A long time back I wrote a blog about the events that mark the beginning of a story. At the end of it, I said my next blog would be about the forces of antagonism. That was last July. I said I would write it the week after, but I got lazy. I said I’d write it the week after that, but I didn’t know the best way to start. And since then I just forgot about it. Looks like I’m my own worst enemy.
What makes an evil villain so good
Antagonist (noun): A person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary.
In traditional western storytelling, a story must contain at least two things. An intention and an obstacle. The more formidable the obstacle, the more strain on the main characters’ intention and the more fully realised and multidimensional that character becomes.
However, antagonism isn’t restricted to a human embodiment. It is the sum of all the forces that oppose the protagonist’s desire. It can come in the form of cataclysmic storm, a giant shark, an authoritarian government, or a personal conflict. In 2013’s Her, the main source of antagonism comes from within the protagonist himself. The main character, Theodore Twombly, assumes that a social stigma surrounds a human-artificial intelligence relationship. He hinders his own intention to develop a fulfilling relationship with his own doubts and assumptions. His own thoughts and preconceptions are the force that keep him from his desire.
In 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, the protagonists must reach the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in California within 2 days. However, the family encounters the gamut of personal problems that oppose their progress. [SPOILERS] The suicidal uncle runs into the boyfriend that just left him, the humourless father loses an important business contract, the lewd grandfather overdoses on heroin and the existentialist brother finds out he cannot become a pilot following the news that he is colour blind. Coupled with a VW van that won’t start unless you push it, each of these obstacles threatens the likelihood that the family will reach the pageant in time and so test of the protagonists’ will and intention.
But my favourite type of antagonistic force is the villain. A villain is good when he is formidable enough to prevent the character from achieving his goal; however, a villain is great when he represents an idea strong enough to compete with the idea represented by the hero. A scary dog is formidable enough to prevent the mailman from delivering the mail, but he isn’t challenging the essence of the mailman’s character. One of the most notable hero-villain constructs is between Batman and the Joker, specifically in The Dark Knight. Batman represents justice and conventional morality in Gotham whereas The Joker represents crime and chaos. Neither one can achieve its intention so long as the other exists to oppose it. In the movie, The Joker’s opposition is so threatening, that Batman is pressured to reveal his secret identity, forced to choose between his ex-girlfriend and the district attorney, and pushed to break his vow to never take a life. The obstacle the Joker presents is the epitome of the character antagonist.
So if you’re going to write a villain, make sure they are formidable. Enough that they can completely prevent the hero from achieving his/her goal. And next time you watch a movie, look to the villain and see if they are just a scary dog chasing the mailman or closer to the clown prince of crime.
Make sure they are formidable. Enough that they can completely prevent the hero from achieving his or her goal. And next time you watch a movie, look to the villain and see if they are just a scary dog chasing the mailman