Friday Fix (Craft): Creating a Good “Bad Guy”

Writers often focus so much on creating a great protagonist that the antagonist sometimes falls by the wayside. Often the creation of a believable antagonist is not given so much attention as the creation of a believable protagonist. Yet creating a believable antagonist for your story is just as important as creating a believable protagonist. Why? Here are some reasons: 

1) A believable antagonist makes the threat to your protagonist believable. If your antagonist is not well-rounded, he will come across as a weak threat to your protagonist. If your readers are not convinced of your antagonist’s very real threat to your protagonist, then the emotional impact of your story will diminish.                                                                                              

2) An antagonist must have some redeeming quality. If your antagonist is totally evil, he will lack credibility and your reader will not accept him as plausible. If your reader does not accept him as plausible, then your reader will be drawn out of the fictive dream. 

3) Your antagonist must have clear motivation for his opposition to your protagonist. This motivation can be complex, and the more complex, the better. Your antagonist must be a “worthy” opposing force to your protagonist. 

What do you do to create a strong, believable antagonist? How do you make your antagonist unlikable without making him totally evil?

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2 thoughts on “Friday Fix (Craft): Creating a Good “Bad Guy”

  1. These are excellent points, MaryAnn! I find so much of fiction today is littered with less-than-credible antagonists that are detractors to what could be a great story.

    I might add the best villains will also have one or more story goals for which the majority of readers can empathize. This might seem like it parrots item 2 in your post but I’ve learned over the years they are substantially different.

    The writer should be cautious in doing this, however, not to use it as a plot device of any kind or it will seem contrived. Great post and thanks for sharing!

    June 24, 2012 1:49 PM

    • Thanks so very much for your most insightful comments, Jon! You make some great points, especially the one about the best villains’ having “one or more story goals for which the majority of readers can empathize.” Thanks again for your post. I deeply appreciate it!

      June 24, 2012 3:39 PM