What Makes an Antagonist?
So if you were unaware, these blog posts are actually ideas passed on by publisher Bob Nelson. I’m sure they stem from questions he’s been asked or conjured from some dark pit in his brain, but my question this week was of no use. Not only have I not received a strange fan mail, I’ve yet to receive any. I know, I’m unapproachable. Or maybe it was unreachable? In any case, I thought I’d steal someone else’s blog assignment and put a little twist on it.
For me, an antagonist isn’t just the anti-hero, an obstacle contrived to thwart my main character or some evil bent on destruction – because that’s what evil does, right? No, in my mind, the antagonist is a hero of another story, of his story, the one that makes perfect sense in his mind. He’s not against the hero to be contrary. He’s got his own goals and desires, motivation and morality. There is no sense of good or bad in his mind, at least where he and the hero are concerned. They’re just at odds in their endeavors.
An antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be antagonistic. Aggressive, belligerent and hostile might be words that conjure up a proper Disney villain, but a true antagonist is like the other half of a coin, entangled with the hero in an inextricable way. Evil is a matter of perspective. Once that notion is fully grasped, it becomes easier to understand the rationale of an antagonist. After all, sacrifices must be made in every epic undertaking.
Something I enjoy doing and would encourage other writers to try is to step into your antag’s shoes from time to time and write scenes from their point of view. Sure, there are monsters out there in the shape of men, those who thrive on violence and power over others. To me, however, a more interesting antag is one I can sympathize with, one I can understand or even see myself reacting in a similar way had such terrible things happened to me.
Antagonists are people too; they’re just on the wrong side of the story.
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