• Social Reaction and Psyche Profile of Antagonist
  • Traits and Physical Nature of Antagonist
  • Anecdotes Featuring Your Antagonist
  • How Antagonist Drives the Conflict


Since the antagonist in most successful commercial fiction is the driver of the plot line(s), what chances do you as a writer have of getting your manuscript, regardless of genre, commercially published if the story and narrative therein fail to meet reader demands for sufficient suspense, character concern, and conflict? Answer: none. But what major factor makes for a quiet or dull manuscript brimming with insipid characters and a story that cascades from chapter to chapter with tens of thousands of words, all of them combining irresistibly to produce an audible thudding sound in the mind, rather like a fist hitting a side of cold beef?

Such a dearth of Élan vital in narrative and story frequently results from the unwillingness of the writer to create a suitable antagonist who stirs and spices the plot hash. And let's make it clear what we're talking about. By "antagonist" we specifically refer to an actual fictional character, an embodiment of certain traits and motivations who plays a significant role in catalyzing and energizing plot line(s), or at bare minimum, in assisting to evolve the protagonist's character arc (and by default the story itself) by igniting complication(s) the protagonist, and possibly other characters, must face and solve (or fail to solve).



Not willing to create a good antagonist? Why not? You're making a fundamental mistake, one that assures your story will lack the verve and drama it needs to be successful. As noted in the article above, keep in mind that some of the greatest characters in literature are antagonists. Why not create a darn good one and make your writing life so much easier?

A couple of rules to follow.
  • Great antagonists more often than not are stronger in some way than the protagonists they face.
  • Great antagonists are usually relentless in the struggle for their goal.
  • Great antagonists are often times vulnerable and flawed beings, perhaps worthy of sympathy, but certainly not enough to kill the story. After all, the more you dislike and abhor the antagonist and her/his goals the more you cheer for the protagonist.
Keep in mind that an antagonist who might be somewhat likable is unpredictable. They already defy stereotypes by not being pure bad, so the reader isn't sure what they'll do. Making them real people with real goals also makes it a lot easier to write from their perspective, because it isn't about what they're doing to the protagonist. It's about what goal they're trying to achieve and what obstacles are in their way -- just like your protagonist. So make them the protagonist of their story. The hero in their mind. Treat them the same way you would your protagonist. Except they don't get to win in the end.

Make them more than a plot device that forces your protagonist to do what you need them to do.
Make them a character who happens to cause trouble by trying to get what they want.

  • In 100 words or less, describe what your antagonist does to ignite the plot line, i.e., create an issue, directly or indirectly, that sets your protagonist on their course of action.
  • Do a complete sketch of your antagonist using the categories below. Respond in detail to all of the following questions, one bullet at a time. Like the other assignments, you may return to this and edit at any time.
  • PHOTOS AND PHYSICAL: You find a photo, if possible, that you believe represents the physical form/attitude of the antagonist, and upload to this forum. Next, jot down the physical facets a bullet at a time: face, eyes, skin, posture, height, hair, hands, body, manner of walking, gestures.
  • BIO HISTORY: You provide the character with a bio, a history, which supports not only the present story but the backstory. What were they doing before the story began? If necessary, you research occupations, real bios, using the Internet or the library, whatever it takes to flesh this person out.
  • ORIENTATION: You orient this person in time and space, i.e., you give them a job, a reason for being, a place they inhabit, people they know, activities they participate in.
  • ANECDOTES: create at least two brief, 200 words or less, anecdotes taken from their life. Small stories about them. Stories which illustrate their temper and view towards reality.
  • GOALS: What does this person wants most in life: peace? power? freedom? dignity? love?
  • PSYCHE PROFILE: You work up a psychological profile: strongest desire(s)/dislike(s), intelligence level, emotional profile (dark or light as a whole, easy or slow to anger), attitudinal qualities (e.g., biases towards objects/people in the environment that create cognitive issues), belief system (atheist, Hindu, Republican).
  • SOCIAL REACTION PROFILE: You do a social reaction profile: How do they react to others in social situations? You sketch a short anecdote (or use the anecdote above) that reveals this person by demonstrating how she or he behaves/reacts to a defined stimulus in the context of a social situation. Something has happened, something is said that creates tension, desire, confusion, ergo the anecdote portrays this person at their best or worst. HINT: USE CONFLICT!
  • CHARACTER ARC: Given your knowledge of the major complication and story, you flow-sketch the emotional and cognitive evolution of the character from beginning to end. If she or he starts off as a ignorant louse, where to go from there? Will they epiphanize, change, require motivation? All major characters evolve as the story progresses. It‘s mandatory, whether in fiction or film.