Building The Better Evil Antagonist
I’ve got a couple of novels cooking on back burners, both created as a Pantser with weak antagonists. What is an antagonist? He or she is your hero’s adversary, the character who opposes or competes, who creates a visceral reaction in readers. Think Gollum vs. Mr. Frodo (or Samwise, or Mr. Bilbo). The evil in an epic tale or murder mystery. The conniving “other woman” in a contemporary romance.
A weak antagonist against a strong protagonist equals less tension, less engagement. If Frank Randall hadn’t abused and tormented Jaime Fraser, would the Outlander series have been the same? Frank becomes the Bogeyman to Jaime’s Hero.
Who’s the antagonist in your work in progress, and what are his motives? What does he stand to gain in defeating, victimizing, or killing your hero/protagonist? In one of my works in progress, a mystery, I have to conceal the identity of the principal antagonist and use proxies (hirelings, cohorts, underlings) to torment my heroine. The literal “who dun nit” enemy revealed later. Why does my antagonist hate my heroine/protagonist so much, and what does he stand to gain? Is the tension he brings sustainable or peters out somewhere in Chapter 20?
One method of building the better antagonist is to use detailed and thorough character sheets and construct a thorough background profile. Think Thomas Harris’ Mason Verger. Harris created a horrifying and detailed background for Verger, from youth, his sessions with Hannibal Lector in therapy, to intricate plans for revenge. Hannibal is almost heroic in comparison. Almost.
I’m using a precise character form to construct an adversary who is evil but has frailties that create weaknesses. Until my primary evil antagonist is fully functional, my story has a logic gap in the premise. And continues as a Work In Progress.
An artical that better explains writing protagonists and antagonists: The True Roles of Protagonists and Antagonists In Your Story By Les Edgerton
Defines villians versus normal antagonists, and more: 15 Types of Villains Screenwriters Need to Know By Ken Miyamoto
Here’s an interesting blog post about building a better bad guy: Build A Better Bad Guy : Sociopaths, Psychopaths and Beaten Paths by Tommy J. Charles