Characters #9 - Antagonists and Character Necessities

1.9K 54 8




In the last chapter, I covered how to write the Villain. What you have to keep in mind, is that antagonist does not equal villain. Most of the time, villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains. It's kind of like what you learn in school; all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares.

While many of the notes about these two subjects are similar, I'll still address a few:

1 - Antagonist =/= Evil. The antagonist doesn't have to have evil intentions. Both the protagonist and the antagonist can have good, perfectly moral intentions. What makes the character an antagonist is usually when they get in the protagonists way. However, their character shouldn't just exist simply for this purpose...they need their own life and story.

2 - See through their eyes. Most likely, the antagonist sees his/herself as the protagonist of their own story, and your MC as the antagonist. It's all about perspective, especially if neither of the characters are doing anything inherently evil. So try to figure out what drives and motivates them! What are their own hopes and dreams that your protagonist is possibly standing in the way of?

If you want a challenge to get to know your antagonist better, try writing a couple chapters through their eyes! It doesn't have to go into the story, but it's helpful just as a reference for you!

3 - Motivation behind conflict: Your antagonist is supposed to cause conflict in the story, so it's necessary that the reasoning behind their actions is clear. What do they want? Why are they acting a certain way? Why can't they accomplish their goals? Answering these simple questions helps tremendously to humanize your antagonist!

They can't really just be evil just for the sake of being evil. Maybe they're jealous, angry, frustrated, or feel threatened by the protagonist.

If you're up for a read, check out this article on what to do when your antagonist isn't a villain: (There's also another article in the external link, if you're interested!)


All stories need an antagonist, but not all stories have a villain. At least not in the literal sense of the word.

A great example of man vs. society is the recent movie In Time. It's a world where people have been genetically altered to stop aging at 25, with a one year advance on their lives after that. To continue living, then need to get more time. They work and get paid in actual time (as in it gets added to their lives). The rich live for centuries, the poor struggle with just days (or less) left. The hero is a poor guy named Will who is living hour to hour so to speak.

Will's beef is with the society he lives in. He just wants to live, he isn't trying to bring down a specific person or anything. It's the system he hates. The culture and ideals of the world he lives in. And the system doesn't care one whit about him. It's the antagonist, but it's pretty much everyone's antagonist. He decides to fight the system, and thus fight the society he lives in, and the rules of that society are the obstacles he has to overcome.

Just like man vs. self, society will have representatives to fight directly against. In Will's case, it's a timekeeper (a cop) who's just doing his job and trying to keep the system running. Even he has no personal stake in Will's problem, but he represents what's wrong and is the person getting in Will's way and helping to drive the plot and provide stakes.

Eventually things get personal, and Will does find a bigger symbol to focus on. A man with enough time to live forever, and one who controls the time banks and the system itself. Bring him down, change the system.

This is a common element to a man vs. society conflict--changing the status quo. Whether or not it happens doesn't matter, it's the fight to do so that provides the goals and narrative drive. (Shirley Jackson's The Lottery is a good example of a man vs. society story that doesn't end on a happy note)

Jessie's Tips for Better WritingRead this story for FREE!