Friday, February 17, 2012

Antagonists vs Enemies

Today's post is an excerpt from the Characters and Characterisation workshop, available from

Antagonists vs Enemies.

Creating an antagonist or enemy for your protagonist is a challenge. Both are strong relationships, and can be set up in much the same way as friendships and romances.

Antagonists can both be sympathetic characters. They won’t necessarily dislike one another, but they have opposing viewpoints or goals. If one wins, the other loses, and even if compatible as characters they (and you) shouldn’t lose sight of this.

Set up your antagonists as carefully as you would a pair of friends. Give them enough compatible characteristics to make them believable equals (or near equals). Make their opposing goals strong ones. It must matter who wins. Make your readers want both to win by making the characters equally interesting or admirable. If it seems likely the antagonist character would win, consider letting it happen.

Decide if the relationship between the two exists only in the context of the goal or if it could carry on afterwards. If so, will it warm to become friendship or sour into enmity? Will pity, triumph, regret and pride play a part?

An enemy is similar to an antagonist in that his/her goals conflict with those of the protagonist, but different in that there is an element of personal dislike or hatred. An enemy needs to have motivation as strong as the protagonist's, but need not be sympathetically portrayed. Enemies can be motivated by revenge, lust for power, bitter rivalry, envy, sadism, greed, desire, obsession or just plain evil. You should always know how enemies view themselves. Do they feel justified in their persecution of the protagonist, or do they know they're out of line? Why does the enemy hate the protagonist? Personality clash? Inherited feud? Envy?

Avoid making the enemy stereotypically ugly without good reason. Even if s/he is wholly evil try to give a glimpse of some human emotion or failing. Try to make this enemy an opponent of worthy stature.

Excerpt from Pp 53/54 Characters and Characterisation

Lesson 3 – More Human Characters.

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  1. Thank you for this effective coverage of the different characters. I'd never before thought about this issue. It's given me some insight into my poor neglected first draft. There may yet be some hope for it, if/when I properly look at the 'bad guys' and determine what exactly their role is.

    Again, thank you!

  2. Thanks, Carolyn. It's a bit too easy to use generic "bad guys" and one sometimes wonders WHY they want to do whatever it is they're doing. Once we think about it properly they usually have some clear motive.