Thursday, April 15, 2010


I thought I’d blog about antagonists today. Whether you are a writer, a reader, or you drive a Good Humor ice cream truck, someone somewhere is going to be opposed to you. Someone somewhere is not going to like what you are doing or, for reasons undefined, who you are or aspire to be. Opponents and adversaries are a part of our lives. Kind of like splinters and bug bites. Today, tax deadline day, some might think of Uncle Sam as an antagonist. I, for one, don’t find it hard to imagine the tall man with the white beard and hair, striped pants, and jacket (by the way, who dressed him?) peering in my windows to be sure that I am being honest about my tax paperwork. If he starts banging on my door, demanding some kind of payment, he will be labeled an antagonist. But I digress.

Antagonists are everywhere. But here’s the interesting thing about them: They don’t have to be the spawn of Satan. In writing, evil to the core, many experts say, actually makes an antagonist less believable. Because adversaries are people, too. They should and usually do have at least one redeeming quality or attribute, although perhaps buried deep under layers of muck. Think about the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (the movie, that is). Sure, she ordered her flying monkeys to stop a sweet girl from Kansas along with and equally sweet lion, tin man, and harmless scarecrow, but perhaps there’s another side to this witch. Maybe she baked banana nut cupcakes for those flying monkeys when she wasn’t in such a bad mood. I’m just saying…

So, the next time you write about or read about or encounter an antagonist, remember that he, she, or it probably has a softer side. Okay, this might not matter, but it’s good to know, right?


  1. right on! Great post. Let's hear it for the villan

  2. The more sympathetic a villain is the more sinister. The more sinister, the more evil.

  3. I always think the villain believes that they are doing the right thing, in their moral universe. That's what makes them so scary--warped thinking. BTW, I'm karenb on the blueboards, and I really enjoyed your book, Buck Fever.

  4. Ha! Thanks, Terry Lynn!

    And you're so right, Bish. A sympathetic villain is more sinister. Done well, these characters can be really compelling, I think.

    Welcome, Karen! Yes, I recognize you from the blueboards! And I totally agree with you. Some of the scariest bad guys, for me, are the ones who are the most warped.
    Also, thank you so much for the lovely comment about Buck Fever! That's wonderful to read! : )