Tcr

Writing An Antagonist: Thoughts, Ideas, Processes...

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So...  While watching a truly terrible movie and writing my own, I had a thought.  Watching the antagonist, a mere caricature and, admittedly, boring in that regards, I started thinking to myself, ‘How?’  Obviously someone had to be paid to...  Dare I say write this villain?  I’m not sure that’s capable of being said.  I’m pretty sure whoever put him in there looked in a dictionary under villain and took all the cliches...  Which is not always a bad thing...
 
So, coupled with a bit of a discussion with my beta regarding the same ideas within the last few weeks (has it been longer?  Maybe longer...  Either way...)  I kind of examined my own antagonists (mostly minor in terms of the overall story at this point) and began seeing that most of what CR and I had discussed had already been put into place.  Some minor tweaks here and there, a few added things into the character, a couple odd search topics in Google...  And a very questionable, yet still lacking detail report regarding said character that is currently saved on my computer...  Hopefully, the minor antagonist in Chapter V has taken on a new life that is not a cartoony version of hyenas marching...  At least, I’m happy with the way it’s turned out.
 
I’d like to think that I added enough to humanize, dare I say relate to (a scary thought, I know), that character.  Those little bits that develop a personality, at least in terms of this one, and create a living breathing antagonist and not a two-dimensional paper cut out as I had seen within the movie...
 
So, then, thoughts abounded...  And perhaps could help other people in writing their own antagonists...
 
How does everyone else create their antagonists?
 
Now that I’ve rambled on and on and on long enough to bore people to death...  I’d like to hear your ideas, thoughts, writing processes, and maybe there’s someone else who will benefit outright as well...

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I tend to prefer mine realistic, so that typically means the antagonist isn’t evil-evil, but rather, operating from a different point of view.  In my stories, that typically means the more “evil” characters believe they are doing the Lord’s work, believe that they are being righteous in doing so, or believe that they’ve been wronged somehow and it’s justice/revenge being levied out.

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I, too, prefer the antagonist to be realistic.  It makes it more heroic (shall we say) when the protagonist final overcomes them.  I definitely have to agree that operating from the different point of view and doing what is ‘right’, a technical view that is quite subjective, thus working quite well in describing their mindset, is a good way to make them real.  Real people make decisions all the time that otherwise lead to the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

An example that comes to mind for that is actually, strangely, from Star Trek. ST: Nemesis, for anyone not versed in this, has a clone of Jean-Luc Picard as the villain of the piece.  While not the greatest and most powerful villain in the franchise (that, by far, has to be Khan from Wrath Of Khan…  Okay, digress finished...), it does provide the example…  Shinzon’s backstory falls into a series of backstories that describe his rough upbringing under horrendous conditions, thus leading him to lead a coup and murder off the government and take control…  Et cetera, et cetera…  Whereas Picard’s choices reflect the good within the UFP…  Shinzon’s reflects the darker choices…  ‘For now we see in a mirror darkly’, the view of what could have been had situations been different.

To me, that’s what makes a good villain, a good opposite to the hero.  The ‘what could have been if things were just a little different in the hero’s life.

Those that believe they are doing right, too, make for a good antagonist, whether that comes from some deep religious beliefs, malformed opinions based of the propaganda and hate, or justice/revenge, as you’ve pointed out.  It brings a human element to them, makes them relatable.  And, to me, at least, a relatable villain is, by far, the better one.(

(Sorry if this is rambling, disorganized, and incoherent…  Maybe this is a sign not to answer after being up all night...)

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Personally, I looove the antagonist role. I love a good villain, so naturally I have a looot of thoughts on this matter. 

I agree that the villain should think they’re doing the right thing in most cases. (Especially with new writers or writers whose strengths are not in the more naughtiness-inclined characters) But I also do think there are uses for the stereotypes. And the comical bad villains. If done well, a villain who knows they’re doing the wrong thing and loves it can be so friggin awesome! I think my favourite type of villain, usually reserved for the drama or survival genres, is the kind of person you actually find yourself rooting for and getting broken hearted over. Someone you can totally relate to and like, and want to see succeed even if you know they’re doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Like the opposite of an anti-hero. An anti-villain? lol. 

For every kind, though, especially the ones who you try to make sympathetic, you have to be careful not to try to make them sooooo normal and relatable they become uninteresting.

