1. Lothgar
    Offline

    Lothgar Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2010
    Messages:
    417
    Likes Received:
    37

    The Psychology of Evil: Comparing notes on what makes a good antagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lothgar, Sep 4, 2010.

    The Antagonist, the bad guy, the villain, the opposition, the rival or just the #@$&*%$*##@*&@*% that gives your hero a hard time; whatever you call him, he is a vital part of the story.

    My purpose in starting this thread is to give writers a chance to share notes on what their ideas for creating a good villain are. Hopefully, we can inspire and learn from each other.

    There is more to being a good villain than just dressing all in black and proclaiming "I'm the champion of evil and I'm here to give you grief. BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!".

    That might work for a 2 dimensional character in a children's cartoon, but a truly interesting villain must have more depth of character. There needs to be a motivation for the antagonist, a driving force that inspires him to do the things he does.

    "I shall have vengeance for my slain love...NOT MATTER HOW MANY HAVE TO DIE FOR ME TO GET IT!"


    True EVIL isn't evil just because somebody got bored and wanted to give evil a try. True EVIL is intense, passionate and personal.

    "Why did you murder and cannibalize the corpses of so many people?"

    The eyes are windows to the soul and reveal the honest truth...

    "Because...it makes me happy." answers the psychopath with a pleased grin.


    The megalomaniac that wants to take over the world doesn't see himself as evil, he honestly believes, right or wrong, that he is the best suited to rule.

    "If these pathetic fools can't understand the inspired vision of my genius, then I will have to MAKE them see the light!"


    So, what is your idea of what makes a good antagonist? Please feel free to share your ideas :)
     
  2. stubeard
    Offline

    stubeard Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2010
    Messages:
    178
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    England
    Well I write mostly pirate stuff so it's always about the treasure for my villains :p
     
  3. Manav
    Offline

    Manav Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Imphal, India
    As a writer, I don't see the antagonist any differently from the protagonist or 'the good guy' or whatever. This is to say, I use the same set of parameters to develop a protagonist or an antagonist. In both, I consider their past, present aspirations, conflicts etc which gives an explanation(s) of why they are what they are.

    As a reader too I need those explanations (even a simple explanation will do) about the antagonist to keep me interested in a story. Without it I find it hard to keep my interest in a book, no matter how well the protagonist is developed.
     
  4. Mallory
    Offline

    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2010
    Messages:
    4,274
    Likes Received:
    191
    Location:
    Tampa Bay
    The villain will be evil to the readers if the writer hates him, and relatable if the writer sees his side. The writer's opinion will affect how the villain's portrayed.

    If the villain represents something that gets you heated up emotionally, this will reflect in your writing and the villain will become despicable.

    For example, I get very emotionally heated about situations where someone has no regard for other people's privacy/control, so if I have a villain who does something like spy on someone, or be a peeping tom, or think government spying and the like is ok...my feelings will transfer onto the villain, and I'll write him/her in a way that makes him/her really evil.

    On the other hand, if I'm writing a story like "Vaderick has an evil plan to blow up the universe," it's harder to get emotionally connected to that, so Vaderick might end up as more of a flat characer.
     
  5. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    My most evil character has a concealed identity, it is a Great Skua. It is great allows me to commit evil without having to explain why yet.

    I have two others, for me Shakespeare and Arthurian Legends are the best source of deliciously evil characters
     
  6. GrimStories
    Offline

    GrimStories Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State
    From a writers perspective, I've had the 'good' fortune of being able to speak in depth with many convicted killers. Some are scary in that the evil is pervasive, some are scary because of subtle differences in thought. Some were simply simple, just pure vicious, rage filled individuals without merit.


    I'll share one...

    Working with that experience, one of the most disturbing forms of 'villian' is the sort who isn't all that bad, at first, second, and even third glance, and isn't deceptive in hiding it, but rather is a normal person who, when circumstances went sideways on him, arrived at a horrific decision, which, through a temporary, conditional perspective, followed through and did something horrific. What makes this sort of villian compelling is he can't easily be 'sensed', there's little warning, and he feels he was 'pushed' over the line instead of deliberately crossing it or easing over it. This makes for a complex villian who is capable of remorse, but can struggle between regret and self justification, with the latter perhaps making him more dangerous.
     
