This is a guide designed to help out people who are planning on making an antagonist for their next storyarc, saga or versus match - the name is a play on the old "101" classes and of course "evil" is a generic term for malicious things and people.
This guide will go through the steps of creating an antagonist - explaining what you need to know to get the best out of your idea, remember that most stories rely on a good antagonist to make it work so when creating your next "big bad" or criminal element be sure to give them the effort they deserve as well though-out antagonists can become just as popular (if not slightly more) than the hero of a story or series..
What Is An Antagonist?An antagonist is a character or organization within a setting that sets out to do harm to an individual, group or entire realm - this harm can be on a number of levels ranging from low-level bullying and intimidation to widescale murder and genocide of entire universes.. the antagonist is the "bad guy", the "villain" or the "nasty" in a story that other characters generally stand against (unless, of course, they share similiar views - in which case they may join forces or fight for control).
Darth Vader (Star Wars), Freddy Krueger (Nightmare On Elm Street), Chucky (Child's Play), Gozer (Ghostbusters) are all good examples of antagonists in popular culture - they also show that not all antagonists are the same in terms of ability, skill or purpose.. what they all share is their role as "villains" in the story they reside.
Take note, antagonists don't always have to be the villain of their setting - take CJ (Grand Theft Auto) or even Conker the Squirrel.. both are antagonistic (granted Conker is more anti-heroic) but are the heroes of their story.. this is what is known as an "Antagonist Protagonist" - which is basically a character that is "evil" or immoral but who also happens to be the main focus of the story.
What Is "Evil"?Evil is a word that has a multitude of different meanings depending on your culture, spiritual belief or upbringing and what some view as criminal or inhuman is an accepted way of life in some communities and may even be seen as desirable.
However as human beings we have begun to accept some things as almost universally immoral - acts that are designed to humiliate, degrade and even terminate the lives of others without just cause are seen as deeply offensive to many people and are often punished by law.
However just because something is unlawful doesn't necessarily mean it is "evil" - for example parking one's car in a place or manner that is seen as illegal is unlawful but not generally seen as "evil", in order for an act to be seen as "evil" by most people it must hold a degree of malice.. a deliberate attempt to inflict unnecessary pain or torment on another living being, normally without provocation.
This behaviour is known as cruelty and arguably most acts we consider "evil" stem from cruelty - whether it be emotional, physical or sexual in nature.. people who are cruel towards others and are unrepentive or (worse) proud of their behaviour are often labelled "evil" by others.
In fiction cruel characters who engage in regular unlawful acts are considered antagonists, though their offences can vary greatly depending on the character..
When it comes to "evil" everyone has their own individual belief on what is and is not morally acceptable but in general any act that is designed to significantly harm another person without just cause can be seen as evil or immoral to some extent.
Stereotypes To AvoidStereotyping is when you generalize a certain group of people, such as when you believe all Scots wear kilts (only the Highlanders do) or that all French eat cheese and drink wine.
In fiction stereotyping occurs when people overuse certain "stock characters" - resulting in either an offensive monstrosity of a character or an unintentional comedy figure.
Stereotyping is not the same as parodying such things (which is perfectly fine) - it's when a creator does so without meaning to parody it.
The stereotypes one should avoid when dealing with antagonists are as follows:
- Large, Muscular Villains Are Always Stupid (this is not true - both Bane and Kingpin are very intelligent)
- Insane Villains Always Laugh (not all insanity is like the Joker - in fact some are deadly serious.. such as Henry from Portrait Of A Serial Killer)
- Villains Commit Evil "For Kicks" (few, if any, villains will commit evil without a motive.. unless they are Demonic or a parody that is..)
- Villains Always Have Grand Schemes / Immense Power (a villain doesn't need to take over the world or have Majin Buu level power to be valid - often a twisted mind or ruthless streak gets a villain further than elaborate schemes or mighty powers.)
- Villains Love To Reveal Their Plans (although we are all guilty of employing this stereotype at some point not all villains really need to reveal their plans in detail - this was a stereotype seen a lot in Bond movies..)
MotivesUnless you plan on creating a parody of an old-fashioned supervillain or wish to play a Demonic your antagonist will be driven by some sort of motive - even if the motive doesn't seem to make sense to others.. without motivation nobody does anything, even waking up in the morning is determined by a motivation to do so and not simply go back to sleep..
Motivation for committing evil or immoral actions can be as vast as the range of actions available - some characters are cruel by nature, perhaps having troubled backstories or a deviant belief system (such as sadism or sociopathic tendencies) which makes them behave in ways that are offensive to most cultured societies.
