The Villain: How to Build a Good Antagonist

In this post, we go over how to build a good antagonist.

5 Steps on How to Build a Good Antagonist

We all know what a good villain looks like. They are relatable, their goals make sense, and they have a hard past to justify it.

However, not all villains are created equal. You can tell when a villain is one-dimensional. These villains don't have stories that invite us to reflect on or further explore their struggles.

Give Real Motivation

A villain must, first and foremost, have a strong and distinct motivation. This makes their sentiment simple enough to understand and use to reflect The Hero's opposition.

Without a personal motivation, the typical evil plot to "destroy" or "conquer the world" seems repetitive and shallow.

But when the villain has a genuine personal mission that reflects their values, you have yourself a mult-dimenstional villain.

For example, contrast Voldemort (Harry Potter) with a villain like Snoke from The Last Jedi (Star Wars).

They both share the same objective—to rule their respective worlds.

The difference between Voldemort and Snoke is that the latter has a full backstory that explains his actions, hatred, and way of being, whereas Snoke is cliché and boring. Voldemort's motivations are plausible and real.

The same happens with Agent Smith in The Matrix and Thanos in Infinity War & Endgame. Even though the objectives are somewhat cliche and exaggerated, their motivations are so well thought out that the story benefits rather than detracts from them.

Create contrasts with the protagonist

A villain, of course, is only as compelling as his relationship with the protagonist, and one of the elements that give their bond real depth is the contrasts in his acting.

For instance, in John Polidori's The Vampire story, the stark contrast between our main character and his counterpart is immediately apparent.

Where one is noble and quick to trust, the other takes advantage of others' kindness while keeping his identity a secret. Where one is honest and pure, the other is enigmatic and malicious.

No matter how the story turns out, this dynamic fills the main character's arc with intriguing symbols and makes it simpler for the reader to understand the character's virtues and vices (in addition to strengthening the story's theme).

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Make the Villain & Hero Have the Same Goal

Making the villain and The Hero share the same goal helps to make the villain a stronger, more memorable character.

Many authors make the mistake of designing antagonists who only serve as roadblocks for the main character. The antagonists in Captain Marvel serve as an example of this. They don't have any personal motivations for acting badly. They are only there to serve as a hiccup in the heroine's journey. That makes any antagonist boring.

If you want the antagonist to make a powerful impression on the audience, you must present them as an embodiment of an opposing conceptual force that goes against The Hero's beliefs.

Examples of this includes:

  • Batman facing The Joker for "the soul of Gotham City"
  • Thanos battling The Avengers for half of the Universe
  • The fight for The Ring in The Lord of the Rings

This dynamic is intriguing because it naturally creates the conditions for conflicts between the main character and the antagonist to feel inevitable and natural. We are compelled to see how the protagonist will go beyond his comfort zone to defeat the antagonist, especially if he succeeds more than once.

This brings up the following points—

Make it a real obstacle

One of Star Wars: The Last Jedi's worst mistakes is constantly humiliating its villains to elicit laughs and "ooohs" from the audience.

Also, the writers can't seem to get their heads around Rey, the main heroine, losing to her arch-rival. This is a problem because it results in a conflict with no tension or meaning.

When we compare them to Darth Vader in the original trilogy, it's easy to see why the latter became such an iconic figure while the others were avoided.

From the moment we meet Vader until the end of his redemption arc, we are introduced to a competent, intelligent villain who is always one step ahead of our heroes and, at times, on the verge of defeating them.

When Luke first confronts him, he neither wins nor draws but instead loses an arm and nearly dies. That's the kind of villain who makes an impression, not the one who is defeated by a novice!

Attack on Titan is another series that does this very well because titans feel like unstoppable forces most of the time. You can almost count the number of times the heroes have triumphed in that series on your fingers, which makes the rare occasions when everything goes right so special.

A powerful villain is one thing, but one who triumphs is quite another!

Give him an ideology that opposes that of the hero

The most interesting villains are those who test the protagonist's most vulnerable points. If this one was well constructed, there would be aspects of the main character's internal psychology that are not quite right.

Our protagonist must be dealing with a conflict that prevents him from seeing the world as it is, and the villain must be present to remind or challenge him about what is right and wrong.

This is perfectly reflected in the fight between Batman and the Joker, but since you've probably heard this comparison a thousand times,

Let's talk about the dynamic in the Netflix series between the Kingpin and Daredevil.

Daredevil is a hero with deep Catholic roots, so he tries to follow the moral designs that his religion preaches as part of his character. But, of course, this becomes a problem when he's up against someone like the Kingpin, who isn't afraid to commit atrocities to get what he wants.

The intriguing aspect of this conflict is that Kingpin and Daredevil want the same thing: "to save the city".But they have different ideas about getting there. While Daredevil believes that protecting the weak and doing the right thing will suffice, the villain believes that only by destroying what is already there and creating something new will things improve.

As the story progresses and our hero suffers defeat after defeat, he begins to question his morals, wondering if it would not be better to let go to defeat his opponent.

This is an intriguing quandary that the series delves into in-depth, allowing us to understand both sides of the argument without revealing who was right and wrong.

The battle between the villain and the hero becomes more intense when this is into play.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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