinged antagonist is to reveal their genius in small glimpses, like a break in the clouds that lets the sun shine through. They should not be easily fooled or beaten. In my opinion that just cheapens them.
Behavior: Several films have mocked the antagonist’s penchant for monologing to the protagonist or putting him into a situation that he can easily escape from. In doing so the filmmakers have pointed out a significant flaw and continually instill the cookie-cutter happy ending. Some writers, comic artists and filmmakers have moved against this by putting some of their dearest characters on the chopping block. Mind you these were not the main protagonist, but I would consider them not necessarily disposable characters either. Check out Looking For Group and The Bean for examples of this in the web comic world.
I think that the antagonist should be unflinching and ready to act at a moment’s notice. As a writer this challenges us to be more careful when putting the Protagonist in harm’s way. Nothing like writing yourself into a corner where you either compromise your antagonist, story, protagonist or all of the preceding in one fell swoop. The antagonist should not care about little Timmy when he has positioned the young lad on a wobbly plank over a tank of sharks. He should fully intend on dropping the lad the instant the protagonist fails to comply with whatever direction he’s been given. This is much like what I discussed above with monologues and traps which are easily escaped.
Goals: Depending on what sort of antagonist you have created there could be varying goals. To rule the world is pretty popular, getting the girl, riches, power. All of the usual standards. Antagonists stand out when their motives and end goals are not typical. Yet their goals boil down to essentially the same things that we the writer may desire: Fame, money, stature, a voice noticed in the world. A question you could ask yourself is: What might I do to achieve one of these goals? Then just freely wander through all of the possibilities that present themselves.
But go big. If it is something you can think of, it is likely that you can also think of someway to make it worse. For example… Lets say that I decided money was what I desired, lots of it. What might I do to get money? I could work hard at a profession and earn a good wage. If I were desperate, I might consider robbery. Now, you’ve started to create an evil sorcerer. He needs some cash for the latest dark tower improvements. He could work, but why work if he’s got magic at his disposal. So he could take what he needs by threat or sheer force of magical will. Since his needs are not to feed his poor starving mother but rather to add an addition to the creepy tower of doom, he will be cast in the ‘bad’ wizard category and duly assigned a protagonist to show him the error of his ways.
Again, the antagonist’s goal should be to thwart the protagonist, drive them to grow, change or adapt, Hopefully the struggle will be exhilarating and fraught with peril. I like it when the outcome isn’t a foregone conclusion.
Recapping: The behaviors of the antagonist should be decisive, not prone to easy thwarting even though we all know it will eventually be foiled by the protagonist
This series has been a lot of fun to write. I enjoyed taking a look at my process for Antagonists. I would like to do more series like this. Do you have any suggestions? If you do, please drop me a line in the comments!
Everyone have a magical and blessed holiday season no matter who or where you are ,what you believe in.
Thanks for reading today!