    1 person likes this.
  7. TobiasJames
    Offline

    TobiasJames Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    203
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    England
    There is no difference between the protagonist and the antagonist except the "side" that the author chooses to take.
     
  8. GrimStories
    Offline

    GrimStories Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State
    I'd have to disagree...There is a HUGE difference in 'roles' for the protagonist and the antagonist. The 'good' and 'bad' and 'sides' don't matter, as long as these characters are in opposition.

    The Protag is the primary character in the story, the individual through whom most of the story is revealed. (Don't want to get into the point of view, etc.)

    The Antag provides conflict with the Protag. He may or may not be the primary source of conflict. (Don't want to get too deep into conflict, etc.)

    The Protag or Antag can be good, evil, or neutral. They can both be good, bad, or neutral. They just need to be in conflict with the story relying more upon the Protag than the Antag.
     
  9. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    Actually my 'evil' characters aren't really my antagonists - my antagonist is whoever my main character is wanting to punch in a particular scene which can be his adored brothers etc.

    I would actually say in my story the main antagonist isn't a character it is secrecy and the discovery a whole new world. That then throws up situations that allow conflict to exist.
     
  10. TobiasJames
    Offline

    TobiasJames Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    203
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    England
    But surely if your conflict is between two sides, both of which believe themselves to be right, their roles are the same? The "protagonist" is therefore no more than the side that the author chooses to sympathise with.

    Can you think of examples where this is not the case?
     
    1 person likes this.
  11. NyMichael20
    Offline

    NyMichael20 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 23, 2010
    Messages:
    20
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    New York City
    The bad guy never thinks he's the bad guy...He/she does what they do because they think it's right. Unless your antagonist is some kind of demonic presence, in which case they themselves are consciously evil, then he or she is "right" in their own mind. Hitler is a good example. An evil man? Yes. But did he wake up every morning and say "How do I be evil today?" No, he did what he thought was right. Of course he was wrong, but that is part of what makes him evil.
     
  12. white
    Offline

    white Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2010
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    I just imagine my antagonist as a misguided hero, and write him that way. He is a person, has his own motivations, etc.
     
  13. GrimStories
    Offline

    GrimStories Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State

    The author doesn't necessarily side with the protagonist. For example, several accounts of serial killers, the protagonist is the main character in a story, again, 'side' isn't relevant.

    There are many, many examples, especially in warm movies and often in romances. The antagonist and protagonists are not only known to each other, they interact frequently, but the background conflict might be the war, climbing a mountain, etc.

    An interesting version came from old 'race for the cure' medical dramas where neither person is good or bad, but they are competing. This also takes place frequently in sports dramas.
     
  14. GrimStories
    Offline

    GrimStories Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State
    Strongly disagree with that, that might be for your characters and people you know, but there are many psychotics who know very well what they are, and of course by definition, they don't care. There are also folks who revel in being vile and causing harm.
     
  15. white
    Offline

    white Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2010
    Messages:
    52
    Likes Received:
    1
    Maybe some psychotics only know they're psychotic because experts and television and the internet repeat it constantly. All of a sudden, some of these fellows sound like victims.

    More angles = better characters.
     
  16. GrimStories
    Offline

    GrimStories Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State
    For someone truly psychotic, there's absolutely no doubt that they have something wrong with them. Very early in life they realize they don't reflect the appropriate response and feelings. A FUNCTIONAL psychotic can immitate and even anticipate the appropriate response and expression, but they're mimics, not actually feeling what is right. Psychotic is a very distinct term.

    As we're into definitions, a protagonist is the PRIMARY character. 'Side', good, bad or indifferent don't matter. A protagonist is distinct from an antagonist.
     
  17. Elgaisma
    Offline

    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2010
    Messages:
    5,337
    Likes Received:
    92
    You don't need one main antagonist to have conflict though. It is much more difficult to have a story without a main protagonist.
     
