In last week’s blog post, we looked at nine questions to test your protagonist from Janice Hardy’s book on Revising Your Novel. But as well-rounded as your protagonist may be, the dark side of the coin deserves just as much attention! As the saying goes, “A hero is only as good as their villain.”
This week, I want to take a look at eight questions that can help you deepen and round out your antagonist, too.
In the past, villains have gotten a bad rap – no pun intended. I’m not talking about the way they’re perceived, as the foil to the protagonist, but rather how they’re written. Often, a lot of effort goes into creating a noble and understandable hero, but much less thought and work is spent on developing a three-dimensional villain to struggle against them. Luckily for the quality of fiction content, as time goes on, the mustache-twirling baddies of old are no longer given a free pass. People don’t just want to see a villain who is into “taking over the world” or “just being evil”. They want well-rounded antagonists with backstory and purpose, whose reason for their actions are not necessarily sympathetic, but far deeper than simply wanting to burn the world down for the fun of it.
Dreaming up a good antagonist is often not as simple as it seems, though. How do you create a three-dimensional enemy to both prop up and tear down your hero? How do you make their actions believably villainous without being dramatic or taking advantage of the reader’s preconceived prejudices? I’ve personally found Hardy’s eight questions to be an incredible check-and-balance for my own villains, helping me to reconcile their darker side with notions of realism to create an antagonist that my readers root against – but also love to hate.
- Does the Antagonist Cause the Protagonist’s problem?
- Does the Antagonist Benefit from the Protagonist’s problem?
- Is the Antagonist Motivated to Cause the Protagonist’s problem?
- Does the Antagonist have Reasons to Prevent the Protagonist from reaching their Goal?
- Does the Antagonist have a Goal they’re trying to accomplish?
- Does the Antagonist has something to Lose if they fail to block the Protagonist?
- Is the Antagonist able to Adapt (and in the case of a non-villainous antagonist, to Grow?)
- Is the Antagonist Compelling in some way?
Who are some of your favorite antagonists in books, and why? What drew you to them? And what is YOUR villain’s drive against the hero’s goal?