When writing a villain, regardless of the type you go for, I think it’s the same as writing every other character. The most important thing, to me, is to understand what motivates them, to get into their heads, to understand what they’re feeling. Even if they’re motivated by sheer LOLs. I need to see through the villain’s eyes, to feel their hatred, lust, frustration, love, or jealousy. Personally, I always need to love my villains, even if I want my readers to hate them. I was going to say more on that last point, but I’ve gone on long enough and not entirely sure what I’m talking about anymore because I have so many people chattering in my ear. 

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“And the comical bad villains”

Right there, I got the image of the ‘60s Batman villains of the week…  Not the good old ones like Joker, Catwoman, Mister Freeze, Penguin, or Riddler…  Ones like King Tut, who are just so laughably comical…  But you are right, of course.  There are places for the stereotypes, although, to me, it has to be carefully done, too…

“the kind of person you find yourself rooting for and getting broken hearted over”

A vibe of the Walking Dead coming on…  I have to admit, most of the bad guys, I find myself actually kind of cheering for in there, so I understand the point and, if done right, the villains can definitely overshadow and take over the piece.  I find myself thinking back to a conversation I had with someone else regarding the characters of the Toby Maguire Spiderman.  I could not, for the life and through the attempt, find myself rooting for the ‘heroes’…  No, it was Dafoe’s Goblin or Molina’s Doc Ock…  Even Grace’s Venom or Franco’s Goblin…  They took the cake in there, to me, because they were pretty sympathetic villains...

11 minutes ago, CloverReef said:

When writing a villain, regardless of the type you go for, I think it’s the same as writing every other character. The most important thing, to me, is to understand what motivates them, to get into their heads, to understand what they’re feeling. Even if they’re motivated by sheer LOLs. I need to see through the villain’s eyes, to feel their hatred, lust, frustration, love, or jealousy. Personally, I always need to love my villains, even if I want my readers to hate them. I was going to say more on that last point, but I’ve gone on long enough and not entirely sure what I’m talking about anymore because I have so many people chattering in my ear. 

I definitely agree here.  Writing the villain should be no different than any other character, albeit with what society would deem as darker intentions.  ‘Motivated by sheer LOLs’, I just get the 60s Batman Joker running around with that…  But you’re right, seeing through the antagonist’s eyes and understanding whatever it might be is a necessity, I think.  I also think that, if you can evoke strong emotions, whether love or hate, for your antagonist, then it makes their downfall or rise that much sweeter when it comes to that.

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My villains are not that well set up, and many are existing canon ones repurposed for my fanfics. I hope to develop more, but my writing is so slow right now, I work more on plot than detail. I like redemptive arcs, so are those characters anti-villains or anti-heroes? I usually stick to motives and a simple timeline/plan.

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In my stories, the overarching antagonist is society, with the collective requirement of group thought.   Don’t like it?  Then, you are the problem, and must be sorted out.  So, I’ll typically manifest that through characters in the story (ie, Ernest in Dolbourne Chronicles.)  

Of course, we all know who the real antagonists are … plot bunnies.  :)

 

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THOSE MANIACS!  THOSE DAMN MANIACS!  DAMN THEM!  DAMN THOSE PLOT BUNNIES TO HELL!  I mean, I’m okay…

5 hours ago, Anesor said:

My villains are not that well set up, and many are existing canon ones repurposed for my fanfics. I hope to develop more, but my writing is so slow right now, I work more on plot than detail. I like redemptive arcs, so are those characters anti-villains or anti-heroes? I usually stick to motives and a simple timeline/plan.

Hi, Anesor.  Welcome to the discussion.

When I started, I was kind of the opposite, I worked through the characters and their details more than the plot (I can hear the peanut gallery screaming and booing at me…  Okay, who threw the rotten tomato?)  For me, the characters made the story and making them realistic immersed myself in with them time and again.  Understandably, as my writing grew, it became a more balanced style, plot and details equal to character.

In short, develop at a pace that suits you.  A piece of advice someone once told me years ago, keep everything you write.  Look back on it, see how you’ve progressed, see what you’ve done, every little inch towards the goal is something to be proud of.  And one that I’ll say, never stop looking at other works and reading them, seeking out advice and help, and practicing…

As for the villains, everyone has to start somewhere.  When I started, a lot of mine where the caricatures (Okay, enough with the boos, I get it…  Okay, who’s throwing the chairs, now?)  The advice I have is just to make them real.  Make them have their hopes, dreams, fears, their motivations that makes them ‘evil’.  Others probably have other suggestions and, like Desiderius has implied, a villain isn’t always a physical one; the faceless government or oppressive atmosphere can be just as much an antagonist as the bank robber waving a gun around during the robbery.