Some are seeking glory, power or wealth and are willing to exploit others in the process - even committing criminal acts such as blackmail, sabotage or murder to do so.. ruthlessness is often seen as a negative trait when it becomes a driving force behind a character (be aware that a certain amount of ruthlessness is also needed to be successful - so it is not always negative.. it's all about balance (or lack of it).
Hatred can play a major role in the motives of an antagonist, they may hate themselves and lash out at others - they may hate society for percieved or actual injustices, they may hold xenophobic or dated opinions on other cultures or belief systems that drive them to commit acts that are unjust - some exceptionally disturbed individuals hate existence itself and seek to cause misery for others (this is sociopathy at its worst).
Perhaps one of the most important things to remember about create a realistic motive for your antagonist is that no antagonist (save for parody, demonic and deviant) sets out to do evil - they believe what they are doing is "good", it is seen as revolting, vicious or mean-spirited to other characters but the antagonist will often wonder why said characters are so concerned about it.. for a good example of this observe the behaviour of Judge Frollo from Disney's Hunchback Of Notre-Dame or some real-life cult leaders..
PowerfulA powerful personality is one that shows a character to be strong of mind, body and spirit - often this personality is seen in "Caped Crusader" archetypes but can be mirrored by antagonists.
Powerful personalities can turn people into tyrants, bullies or enforcers - heroes often find villains with this personality to be especially troubling as they can be seen as parallels of each other.
Some examples of a powerful personality are:
- Enforcer (an enforcer is an archetype in itself but can also be used to describe a personality in which a character is completely devoted to a cause and will not sway - Terminator and Judge Dredd are examples of this personality/archetype)
- Tyrant (a tyrant rules by force and cruelty - they may enforce their will with strict and unneccessary laws or they may mercilessly kill any who stand in their way: history is rife with tyrannical figures such as Hitler, Stalin and the Huns.)
- Control-Freak (a control-freak is a character who seeks absolute command over everyone in his or her immediate vicinity - unlike megalomaniacs control-freaks don't always desire to rule the world, they are content with smaller-scale plans.. though some have grander-plans: an unusual example of this personality trait in action is Ned Flanders from the Simpsons (although he means well - most of the time) and, of course, Mr. Burns (who is more destructive) )
- Megalomaniac (a megalomaniacal personality is that of the supervillain of old - often prone to dramatic speeches, grand-schemes and so forth this is a very well used personality trait but can be seen as a stereotype unless used sparingly)
SeriousA serious personality is that of a methodical and business-like character who doesn't have time for pointless things such as play or messing around - these characters can often be used as antagonists due to the often ruthless nature of high-up business people and the often obsessive personalities such characters can generate when they come across an opponent that provides them with a challenge.
Some common subtypes of this personality are:
- The Crime Lord (a crime lord is a character who works in organized crime rather than a business (though they may use business to cover their tracks) - these characters are ruthless and clever, they are also the kind who wish to eliminate potential threats to their empire before they grow to strong. Kingpin is a good example of this personality)
- The Business-Man (this is the personality of a villain who will utilize extremely unethical, even criminal, methods by which to gain an edge over competition - normally for monetary gain: business villains often have to monitor their behavior closer than other antagonists so that they will not be caught by authorities (which would lose them business and quite possibly freedom), that is unless they are members of a Mega Corporation and can do as they please (think Robocop) - examples of this type of character are Justin Hammer and some versions of Lex Luthor)
- The Mastermind (a mastermind is what happens when a character with immense intelligence grows too smart for his or her own good, often driven by a desire to manipulate others these villains can range from obsessive "mad scientist" types to near-emotionless machines or (at worst) evil geniuses who have grown bored and choose to use their talents for malicious reasons: examples of this type of villain would be Brainiac and Brain)
- The Leader (a Leader is a character who while not as openly oppressive as an outright tyrant is still a dangerous opponent (if not moreso) able to gain enough influence to have people follow them by choice - often a master of words these characters can and will exploit their own followers in order to get what they want and usually show themselves as "benevolent dictators" - Doctor Doom is an example of this archetype)
FeralA feral personality is one in which animalistic traits or instinct overtake what most cultures have come to see as civilized human behavior - it is a common mistake to think a feral character is "stupid" however, often they retain incredibly intelligence but become more predatory in nature.. sometimes the awakening of the "animal within" actually makes a character more intelligent than their more "civilized" counterparts.
Examples of feral characters in fiction are Sabertooth (Marvel), Doomsday (DC), The Pack (Buffy) and the Big Bad Wolf.
