Antagonists: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This blog post is for the writers in the group, but readers, too, can relate because it is about one element that appears in most books: the antagonist. I recently attended a seminar called Writing on the Dark Side. The importance of the antagonist—just part of the presentation— is what I want to share.

First, let’s give the word antagonist a simple definition: an antagonist is someone who makes the hero change. In a romance novel, an antagonist might simply be the heroine. But my favorite antagonists are darker, often the hero’s opposite, so let’s look at those.

An anti-hero is someone who does bad things for good reasons. He may or may not be redeemable, but we often want to root for him because we may agree with what he’s doing. Anti-heroes are morally ambiguous and they generally have a wound in their background that has made them the way they are. As writers, we must remember to include backstory for the anti-hero so readers can decide if he’s a good guy or not.

Next is the villain, someone who wants to “do in” the hero even if it means putting other people in peril. We generally want to see the villain defeated. Villains have goals, are motivated, and don’t want people to stand in their way. They don’t give up. The more things that get in the villain’s way, the more they want to reach their goal.

The third is a monster and monsters are—well—just monsters. Bad to the bone and probably ugly. Monsters are menacing and hard to relate to. Monsters pose threats and people are scared of things they can’t relate to or understand. Battling monsters is bloody, violent, and usually ends with destruction.

Sometimes the hero is his own antagonist. He has an inner demon that must be overcome to make him whole. Sometimes these inner demons bring the hero to the edge of disaster, but he fights them and in doing so, he changes.

Writing a good anti-hero is crucial to any story. It brings conflict, tension, and change. If you want your hero to grow, you need an antagonist to help him get there, whether he is an anti-hero, villain, or monster.

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