Janice Hardy's blog, The Other Side of the Story, is wonderful and I recommend it to anyone who asks: Which writing blogs should I follow?
Her recent post, 10 Traits of a Strong Antagonist, is one that helped me make the antagonist of my work-in-progress more three-dimensional, more real. Today I'm going to talk about four points that helped make my story stronger.
Remember: a strong villain/antagonist will help you create a strong protagonist.
(See also: How To Build A Villain, by Jim Butcher)
4 Tips on how to create a strong antagonist:
1. Give the Antagonist a goal
Just like protagonists, antagonists have goals. They want things. They have ambitions and desires. These are the sorts of traits that make your characters jump off the page.
As Donald Maass has said a number of times: Antagonists are heroes of their own journey.
2. Make the antagonist similar to the protagonist
Antagonists and protagonists are often a lot alike except for one vital aspect.
For instance, in the BBC's take on Sherlock Holmes both Holmes and Moriarty are brilliant anti-social types but the key difference is that Sherlock is on the side of the angels. He has formed relationships with people, ordinary people like his roommate and best friend Watson and his landlady Mrs. Hudson. He would give his life for them and nearly does.
Which brings us to ...
3. Make the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist personal
Have the rivalry between the antagonist and protagonist hinge on something personal. As tvtropes.org says:
The Protagonist catches bad guys for a living (usually at a rate of about one a week), but this time, the bad guy has decided that he doesn't like the protagonist. Instead of doing what any sensible psychopath would do and simply toss a grenade in the character's window, the psychopath takes creepy photos of the character's kids, abducts the character's wife, kicks the character's dog, and above all, leaves calling cards and clues to ensure that eventually he'll get caught. The bad guy (often a Big Bad) knows about the protagonist's Fatal Flaw and is more than willing to exploit it. (It's Personal)
4. Make the antagonist at least as complex as your protagonist
Janice Hardy writes:
To keep her from being a two-dimensional cliché, give your antagonist good traits as well as bad. Things that make her interesting and even give her a little redemption. This will help make her unpredictable if once in a while she acts not like a villain, but as a complex and understandable person. She doesn’t always do the bad thing.These are only a few of the many wonderful points Janice covers in her article 10 Traits of a Strong Antagonist.
Photo credit: "Untitled" by martinak15 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.