Others have their own way to create theirs, but…  My two cents worth on helping you to write a villain, now that I’ve been longwinded, as usual…  I ask myself a few questions to try to get into their head:  What caused Joe Blow from Idaho to become The Murderous Nightstalker?  What drives them, motivates them?  Are there any qualities that could be seen as redeemable (ie, do they help little old ladies across the street?  Sauve like Indiana Jones?  (Or, like Desiderious stated before, do they believe they’re right in what they’re doing?  Do they see their actions as justice?)

Hope this has some help within it… 

 

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6 hours ago, Anesor said:

and many are existing canon ones repurposed for my fanfics

Fanfiction writing is excellent practice. It taught me a lot of things about character analysis, and eventually creation. Because usually we write fanfiction for the love of the characters, right? 

 

6 hours ago, Anesor said:

I like redemptive arcs, so are those characters anti-villains or anti-heroes?

I think it’s subjective. In some senses, a character is a villain and a hero depending on their actions at any given time, but I tend to categorize characters based on their importance in my story. If they’re the central character, I’d say anti-hero, and if they’re the main conflict/opposition to the central character, then they’d be the anti-villain? 

Edited by CloverReef
To smoosh a comma.

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Most of my plot bunnies are friendly, they rarely get rabid. They just keep spawning. Right now I’m satisfied with the villains in my active stories. I usually create the villain for my plot and then develop as I go. (and feel inadequate). When I look back I have motive and a tracery of backstory, they just don’t feel like enough. (I really don’t want to shift to antagonist 1st person POV, as I want the readers to know as much or little as the villains)

I did try profile/outline and my muse ran away. If I go to that level detail I can’t revisit enough to actually write. That muse has a short attention span.

Edited by Anesor
forgot thought

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4 hours ago, JayDee said:

With all the quality recent guides, I’m looking forward to “Writing the Deuteragonist and Tritagonist” with step one being “Look up Deuteragonist and Tritagonist in the dictionary.”

Melrick will appreciate your volunteerism on this topic (once his computer woes are fixed).  :P

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What is the purpose of your antagonist.Are they soimply an obstacle, or are they meant to be a straw man, or reflection of the hero? These are the sorts of questions you need to ask.

 

Best advice I’ve heard.?

Treat and write your antagonists as if they were the protagonist of a different story centred around the same events. That will generally get you thionking about them interms of who they are and why they are as opposed to them being convenient amorphous plot-spackle .

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On 1/27/2017 at 3:51 AM, Tcr said:
So...  While watching a truly terrible movie and writing my own, I had a thought.  Watching the antagonist, a mere caricature and, admittedly, boring in that regards, I started thinking to myself, ‘How?’  Obviously someone had to be paid to...  Dare I say write this villain?  I’m not sure that’s capable of being said.  I’m pretty sure whoever put him in there looked in a dictionary under villain and took all the cliches...  Which is not always a bad thing...
 
So, coupled with a bit of a discussion with my beta regarding the same ideas within the last few weeks (has it been longer?  Maybe longer...  Either way...)  I kind of examined my own antagonists (mostly minor in terms of the overall story at this point) and began seeing that most of what CR and I had discussed had already been put into place.  Some minor tweaks here and there, a few added things into the character, a couple odd search topics in Google...  And a very questionable, yet still lacking detail report regarding said character that is currently saved on my computer...  Hopefully, the minor antagonist in Chapter V has taken on a new life that is not a cartoony version of hyenas marching...  At least, I’m happy with the way it’s turned out.
 
I’d like to think that I added enough to humanize, dare I say relate to (a scary thought, I know), that character.  Those little bits that develop a personality, at least in terms of this one, and create a living breathing antagonist and not a two-dimensional paper cut out as I had seen within the movie...
 
So, then, thoughts abounded...  And perhaps could help other people in writing their own antagonists...
 
How does everyone else create their antagonists?
 
Now that I’ve rambled on and on and on long enough to bore people to death...  I’d like to hear your ideas, thoughts, writing processes, and maybe there’s someone else who will benefit outright as well...

