What is the antagonist of a story, and why are they so important?
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A story not only needs a strong hero, but also an antagonist worthy of being a formidable opponent. If your antagonist is lackluster and cliché, your readers will assume your hero can easily achieve their goal without much conflict from the antagonist character. Little conflict leads to boring storytelling.
Knowing the definition of antagonist is critical to creating a multi-layered villain to attract a top actor to your project.
Let’s explore the definition and essentials of having a complex villain, including some antagonist examples.
Then be sure you get your FREE download of 6 Tips for a Stand-Out Antagonist to learn how to create an compelling nemesis for your protagonist!
The definition of antagonist is the character that stands in direct opposition with the protagonist’s goals. Often referred to as the nemesis, bad guy, or villain, this character needs to be as smart, if not smarter, than the hero in order to raise the stakes of the story.
What is an antagonist in a story?
All plots need conflict, and a story cannot have conflict without a strong antagonist to challenge the protagonist. Who would bother watching a movie if there were no obstacles in the hero’s way? The villain challenges the hero along the way, ultimately leading up to a final “battle” in the climax of the story, typically allowing the hero to “win” while forcing the antagonist’s downfall. But providing roadblocks isn’t the only reason an antagonist is essential. Without a compelling antagonist, the hero wouldn’t have to evolve in order to succeed. The antagonist’s actions push the hero to rise about merely paying lip service to their desires by pushing them to face their wounds in order to achieve their goals.
Still need clarification on what is an antagonist character? Here are two examples of antagonist:
Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs
Hannibal Lector may be the first bad boy to come to mind, but the real antagonist in The Silence of the Lambs is the cross-dressing Buffalo Bill who harvests his victims’ skin. The complexity of his character intrigues us, not knowing what he’ll do next. And… he loved his dog. Even a bad guy can have a heart.
Annie Wilkes in Misery
Kathy Bates brilliantly played the uber fan of author Paul Sheldon. At first, we loved her because she rescued Paul from certain death in the snow. But we soon realized this woman turned fan love into obsession. She kept viewers on constant alert, not knowing what she’d do next. A baby-talking nurse with a sledgehammer is not what the author expected to help beat his writer’s block.
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