What Makes a Good Antagonist?

Episode #16 – September 6, 2023

Welcome to episode 16 of the Writing on Caffeine podcast. My daughter (Ragan Franzone) and I (Jonathan Franzone) are a father and daughter who have decided to write our very first novel. In this podcast, we are inviting you to come along on this journey with us.

In this episode, Jonathan and Ragan discuss what makes up a good antagonist. They also dive into some of their favorite (and least favorite) antagonists and why they love or hate them.

Show Notes

An antagonist is a key player in any story, often serving as a foil to the protagonist and creating conflict that drives the plot.

  1. Complexity: A good antagonist isn’t just evil for the sake of being evil. They should have motivations, goals, and a backstory that explains their actions. The reasons for their antagonism could range from a personal vendetta, a skewed sense of justice, to even believing that their actions, however cruel, serve a greater good. This depth makes them more real and relatable, and sometimes, even sympathetic.
  2. Believable Motivations: An antagonist needs a solid reason for their actions, something beyond pure evil for the sake of evil. Maybe they believe they’re doing the right thing, or they were driven to their current actions by past experiences. Their motives could be based on revenge, a misguided sense of justice, a desperate need to survive, or a thousand other possibilities.
  3. Challenge: A compelling antagonist should present a formidable challenge to the protagonist. They need to be strong, intelligent, or resourceful in ways that test the protagonist’s abilities, causing them to grow and adapt. This could mean being superior in physical strength, possessing greater resources, or having a strategic mind that’s always one step ahead. The greater the threat level, the higher the stakes of the conflict.
  4. Relatability: An antagonist with relatable qualities or motivations can make your story more engaging. This doesn’t mean they need to be likeable or good, but readers should be able to understand why they do what they do. This can create moral ambiguity, encouraging readers to grapple with their own feelings about the antagonist.
  5. Personal Connection to the Protagonist: When the antagonist has a personal relationship with the protagonist, it adds another layer to their conflict. They could be former friends, family members, or have shared a significant past event. This relationship creates emotional stakes that are as important, if not more so, than the practical ones.
  6. Unpredictability: A good antagonist is unpredictable, able to surprise both the protagonist and the reader. They should have the ability to strategize, adapt, and make moves that upend the status quo and challenge the protagonist in unexpected ways.
  7. Presence: An engaging antagonist has a strong presence in the story, even when they are off-stage. The threat they pose is ever-looming, shaping the protagonist’s actions and the course of the plot.
  8. Character Arc: Like the protagonist, the antagonist can have their own character arc. They can grow, learn, and change throughout the story. This can add additional layers of depth and complexity to the character.
  9. Temptation: Good antagonists often utilize temptation as a form of attack on the protagonist. Personal corruption is compelling to readers who often struggle with their own inner-demons.


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