The Purpose of an Antagonist

If you’ve read anything about character building, you’ve probably heard about the term “antagonist” before. You might even know who in your book is going to be set up to be the antagonist, but you might not know where to start with building them.

This is where understanding the purpose of an antagonist in your story is important. If you can understand what the purpose is of your antagonist, then you can start building traits and scenes which help support their wider role in the story.

If you’re still on your first draft of your story, this might be something that you want to come back to in editing (especially if you’re a gardener writer like myself). This kind of edit is where you need to strategically build characters in a particular way to help support the fundamental building blocks of the story.

Working against your main character

The antagonist is the character who works against your main character’s storyline in order to create a level of conflict in the story. This then aids your main character’s overall arc – giving them a hurdle to overcome in their quest for the final goal/payoff. This in turn makes a satisfying story for your reader.

Don’t have to be “evil”

An antagonist does not need to be considered “evil”. Yes, a lot of fantasy stories would set up the antagonist character as aligning to “evil” side (especially in high fantasy settings where there is an overall good/evil story theme.). You could have a character who working “against” your main character by refusing to follow their instructions or challenging their opinions and approach to problems.

They connect a reader to the story

Humans, at their core, like to understand the world through somewhat black and white thinking. If you think about any kind of journey you’ve had – whether at work, with your creative pursuits, anything, I almost guarantee you’ll be able to pinpoint people who you want to blame for something not happening as you expected in your story.

In some ways, it doesn’t really matter whether or not this individual impacted your journey in fact. Even if it is in your mind alone (maybe through jealousy of someone else getting promoted or someone achieving a goal before you have), you’ve now set that person up as the Antagonist in your mind. They exist to challenge your story, your journey, and you lay the blame squarely at their feet.

This is why ensuring you are clear about including an antagonist for your story, because they are important for your reader to really be pulled into the story on a deeper level. If you want them to root for your main character “Hero”, you need to tap into that human sense of “jealousy” or “hatred” that we might feel throughout our lives.


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