I hate to say it, but I have yet to add complexity to my antagonists! Since my stories are so main character driven, it’s them who have the deep personalities and complexity (sometimes to the point where they become the a little hard to sympathize with) Pretty much everyone else is… a stereotype. Fudge, look I’m admitting to it! Enough is enough! No more of this!

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On 4/20/2017 at 8:37 PM, PenStoryTeller said:

What is the purpose of your antagonist.Are they soimply an obstacle, or are they meant to be a straw man, or reflection of the hero? These are the sorts of questions you need to ask.

 

Best advice I’ve heard.?

Treat and write your antagonists as if they were the protagonist of a different story centred around the same events. That will generally get you thionking about them interms of who they are and why they are as opposed to them being convenient amorphous plot-spackle .

Beautiful… What’s great about your advice is that it's so true and RELATABLE. Me and my neighbor IRL are bitter enemies because we run into each other in the parking lot all the time. She is my villain and I am hers! Maybe this is the writer in me, but I’ve always been curious about this neighbor of mine. Because you're right, she’s a protagonist in her own weird ass story. Shit, I know my story is pretty crazy lol. 

On another note, do you think it's ok to have a stereotypical antagonist? I’m not looking for an excuse, I’m just wondering since you asked about the purpose of the character, if how you can construct your bad guys depending on usage. I suppose you can, and I’m answering my own damned question! There can be more than one bad guy, it can just be the dick waiter who spills coffee on the main character, or you could be talking about the guy who’s plotting to rule the universe! Ok, well, thanks for that little tidbit of advise. I think that’ll be easy to store in my  back pocket and take it along with me :P I like simple and sweet. easy to repeat! 

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17 hours ago, mastershakeme said:

On another note, do you think it's ok to have a stereotypical antagonist? I’m not looking for an excuse, I’m just wondering since you asked about the purpose of the character, if how you can construct your bad guys depending on usage. I suppose you can, and I’m answering my own damned question! There can be more than one bad guy, it can just be the dick waiter who spills coffee on the main character, or you could be talking about the guy who’s plotting to rule the universe! Ok, well, thanks for that little tidbit of advise. I think that’ll be easy to store in my  back pocket and take it along with me :P I like simple and sweet. easy to repeat! 

I know this was directed at someone else, but I just want to put out there that there's totally a time and place for the stereotypical antagonist. Some writers avoid stereotypes as much as possible. And that's a pretty good rule to live by, especially if you're unsure of yourself. Or if you don't appreciate them to begin with. If you bristle at the snobby waiter trope at a high class restaurant no matter how well it's done, you should probably avoid it in your own writing.

However, If stereotypes and 2 dimensional characters are tools you want to learn how and when to use effectively, the learning process does tend to take the trial and error route. Personally, I avoid combining them and I avoid 2 dimensional chars more than I do stereotypes. If your main antagonist embodies a number of stereotypes but is multi faceted and you love him and what he brings to your story, that is a valid character. 

I might be repeating myself with all this, but I love stereotypes. They're so fun to play with.

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4 hours ago, Anon said:

Write an outline of your story with the antagonist as the protagonist.

For my main potter fic (not on AFF), I’d write the minutes/notes/debate for “Death Eater” strategy meetings.  I found that quite useful in figuring out what the DEs were up to, what was next, how they’d respond to counter anything Dumbledore was doing, and generally shaping their overarching plan.  Also included in those notes were chastising for the missteps among the main antagonists.

I do this a bit less for my current line of fics, but its something I still do from time to time.  It does help.

 

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On 28/05/2017 at 8:06 PM, mastershakeme said:

Beautiful… What’s great about your advice is that it's so true and RELATABLE. Me and my neighbor IRL are bitter enemies because we run into each other in the parking lot all the time. She is my villain and I am hers! Maybe this is the writer in me, but I’ve always been curious about this neighbor of mine. Because you're right, she’s a protagonist in her own weird ass story. Shit, I know my story is pretty crazy lol. 

On another note, do you think it's ok to have a stereotypical antagonist? I’m not looking for an excuse, I’m just wondering since you asked about the purpose of the character, if how you can construct your bad guys depending on usage. I suppose you can, and I’m answering my own damned question! There can be more than one bad guy, it can just be the dick waiter who spills coffee on the main character, or you could be talking about the guy who’s plotting to rule the universe! Ok, well, thanks for that little tidbit of advise. I think that’ll be easy to store in my  back pocket and take it along with me :P I like simple and sweet. easy to repeat! 

