|photo courtesy pixabay|
"Protagonist drives the plot forward. Antagonist tries to stop him." --Melanie Anne Phillips
*Smile* This fun intro sent me on a quest to return to, re-evaluate, and re-establish the roots of my story's antagonist. Some points I've gathered along the way:
1. First, Just Who is the Antagonist? From Literary Devices: "In literature, an antagonist is a character or a group of characters which stand in opposition to the protagonist or the main character. The term antagonist comes from the Greek word 'antagonistes' that means opponent, competitor or rival. It is common to refer to an antagonist as a villain (the bad guy) against whom a hero (the good guy) fights in order to relieve himself or others...The antagonist opposes the protagonist in his endeavors and thus the conflict ensues."
2. How Important is the Antagonist? In Ms. DiSilverio's article (above), she follows up on her fictional correspondence with her antagonist by saying, "I don't know how the above email got into my inbox, but it caught my attention immediately. Did Eva have a point? It didn't take me long to review my work-in-progress, analyze some novels I'd read recently and realize that she did. Many authors are guilty of discriminating against their antagonists. Yet, they're just as important to good stories as the protagonists are. If your antagonist is not fully realized, lacks depth or is a caricature of evil, your story will suffer." She follows up with six great points toward making your antagonist more compelling--helpful reading for sure.
3. Understanding the Role of the Antagonist. The antagonist not only sets the tone, but also sets the stakes and defines the hero, this according to Danyelle Leafty in her article A Case for Villains. It's a tall order, but Ms. Leafty gets to the essence of the subject with this story-equation: "no villain=no conflict=no plot=no point."
4. What Should We Know About Antagonists? This from Chuck Wendig's article 25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists: Opposition is key. "Character is the driver. Plot is the getaway car. Character drives plot; plot does not drive character. The antagonist isn't just here as a rock in the stream diverting the plot-churned waters--he does not exist in service to a sequence of events, but rather, he exists to change them, sway them, turn them to a sequence he wants--a sequence that stands in opposition to the protagonist. For opposition is key."
5. What Makes a Strong Antagonist? Janice Hardy spells out ten traits in her article, 10 Traits of a Strong Antagonist. Highlights include "...a strong antagonist is trying to accomplish something"..."is hiding things"..."is in the path of the protagonist's goal." She concludes, "An antagonist who never crosses path with the protagonist isn't much of an obstacle. She needs to cause the protagonist hardship and trouble over the course of the novel, even if she's not doing it deliberately. Her plan and actions can cause trouble even if she's not yet aware the protagonist is fighting her. But at some point, these two will come face to face and only one will win."
6. The Antagonist's Position. Melanie Anne Phillips writes about this in her article, The Archetypal Characters: Protagonist and Antagonist: "The Protagonist represents our Initiative, the motivation to change the status quo. The Antagonist embodies our Reticence to change the status quo. These are perhaps our two most obvious human traits--the drive to alter our environment and the drive to keep things the way they are...The important thing is that the Antagonist must be in a position in the plot to place obstacles in the path of the Protagonist. Since the drive of the Protagonist is measured by the size of the obstacle he or she must overcome, it is usually a good idea to pick the character who can bring to bear the greatest obstacles."
Every hero, as they say, needs a challenge. The antagonist provides that challenge by way of opposition, conflict, obstacles, hardship and trouble. He or she is a competitor, a rival, the antagonistes. The one who creates the tension that keeps a reader reading.
How do you define antagonist? How does a compelling antagonist hold your attention and keep you reading? What tips do you have for creating such an antagonist--and for keeping Eva N. Carnate from writing to us?!