I know there is a lot of information out there about this and the bottom line is that your antagonist needs to believe that what they’re doing is right, for whatever reason. You can’t have an evil character for the sake of evil. Most people don’t think they’re evil although truth be told, I have run across some who prided themselves on it. We call those sociopaths and they don’t usually make interesting characters unless they’re Dexter – and even in his case he believed what he was doing was right. Think about all the antagonists from your own life. If you were to ask them why they are so mean and hurtful they would all have “good” reasons or say they weren’t being mean and hurtful and blame it on your interpretation.
Most likely a person is not born with this behavior, unless it’s pathological. They will have learned it in a variety of ways. Here are six examples/reasons, though I’m sure there are more.
Most authors choose #3 and develop a backstory for the antagonist but any of these options can be flushed out nicely. The antagonist’s motivation should also be connected to their goal, which according to the book Take Off Your Pants, should be the same goal as your main character.
The TV show Daredevil is a great example of a fully realized and well-rounded antagonist. Wilson Fisk is an evil character but as we get to see his childhood, we understand how he developed into what he is today. Sense8 has a great antagonist as well, Silas Kabaka. The character, who is quite cruel to people, has a daughter that he loves more than anything else in the world and would sacrifice everything for.
“Per the book Take Off Your Pants an antagonist offers a different way of seeing. As the “photo negative” of your main character, he could have been your main character if his path through life had been just a little bit different. The antagonist has to want the goal as badly as your main character does. Show the reader why he wants it.”
Take the time to flush him or her out. Make them authentic and believable with motivations we can accept. Then take your character, the one that everyone loves to hate and escalate him to a new level.
By Chloe Adler
Sometimes writing is like being in a trance. How else can it be explained? When people have experiences, like taking the kids to the zoo for the first time or falling in love; we remember them. We may even remember what our lover was wearing the first time we laid eyes on him or her. We may remember how they wore their hair, what jewelry they had on and even what they said. The emotions we felt and some of their physical aspects are burned into our memories like a hot poker or more apropos, like a brand.
For me, writing is the opposite of that. Many times I write a scene, a chapter or even an entire novel and then I re-read it and have no recollection of writing it. I noticed this strange phenomenon starting with my first novel a few years back.
Last month I was re-reading a scene I’d written a week or two earlier. As I was reading it I actually gasped and said aloud… “He’s adopted?” The two writers in my writer’s group looked up quizzically because they both knew I was reading my own work. Then they laughed.
I asked, “Do you guys ever forget what you write?”
They responded with, “Sure sometimes, but not key elements like that.”
In my defense even though I’d plotted this book, I’ve allowed myself a lot of leeway. I may know the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) going into each scene but I may not know how that’s achieved until it happens. So in this particular scene my secondary character, the hero, suddenly announced that he was adopted. This happened close to the end of the second act, not at the beginning of the manuscript. And thus, I had forgotten and was shocked to re-discover the bump. Plus, so much about his character and choices earlier in the book suddenly made sense.
Even more recently I was writing a scene, the one before “the black moment” and during it I got really bored. I don’t have to point out that this is not a good sign. I stopped writing and thought about it for a few days. Suddenly a quick fix came to me but I didn’t think out the details. Instead I sat down to write and the details blossomed beneath my fingertips. I still have no idea how the correct words “came to me”. Maybe that’s called “being in the zone”.
Pay attention to that - those moments when it feels like you’re reading someone else’s book even though you wrote it. That’s a delicious place to be.
By Chloe Adler