  18. erik martin
    Offline

    erik martin Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2010
    Messages:
    249
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    San Diego, CA
    That encapsulated part of what I wanted to say. Everyone is the hero of their own story. And everyone should want something that the reader can identify with. Even the demons in the book I've been querying think they have a right to behave the way they do. They see my main world as having been stolen from them and are trying to take back what is rightfully theirs. Sure they behave in ways that humans might call 'evil' but to them humans are animals. So even the demons don't see what they do as evil. Now some people might be so angry and twisted by their past that they know they are doing wrong, but can justify why its right because of their hatred.
     
  19. twinstargemini
    Offline

    twinstargemini Member

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2009
    Messages:
    61
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Eastbourne
    I think a really good antagonist one who does believe he is doing right, cliche I know. But, the best part is he actually makes you think, is he really a bad guy or is the good guy for example who is the villain. While the good guy actually can persuaded into thinking, maybe he's right and he might actually be telling the truth, but then the antagonist is very honourable as well. I see a dangerous villain who is very honourable rather than one who just steals people and also he has to have a legit reason, if he does not, for example he wanted to steal a pair of shoes for himself, I don't like it, but if it's for a lover or his family, it seems more realistic.

    Okay, let me sum up, I want him to be realistic and make me think, okay this does seem real and I want him to confuse our moral compass of whether he's good or bad. Sorry, if I'm confusing anyone.
     
  20. SilverWolf0101
    Offline

    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Messages:
    333
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    New York State
    Sadly, the definition of an antagonist has been twisted and warped until most people see the antagonist as being "Evil" or "Bad".

    For example, in kids cartoons, the bad guy is the one who does harm to others and wishes to take over the world. They have no character depth or reasoning at all, merely "I shall take over the world and destroy you.... blah blah blah"

    In the movie Avatar, the bad guys were portrayed as the humans, because they were there to mine rare ores from the inhabitants and would stop at nothing to get it.
    -Actually we were first introduced to the idea that the natives were the problem, then it switched to the humans being the antagonist.

    In The Lord of the Rings the antagonist was anyone who opposed the fellowship and tried to gain control of the one ring.
    - Which this is off track but I wonder if anyone noticed that there were actually antagonist inside the fellowship? Besides the ring itself.


    These are just some examples, and as you can see, they change with each condition, each viewpoint.
    My point is, no matter how you look at it, the antagonist isn't always "evil" nor are they "good". There is actually no true side to an antagonist (each person will personally determine if the antagonist is good or bad).
    So really? What is the antagonist? Well that's pretty simple actually.

    The antagonist is the character (or thing) who will oppose or have rivalry with the main character.
    If you want the actual dictionary definition, it goes something like this:

    1: one that contends with or opposes another : adversary, opponent
    2: an agent of physiological antagonism: as a : a muscle that contracts with and limits the action of an agonist with which it is paired —called also antagonistic muscle b : a chemical that acts within the body to reduce the physiological activity of another chemical substance (as an opiate); especially : one that opposes the action on the nervous system of a drug or a substance occurring naturally in the body by combining with and blocking its nervous receptor — compare agonist 2b

    But yeah, to me the antagonist is nothing more than the character (or thing) that opposes the main character.
     
  21. TerraIncognita
    Offline

    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

    Joined:
    May 28, 2010
    Messages:
    1,339
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Texas
    You make a good point, Silver. :)

    For me it really depends on the story. Currently I chose to go with a guy who is a sociopath. He has absolutely no concern for anyone but himself and he has no moral compass. He just doesn't care. He'll do what he wants to get whatever he pleases and damn the consequences. He's also highly intelligent and very good at hiding that he's not really normal at all. He blends in, he's your average Joe on the street.
     
  22. theSkaBoss
    Offline

    theSkaBoss Member

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2010
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    3
    My own antagonists are driven by completely different things. One's a total slave of duty, and his duty demands that he destroy my main character. Another is vengeful, seeking my MC's death as payback for dignity lost and ambitions crushed. The third is greedy and inhuman, trying to steal away from the MC the only treasure he really has.
     
