How to Create a Memorable Villain or Antagonist for Your Story
Novels are full of characters and different characters become timeless favorites for all sorts of reasons, even the bad guys. Good villains and antagonists are cherished by readers (and writers) because they keep the plot moving.
Don't ignore subtlety in your antagonist's actions; underplaying a moment or scene so that it can explode later in the protagonist's face is powerful. Use subtle setups. Not every danger needs to be a slap in the face.
How do you make your antagonist memorable and villainous? Use these top 10 tips to create deliciously real antagonists that will live forever in your readers' minds and nightmares.
1. List Your Favorite Antagonists
Chances are you remember these antagonists for a reason. Make a list of what you liked and loathed about them. Why are they memorable for you?
2. Make the Antagonist Think They're Right
Taking the wrong road in a faulty mind can be just as rightly compelling for the antagonist as the protagonist's right road. Use delusion to make your antagonist determined. Wars are fought between people who (usually) think they're on the right side. Use perspective and misunderstanding to drive your antagonist's actions.
3. Attractive Qualities
Your antagonist need not look villainous; everyone would run screaming from a scarred, venom-seething, knife-wielding Medusa, but the hero might hang around and talk with a gorgeous femme fatale. Make them nice or helpful. The woman in distress who accepts the helping hand from the handsome stranger with an evil agenda might end up in the car trunk.
4. Equal Power, Equal Footing
In the David and Goliath types of stories, the big Goliath side must be the antagonist, otherwise your hero has the odds in his favor and that makes for a weaker plot structure. Evenly matched combatants make a better battle. Smart villains are interesting to read and bring out the cunning in your hero.
5. Make the Antagonist a Real Threat
You don't want your hero shadow-boxing. If the antagonist in your story threatens to blow up the world with a push of the button, make sure that button is connected to something that can do that. Create a small demonstration to prove the villain's threat.
6. Better Knowledge Base
Arm your antagonist with a good arsenal. Whether this is actual weaponry or knowledge or strength, making the protagonist strive to get on the same plane as the villain adds to your plot's obstacles.
7. The Power of a Sympathetic Nemesis
You can make your villain resonate truer by showing some of their past and what made them that way. The villain may have been a victim at one time. Show that in the villain's way of dealing with his events or victimization, he's gone too far and become the ultimate bully. This leads to showing the antagonist's Good Reason.
8. Give Them a Good Reason
You don't have to excuse or condone the villain's behavior, but you can make them a reasonable, sane antagonist. While readers need someone to sympathize or empathize with, clever writing can make the antagonist and protagonist lines blend a little.
9. Shades of Gray
The old saying goes that one man's insurgent is another man's freedom fighter. That can be a good way to use your antagonist's motives to show him or her in a different light. Maybe there is no clear-cut right or wrong, or maybe everyone is wrong, depending on the reader's views. This is what gets readers debating your book's story.
10. More than World Domination
Power and control are nice motivations; so are greed and revenge. They've also been used forever. Find a good reason your antagonist wants what they want. Evil for the sake of being evil isn't enough in the competitive fiction market.
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