I've managed to bruise the inside of my eyelid with a stray tortilla chip crumb, so focusing my eyesight on anything within a 75 degree angle of my left field of vision hurts. This will not make blogging any easier.
This is my first ever post for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, so here goes!
A is for Antagonist.
A hero is only as good as the villain he has to fight. It's no fun watching Batman foil insurance fraud, so we get to see him go up against the Joker instead. So what makes a good antagonist?
As a reader, I want several things from a strong antagonist:
1: I want the hero to be truly challenged. This one is easy enough to satisfy as a writer. I don't want the villain to be defeated in his first confrontation with the hero. I want to see the hero beaten down and forced to struggle to overcome his adversary.
2: I want the antagonist and the protagonist to be connected somehow. The Joker is Batman's perfect foil because where Batman stands for justice and order, with a strong purpose behind his actions, the Joker is driven by chaos and whimsy. The Clown Prince of Crime is unpredictable and dangerous, madness personified. But his genius matches that of his arch nemesis. His plans, while seemingly without reason, put the city of Gotham in a state of terror. A true antagonist is a dark perversion of the protagonist, not quite the same, but not quite the opposite. They are a vague suggestion of a symbiotic relationship, two partners in a macabre dance for dominance.
3: I want the antagonist to revel in his role. This doesn't mean I want a mustache-twiddling stereotype. Far from it. The best villains don't see themselves as villains. The very best villains are the ones whose motivations we can understand. The hero should be able to look at the villain and think "there but for the grace of God go I." But the antagonist can still love his own mission and actions. Gene Hackman's "Little Bill" in Unforgiven is a town marshal, he's the law. But he gets a perverse satisfaction from his corrupt brand of justice. He'll happily see a man whipped to death or beat a man in the street just for telling tall tales, yet still think it fair and right that he has a strong position in town.
4: I want to be sorry when the antagonist is gone. The relationship between an antagonist and a protagonist should help define both characters. They should need each other for direction and meaning in their lives. Once the antagonist is overcome, whether through defeat or redemption, the protagonist should be lessened because of it. Not that the writer should have the hero sad that their enemy is no more, but rather that the conflict should have been so engrossing that, though we know it must end, we almost wish their ongoing battle could never end, as it would mean we no longer get to see these two powerful personalities clash.
5: When it comes to the end, I want a good fight. Whether it be a physical confrontation, mental outwitting, or social destruction, I want to see the antagonist truly defeated by the protagonist. Not through some cheap trick or deus ex machina, but by the hero using his strengths and rising to the challenge, thoroughly overcoming his foe and proving that he's the better man (or woman).
What do you look for in an antagonist?