  23. HeinleinFan
    Offline

    HeinleinFan Banned

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2007
    Messages:
    483
    Likes Received:
    33
    Types of villains & characterization to use in each case

    Motivated by an all-consuming goal
    This is the antagonist who does evil things in order to acheive one thing. Maybe he wants to avenge his son, or get money to save his daughter, or take over the world, or defeat a particular enemy. The lengths he will go to in order to make the goal happen show how evil he is, and whether he is sympathetic depends on what his goal is. If he is willing to smuggle or steal to saver his daughter, he is a lot more sympathetic than someone who is willing to kill innocent bystanders by the thousand in order to take over a city.

    Disbelieves the hero
    This type can be fun because you can make her admirable, skilled, competent, dedicated, and knowledgeable. Then give her a reason to think the hero is full of bull puckey. Maybe the hero has a shady past, or the hero has been misled before, or the antagonist thinks the hero is crazy or overreacting. That gives the well-intentioned antagonist a great in-character reason to refuse to help the hero, to give him warnings, to lock him up, and to generally hinder him in all kinds of ways.

    Belongs to an opposing group or ideology
    She doesn't hate the hero personally, but he serves one side and she is on the other. Maybe the hero is running messages, defeating warriors, solving a crime, trying to build or develop something -- and it happens to get in the way of the organization the antagonist serves. Nothing personal, Protagonist, but you're getting in our way, so I've been sent to knock you out of the action. Again, writers can have fun with this by making this antagonist generally admirable -- dedicated, funny, skilled, clever -- but putting her on the opposing team.

    In a competition
    There is a prize for victory, and only one person can get it. But many are seeking for it. The antagonist wants to beat the hero to the goal -- to the map, to the treasure, to the secret, whatever -- and is not interested in helping the hero out. Obviously, such antagonists can be fun to write because they don't have to be overtly trying to get in the hero's way. But because they're on the same road, they may accidently put the hero in danger. They might make mutual enemies suspicious, they may take up resources the hero wants, and they may accidently smudge or distort clues while they make their own way to the goal.

    Has a personal grudge against the hero or the hero's companions
    The hero doesn't even have to know about it -- maybe the antagonist was told (wrongly) that the hero killed the antagonist's family. Maybe the hero accidentally (or even deliberately) took something from the antagonist, like honor or a lover or a physical item or wealth. Maybe the hero is just an arrogant guy who has treated the antagonist like crap, and now the antagonist is in a position to get even.

    For them, it's part of a job
    The hero's a thief, and the antagonist is a cop. The hero has threatened someone, and that someone hires a mercenary to threaten the hero right back. Or the hero is using an item he doesn't technically own, and really really needs the item for another month, and the antagonist was sent to get the item by its rightful owner.

    They have no reason to help
    So your hero is prescient, and sees that a terrible accident will happen. The hero runs to the scene, and starts yelling his head off that everyone needs to leave or they'll die. He gets tackled. Or he's shouted down. Or someone calls the cops. Honestly, there are many circumstances -- disasters like earthquakes or a bomb threat come to mind -- where the people on the street can become antagonists. They are getting in the hero's way because he hasn't had time to explain the situation, or because what he has to say isn't believeable.

    Has long-terms plans and a way to acheive them
    This antagonist is distinguished from the first group, the ones consumed by a goal, because these guys are patient. They can wait. They can weave webs within webs and wait for the right opportunity. They may not oppose the hero much at first, instead choosing to feel out his weaknesses and not exploit them until his back is turned. They have many good qualities, and their goals may ultimately be "good," particularly if they are working toward stability in an area plagued by chaos, crime, and war. They can sometimes turn into valuable allies, if they find out that the hero is willing to help in exchange for aid later on.
     
    1 person likes this.
  24. GrimStories
    Offline

    GrimStories Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Washington State
    I don't see the antagonist definition as being warped or twisted. I merely see that some don't know what the definition is, and some are simplistic. This shouldn't affect other writers.
     
  25. Bad_Valentine
    Offline

    Bad_Valentine Member

    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2010
    Messages:
    60
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    California
    I like to base antagonists on idiots I've known in real life. Unfortunately, real people offer a never ending stream of inspiration. What makes a good villain, someone who can rip your heart out and then go home and sleep like a baby. People who do evil things without any knowledge or awareness that their deeds are evil because deep down, they really just don't give a ****. Its fascinating, really.
     

Share This Page