You can. Stereotypical villains can be interesting \. Or you could simply make the story less about the villain. Look at Lord of the RIngs. Did you notice that Sauron (despite being the big bad) never really factors in the story? He’s there, in the same way the trees the grass and the mountains are but he’s not the focus.

 

In such cases the Villain is more treated as a force of nature, something the protagonist must react to, In these cases the meat of the story is what sort of actions, changes and reactions the villain brings out in the characters.

The raptors in Jurassic Park, Jason Voorhees, The Shark from Jaws. These are prime examples of that.

Not every story needs to be focused on a grand, looming conflict. Sometimes just the task of getting from A-B is enough.  Sort of like in a video game.You aren’t thinking about the last boss fight. Your attention is focused on surviving one area at a time., and I’d say that makes for some thrilliung engagement.

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On 1/27/2017 at 1:51 AM, Tcr said:
So...  While watching a truly terrible movie and writing my own, I had a thought.  Watching the antagonist, a mere caricature and, admittedly, boring in that regards, I started thinking to myself, ‘How?’  Obviously someone had to be paid to...  Dare I say write this villain?  I’m not sure that’s capable of being said.  I’m pretty sure whoever put him in there looked in a dictionary under villain and took all the cliches...  Which is not always a bad thing...
 
So, coupled with a bit of a discussion with my beta regarding the same ideas within the last few weeks (has it been longer?  Maybe longer...  Either way...)  I kind of examined my own antagonists (mostly minor in terms of the overall story at this point) and began seeing that most of what CR and I had discussed had already been put into place.  Some minor tweaks here and there, a few added things into the character, a couple odd search topics in Google...  And a very questionable, yet still lacking detail report regarding said character that is currently saved on my computer...  Hopefully, the minor antagonist in Chapter V has taken on a new life that is not a cartoony version of hyenas marching...  At least, I’m happy with the way it’s turned out.
 
I’d like to think that I added enough to humanize, dare I say relate to (a scary thought, I know), that character.  Those little bits that develop a personality, at least in terms of this one, and create a living breathing antagonist and not a two-dimensional paper cut out as I had seen within the movie...
 
So, then, thoughts abounded...  And perhaps could help other people in writing their own antagonists...
 
How does everyone else create their antagonists?
 
Now that I’ve rambled on and on and on long enough to bore people to death...  I’d like to hear your ideas, thoughts, writing processes, and maybe there’s someone else who will benefit outright as well...

What is the antagonist for? What genre is the story in? How complex is the main protagonist? What are the interactions between protagonist and antagonist? Are they friendly and jovial? Or are they die hard someone is going to die the moment one of them sees each other?

Sometimes the story just needs a complete monster. And sometimes the whys are much more interesting than the antagonist themselves.

The most interesting questions come to mind if the main character is the villain of the story.

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Don’t create antagonists as Villains. An antagonist at heart, the person who’s goals run counter to the protagonist. THey are just both people that desire something and are journeying to get that thing. The first thing to humanize an antagonist is that very few people see themselves as the ‘bad guy’. Everyone thinks they have good reasons for what they do and that they are doing what is best for themselves and those they care about.

 

Give them goals, , give them a reason for their goals and ask yourself why this person and the protagonist are at odds. Is it a grudge against the protagonist specifically or is the protagonist just an obstacle to be over come.  Or to put it this way. is it personal, or incidental. personal indicates that the character holds a sepecific and focused hate for the the protagonist specifically. Incidental just means it was a matter of chance , that in the course of their own independent goals they wound up in opposition. It’s sort of like how soliders are. VEry seldom is there any actual hatred for the enemy soldier, not genuine hatred. They are just there and you have your orders, and they have there’s.

 

If you want to get advanced, you cmake the antagonist be essentially be the protagonist, just facing the opposite direction. Give them the same trains, qualities and etc as the protagonist.

 

 

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One needs look nor further than real life to find every type of “villain” you could desire.  From the sociopath, to the eternally greedy, to the hypocrite, to the fanatic, to the horrifically misguided, they’re all there.  Even honest and honorable people can find themselves on opposite sides of a “front” in a “conflict,” where absent that conflict they would share meals and be friends with each other.  In writing, just like in real life, every villain has their place.

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