May The Villain Be With You


Why you need an antagonist:

(Google Star Wars audio track for added effect)

After that rather painful beginning, I don’t really have to say much more, do I? And I shouldn’t because I’ll probably get lynched at Comic-Con.

As we teach on Writers Write, your plot should revolve around conflict. If you have no villain, you have no conflict. Your story will flat-line and flat-lining is bad. This is writing, not Grey’s Anatomy. We can’t bring it back.

Villains are important; some might say they are even more important than the protagonist. So why do we neglect them?

Beginner writers shy away from conflict. This is what we do in life and we expect our characters to do the same. Change that. We want a story with action. Action doesn’t come from walking away. Action comes from interaction, but it’s no fun if your protagonist pushes around the school geek or laughs at the homeless guy. No, he needs a worthy opponent. Someone who is equal, yet opposite. He needs someone who stands in his way, someone who wants to stop him from achieving his goal.

Just like your protagonist, he needs motives and emotions. He needs a back-story. He needs a mom and a dad somewhere, even if they rang the doorbell and ran away. You have to spend as much time developing him as you do your hero. The better your antagonist is the better your story will be.

Image by Jeffrey Brown

Five things to remember:

  1. The antagonist opposes the protagonist. He or she does not have to be evil.
  2. He should experience emotional conflict and physical conflict, just like your protagonist.
  3. He should change as much as your protagonist does in the story.
  4. He should be as dedicated and driven as your protagonist.
  5. He can be quirky or fun to be around. He can have a sense of humour. Make him memorable, even if he isn’t likeable.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule. If you are good enough you can try writing an experimental story without a physical antagonist, but chances are you aren’t that good. And until you get there you should make your villain an actual person. With a face. And a sword. Or a light sabre. And a mask.

P.S. Darth Vader is cooler than Luke Skywalker. Yes, I put that in writing.

*Star Wars Episode IV, A NEW HOPE
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armoured space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her star ship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course.

 by Mia Botha

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This article has 0 comments

  1. Paul

    Your villain doesn’t even need to be anthropomorphic. It could be the mountain your protagonist must climb, the desert island they must learn to survive on, the addiction they must overcome.

  2. Sarah Campbell

    Well said, Mia Botha. I can’t stand those stories where people are trapped on islands. I still have nightmares about Tom Hanks talking to that ball in Castaway.

  3. Nina Arora

    Good!

  4. Naloke

    Yes, the dark faculties of the writer.

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