Writing the Antagonist: The Good, Bad, Ugly and Real.

~ By Robena Grant

Your story must have an antagonist. If your antagonist is not fully developed your story will be lacking. With powerful and complex forces of antagonism, you’ll have fully realized and memorable characters. Otherwise, your story will end up with your characters having one cup of coffee too many, or one romantic dinner too many. Nothing will be happening as they waltz down the lane to their happily ever after.

The protagonist’s response to the obstacles, challenges, and conflicts makes him or her real to the reader. Susan Elizabeth Phillips doesn’t write a “big bad” into her books; the hero or heroine is the antagonist, struggling to resist the complications of romance while striving to achieve other goals. If each character is well motivated, non-stereotyped, has a strong, logical, point of view, and they work to overcome the obstacles in their path, the reader will sympathize.

Silhouette of couple arguingRemember, not every antagonist is a villain. Nor does he stand around like a vaudevillian character twirling his waxed moustache. Antagonism is conflict. The antagonist is the person who acts to prevent the protagonist from achieving her goals. Conflict arises from opposing forces. She wants this; he wants that; and resistance from both happens as they strive to meet their goals. The antagonist is not the hurricane, cyclone, war, or corporate greed. Those are life issues. The antagonist isn’t there to move the plot—he’s there to tell his story. He has a story.

In romantic suspense you often have three points of view: Two protagonists and one bad guy. When you’re writing a villain, the reader has to believe in the character’s motives for evil. What is it that drives him? How did he become that way? Show the light and dark sides of his personality. Give the villain his own story, point of view, sense of humor, no matter how absurd, or his sense of family loyalty. Write the antagonist through another character’s eyes, one who has insight into his personality like an FBI agent on the chase, or a psychotherapist. Sometimes the antagonist is off the page, like in a mystery, and the story is from one point of view. Try to bring the antagonist and protagonist face to face a few times, because this raises the tension. At times, other devices like threatening phone calls, bad deeds done in the dark, ransoms, etc. can be used.

The antagonist doesn’t have to be a criminal, stalker, serial killer, drug dealer, or a mobster. He or she can be as simple as a critical mother or domineering father, always undermining the character, manipulating or creating roadblocks to the daughter falling in love, because they need her to work on the farm, in the business, or take care of them. Or it could be a sexy, jaded hero who resists the call to romance. Make your antagonist as smart and strong as your protagonist. Make their story a true challenge. Make life tough. Make your antagonist real.

My favorite book on writing is Story, by Robert McKee. He says:

We pour energy into the negative side of a story not only to bring the protagonist and other characters to full realization, but to take the story itself to the end of the line, to a brilliant and satisfying ending.”

Robena Grant writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense about ordinary women thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Travel and discovering new places brings her great pleasure, and she often includes these discoveries in her stories. She is Australian by birth, lives in Southern California, and has two grown children. Ring Me Later is her new romantic suspense released on April 8th. Robena may be contacted at: www.robenagrant.com where she blogs weekly, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads.

8 thoughts on “Writing the Antagonist: The Good, Bad, Ugly and Real.”

  1. Thanks all for your lovely comments and support. I’ve never written an enemies to lovers Sam, but I love to read them. Now my mind is spinning me all kinds of stories using that trope. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Robena. I haven’t read Story by McKee, but I’ve heard great things about it.

    I like how you mentioned looking outside the box for an antagonist from anyone to the domineering mother to the hero himself. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Hi Robena,

    Enemies-to-lovers is one of my favorite tropes to read or write, and yet I never once realized this basically amounts to a story of two antagonists. Thanks for the filling out my view of the antagonist’s role!

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