Common subtypes associated with a feral personality are:
- The Beast (many characters in fiction have animalistic traits (some may even *be* sentient animals) however most try to tone down their urges and impulses - not so for the Beast, this character revels in behavior that is seen as savage and bestial by modern society, though they are not always in control of their actions)
- The Predator (one step up from the Beast is the Predator, a character who has become so bestial that they begin seeing others as prey - this is a common theme for werewolves and similar "cursed" beings though exceptionally brutal Beast or Berserker types can fall into this category)
- The Berserker (human in appearance yet almost completely feral in attitude, especially in battle, this character-type is inspired by the vicious Viking warriors of old - who were infamous for their "battle-trance": in fiction the Berserker is an unstoppable monster who often grows stronger as he or she fights: an example of this type of character is the Hulk (who varies from hero to villain, depending on the writer) )
FlirtyA "Flirty" personality is one that strives to bring charm and attraction to everything one does - even things that are immoral or unjust.
An antagonist with this personality will often try to seduce their opponents or tease them - often they are attractive males or females who are talented at manipulating others.
Antagonists in this role can be classed into the following subtypes:
- The Siren (the siren is an evil creature or entity that takes the form of an attractive male or female in order to seduce others - using them as a source of power.. vampires, succubi and evil fairies are a common example of this subtype and despite the name it can be used by males as well as females (Count Dracula, for example, is a good example) )
- The Femme Fatale (the femme fatale is a woman who exploits her feminine assets to dominate and/or destroy those around her - especially those of the opposite sex.. many female supervillains have employed this tactic at some point but some are known for utilizing it more than others (such as Catwoman and Poison Ivy) )
- The Woman-Killer (the woman-killer is a well-mannered, well-dressed and generally pleasant male who seduces unsuspecting women into his clutches before revealing some terrible secret - Bluebeard is a good example of this subtype)
- The Bronzed Adonis (the Bronzed Adonis seems to be the perfect specimen of a man, often appearing akin to a Classic greek demigod or hero - however he is also often only concerned for himself and will happily take advantage of anyone foolish enough to hang around him for too long.)
ComicalA comical personality can either be that of a prankster who enjoys causing mischief or a sadistic sociopath who mocks their opponents with the use of unusual methods and motives.
The Joker is the most well known of the comical antagonists and much like the "Clown Prince Of Crime" a comical antagonist can come in many forms and doesn't always have to be a cackling madman.
The more common subtypes of a comical personality are:
- The Trickster (a trickster is more mischievious than wicked and often sees their activities as harmless fun - however they can become a serious threat if their pranks endanger others)
- The Clown (a clown likes to add dramatic flair to their crimes or misdeeds by using theatrical props and motives - usually from circus attractions (but not always): they are often more malicious than tricksters but are not full on sadists)
- The Sadist (a sadist revels in death and misery, they are a type of sociopath and they are the types most associated with the "evil clown" motive due to the Joker.. though not all Sadists dress as clowns: examples would be the Leprechaun, Freddy Krueger and Demonic Toys)
Antagonists have numerous origins ranging from the absurd to the sublime - those that work best are those that mirror the origins of heroes or other protagonists, altered slightly to explain why the antagonist turned bad.. this is not required for all antagonists, some (such as the "Unknowable Foe") work better without detailed backgrounds.
Origin helps build a character so its important to think on how you want your antagonist to be when creating an origin:
- Comical - if you want a comical antagonist the origin should be light-hearted and focus more on silly and/or amusing topics rather than overly-depressing or malicious things.. stereotyping (within reason) is also acceptable in comedic origins since if used for parody.. for example you could be a bumbling "mad" scientist seeking to conquer the world (as in Pinky and The Brain) or perhaps a determined but not-very-successful supervillain (such as Dr. Evil).
- Tragic - if you want a tragic antagonist the origin should show a troubled past, this doesn't mean their entire life is a walking depression - even tragic characters have moments of happiness.. you may be an outcast who lashes out at society (like Phantom Of The Opera), an unwitting monster (such as Frankenstein) or even someone who is not in control of their own emotions (like Jack from The Shining).
- Demonic - if you want a demonic antagonist the origin shouldn't be entirely "2-dimensional" - you may want to be a "pure evil" character but even then you should vary personality.. you could be a high-profile business-type (such as the Devil in Devil's Advocate) or a crazed cult-leader (such as End Days) or even try your hand at an "Unknowable Foe" (such as Damien Thorn from Omen).
Antagonists can have a number of powers at their disposal and are often slightly more powerful than protagonists so as to provide a "threat"- however it is not necessary to "overpower" your characters, some of the most successful antagonists are those who employ brains over brawn and in the end it is personality that makes a villain memorable.
However some powers that are associated heavily with antagonists are Dark Magic such as Satanism, Voodoo and Witchcraft, mind-breaking abilities and reality-alteration as well as powers that focus on harming others or manipulation.