You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s the protagonist in his version of the world. -John Rogers
Isn’t that the truth? It seems like there’s a been a movement over the past couple of years to develop stories through antagonistic characters; make villains as twisted as your heroes are straight and all that. It’s a solid approach because as much as readers are okay with rooting for the good guy, they don’t necessarily want to hate the bad guy. Actually, the less they hate the bad guy, the better the story – this is actually why love triangles are so difficult to write. I think at the start of writing something new, we writers want to see the world in black and white, and we want characters to scream, “I’m the Hero!” and “I’m the Villain!” And it’s okay for them to do that, in the first draft. But the truth is, the more you blur the line between the two, the better the story.
And so, to help you blur that line a little, here are seven things your antagonists should never ever, ever, ever do, all the way from overworked cliches to decisions that just don’t work. Well crafted antagonists should never…
Give grand speeches or reveal their whole evil plan
Yes, this is a huge cliche, and for a good reason. We always want to show instead of simply tell, and grand speeches are just telling. Besides, if you need your villain to hand everything to the hero right at the story’s climax, then your hero probably needs some revision. Give the villain page time, especially if his plight is complicated/multi-step. Let him show your readers what he thinks and what he’s doing.
Walk away from physically seeing their plans through
…Especially if they were elaborate. You know how all of the old children’s cartoons are like that? The whole episode leads up to the hero getting pinched, the grand monologue of the villain happens and then he just walks away, usually leaving the final task to henchmen. Who wouldn’t want to see their deeply important plans to their actual finish?
Employ dumb evil henchmen
Speaking of not seeing a plan through, good help is so hard to find.
Be less determined than the protagonist
This isn’t to say that your antagonist shouldn’t be passionate; she definitely should. But the same way a protagonist is going to identify priorities and set out to see everything righted in the world, the antagonist is going to do the same. The two should be equally cunning, driven and invested, matching each other in almost all development points.
Cross lines only for the sake of the story
What I mean by this is that your antagonist needs her own morals, even if they’re different from anyone else’s. It’s important to understand where there are lines that she will not cross, and when the time is right to draw attention to them even if it means reworking material so that her reasoning stands out.
View themselves as the bad guy
Antagonists are just victims who haven’t had their stories told, so they frequently feel a need to impose their existence and ideals on the world around them. Even when stark raving mad or relishing chaos, there’s still some logic that dictates a wrong needs to be righted. It’s just the definition of “right” and “wrong” that are open to interpretation.
You would think I wouldn’t have to say this, given that you’ve worked on this grand story with a brilliant arc and beautifully developed characters. People don’t just give up on their dreams and goals – they might change, they might get lumped in with something else, but they don’t just vanish. You can’t just get to a point in the story where the antagonist simply crumbles into dust without any repercussions, or shifts so dramatically that they remove themselves from the protagonist’s path.