I am joined today by the talented author, Katie Masters. Katie is here to offer some tips on creating well rounded antagonists, because us writers and readers know there is nothing worse than a flat, two-dimensional antagonist to see a story fall on its face.
So, give yourself a five minute break and settle down with a mug of something hot. Over to you, Katie.
Creating the Perfect Bad Guy
(who doesn’t wear leather or own a death-ray)
Hello fellow writers! When K.J. asked if I wanted to write about creating a well-rounded antagonist (that’s a fancy-shmancy snoody writer term for a Bad Guy/Villain if you didn’t know. PROtagonist is the main character), I obviously said yes. Because if there’s one thing I love more than ignoring the sensible advice I get, it’s giving it! So strap yourselves in, set your phasers to snark and grab a drink, because today you’re all learning how to make GOOD bad guys!
When a writer—but let’s just say ‘you’, because we all know this’s about you—decides to create a story we’re given 3 options for an antagonist, that horrible thing that is stopping your hero/heroine from achieving glory, love, or an awesome dinner.
–Inner demons (aka you’re your own worst enemy)
–External forces (aka that damn mountain’s keep you from getting to your beloved cheeseburger)
–Actual Person (aka your leather wearing, death ray carrying, changed his named to Butch or Xeno bad guy. Consequently, could also be that bitch Veronica in the office who just took the last donut)
Today we’re going to focus on an Actual Person, because honestly, trying to tell you about the challenge and intricacies of an evil mountain’s thought processes would take eons. And we don’t have the attention span for that right now.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but our readers have become more savvy. They want meat, they want blood, the want *gasp* depth. Gone is the mad scientist with a death ray who wants to take over the world for no reason other than ‘because’ who monologues about his master plan for ten minutes. Readers want to know the how and why of the bad guy. They want to understand. Which means you the writer have to know the reasons.
I know. That means more effort and the using of brain cells. I’m sorry. Keep drinking.
Creating a well-rounded antagonist requires, first and foremost, a background story. None of the backstory may come out in the book. Perhaps only a fraction of it will. But if your book becomes a best seller and you go to a Con to face your adoring fans who then want to know what your bad guy’s home life was like—you better know!
Your bad guy (whether a mild one or a truly evil one) needs motive, and for a motive, they need a past. His/Her family life, friendships, social status, and even hometown, all drastically shape the perceptions they have about the world, and themselves. And you need to know all of it.
What I consider a ‘well-rounded human antagonist’ is one in which we can understand why they came to be what they are, but still perceive them as ‘the bad guy.’ Said ‘bad guy’ doesn’t have to want to take over the world or murder someone or take a love interest away. An antagonist is ANYONE who stands in the way of, or thwarts, your main character’s goal.
FOR EXAMPLE: Meet Cindy.
Cindy is in accounting with our protagonist, Betty-Lou (that’s right, I named her Betty-Lou. Deal with it). Betty-Lou and Cindy get along just fine. Until one day an announcement goes up that a new manager position has come up and both Betty-Lou and Cindy are both qualified to apply.
Cindy, who was once just a fellow co-worker is now doing underhanded things to get that job. Mean, antagonist things. Spreading horrible rumors, putting salt in Betty-Lou’s coffee cup, misplacing documents Betty-Lou has to turn in, taking unflattering pictures of Betty-Lou at the company party so Trisha doesn’t ask her on a date…you get the picture.
‘What a bitch!’ you think. Betty-Lou thinks so too. Except what you both don’t know is that Cindy needs the promotion so that she can pay for a medical treatment for her son. She will do ANYTHING to get that promotion and money. So is she really a bad guy? Sure. She’s going about this the wrong way and ruining your wonderful protagonist’s life and love chances! But you sympathize. You don’t like what she’s doing, but you at least understand why.
I think in this day and age of writing, understanding the bad guy is ultimately human (or Klingon, or whatever), and that there are infinite shades of gray in the definition of ‘bad guy’, is important. You don’t have to make them likable, but you have to make them and their reasons understandable. So here’s some tips on how to do that. And no, I didn’t put them in order of importance because I’m fair like that!
1. Write a summary of the Antagonist’s past. Where did they live? Do they have siblings? One parent or two? A suburb or the city? Vegetarian or om-nom-nomnivore?
2. Write their likes and dislikes. It doesn’t have to be an extensive list. But try and get in their head. Do they like movies or concerts? Do they watch YouTube? Do they like the color pink and wear the color on their person every day?
3. Write a scene in your antagonist’s point of view. It doesn’t have to make it into the book. It’s not as hard as you think. The thing that makes writers so unique is our ability to generally be sympathetic because we naturally (in general) tend to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and see their point of view. Do the same for your antagonist.
4. Use pictures and make them a profile. Now, this advice comes back from my time as a former artist, but I find I do this when I’m creating characters too. Find a picture on the internet that looks like how you imagine your antagonist then write below (or next to) it, their likes/dislikes, their height and weight, and then their ‘bio’. That’s where you put the summary I told you to writer up there in tip one. See how helpful I am!? Less work to do down here!
Well you’ve made it! Congratulations! I’m sure you’ve refilled your cups half a dozen times at this point, and you’re a real trooper for making it this far! At the end of the day, your antagonist is as important as your main character—sometimes more so, because they have a very important role: to make your character change. So make sure that your antagonist gets the same amount of treatment at your main characters.
Katie Masters’ books include Brenna Morgan and the Iron Key, and The Bone Dancer.
I’ve been making up stories since I could talk, writing them since I learned how to properly put words together, and when I’m not doing that, I’m reading obscene amounts of books, manga, and comics. Sorta in that order.
Where to find Katie and her books:
Permission to use the content featured in this post must be sought from the author, Katie Masters.