When should the antagonist be introduced? (4 Techniques)

In this post, we go over useful techniques for introducing a villain and teach you how and when should the antagonist be introduced.

How & When Should the Antagonist Be Introduced?

One of the best ways to make a memorable antagonist is by giving them an incredible first impression to the audience.

Narratively speaking, you want your antagonist to come in with a bang. Especially since the antagonist will be the character who will set up the major conflicts in the story.

So you want to make sure your antagonist's introduction immediately conveys the essence of their character. This will give the audience a sense of excitement (or horror) when the antagonist shows up again later on in the story.

4 Useful Techniques for Introducing Your Villain

Here is a list of a few powerful techniques for introducing your antagonist:

Commit an Unforgivable Act

One of the best ways to introduce an antagonist is by having them confront the protagonist and commit an unforgivable act.

This is because the audience will already be emotionally invested in the protagonist and their motives. By having the antagonist clearly establish their stance against The Hero on uncertain terms, the audience will quickly recognize the threat the antagonist poses.

If you do this right, your audience will empathize with The Hero's fixation on imposing justice upon the antagonist. In fact, the audience will eagerly look forward to the antagonist's "just desserts".

An example of this can be found in "The Count of Monte Cristo", where the antagonist betrays our protagonists, costing them two decades of their life, losing their love, and the death of their father.

To pull this technique off successfully, you need to make the audience understand the suffering and pain the protagonist endures. The audience needs to understand exactly what the protagonist has lost and what it means to them.

Use The Hero's Gifts to Convey Enemy's Power

You can't have a great hero without a powerful villain—someone who pushes The Hero to their limit and forces them to give it their all.

When you have a competent and powerful protagonist in your story, you'll know you have a good villain in your hands when they give The Hero a run for their money.

One example of this is in Sherlock Holmes, where the audience is immediately made afraid of Moriarty because he is fully capable of outsmarting our genius hero Sherlock. This is made more terrifying when the audience considers how much more aggressive and immoral Moriarty is, putting Sherlock at a considerable disadvantage in terms of keeping others safe.

By leveraging the protagonist's own current capabilities, you are able to convey how much more threatening the antagonist is to the audience.

To pull this technique off successfully, you need to establish your hero as extremely competent and capable.

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Save the Antagonist for Later

If you are going to introduce the antagonist later on in the story, you want their reputation to precede them. This means that you want to establish their legend and give the audience reasons why the antagonist is someone the audience and hero should fear.

To pull this off successfully, you need to establish a connection between the protagonist and antagonist AND make the antagonist's presence felt throughout the story's in-universe.

One example of this is in The Harry Potter series, where the over-arching antagonist Voldemort is mentioned across multiple films. His legend is so well-known and horrifying that he is referred to as "He Who Must Not Be Named" in-universe.

However, you don't want to exaggerate the villain too much, otherwise, you are forced to make the villain up-to-par when they make their official appearance in the story.

Of course, as you can imagine, the problem with this method is that the more you exaggerate the legend, the harder it becomes to get the villain up to par without breaking the story.

An example of this mistake is in Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, where the myth of Dio was exaggerated so much that the writers had to give similar power to the protagonist of the story.

Convey Their Competence & Philosophy Quickly

In the prior points, we've introduced the villain through secondary characters, their in-universe reputation. and in relation to The Hero's own abilities.

But if you're going to be direct and introduce the villain to the audience plainly. you do this by establishing their philosophy to the audience right away.

One example of this is how Christopher Nolan introduces The Joke and Bane in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Each antagonist features their own anarchist philosophy and ruthless nature.

These introductions are powerful and immediately help give the audience an idea of ​​what to expect.

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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