Writers are usually quite diligent in developing their protagonist, the settings, the concept. All great stuff.
But there’s one area where I typically need to nudge and prod. That is, in developing the bad guy.
The thing is, the bad guy is where you’ll find your story meat. In thinking through what he wants and why, you’ll discover solid plot points that can fill out the narrative. Without this thinking, the story is half formed.
So let’s take a short walk in your bad guy’s shoes and see what we find. For simplicity, I use He for antagonist, She for protagonist.
- What does your bad guy (he) want from the protagonist (her)?
He wants her to be his [insert roles such as: cheerleader, seducer, mother]. More on roles.
- What is his dream ending for the near and distant future of this relationship?
When he imagines the best, best, best, possible outcome for this story what is it? How does your protagonist get in his way? What about his long term plans?
What’s his perspective?
- According to him, what’s going on?
Does he think something’s wrong, if so what? If not, why not? Like, if he’s the boss who considers his employees mere minions, then treating them as slaves is natural. No problem here. Your protagonist’s job is to help him see the problem or get out from under him.
- If he loses, what does he lose? If he wins, what does he win?
Why does it matter? How can you make this more dramatic to increase the stakes?
- At each point in the story, how does he change his strategies?
Does he need to adjust his tactics as the protagonist changes hers?
What is his character?
- How is he egotistical, self-centered or judgemental?
This is where you will find his blind spot. If yours is a supernatural or magical antagonist, this is where to find that human blind spot she can take advantage of. Consider what he hasn’t thought through all the way. How does he see himself as “above the line” while others are “below the line”?
- What’s his dastardly plan to destroy the world?
Develop that plan! Consider where it’s flawed. Did he focus on one aspect of the plan over another? What are the challenges he could face in seeing it through? Does he know the weak spots and try to hide them?
- When he was five, what did his mother love about him?
Even a nasty villain had a mother and she probably loved him. Was he fastidious? Curious? Demanding?
- What does he do when he’s happy?
Look at your answers to what his mother loved about him. Showing your bad guy as happy can be fun, interesting, round him out. Didn’t you just love Richmond Valentine’s love of films and McDonald’s in Kingsman?
- What does he do when he’s sad, angry, frustrated?
Is he a whiner? A pouter? A slam the door kinda guy? Vengeful? Hurt? More important, how do his reactions make him change his strategies?
- What does he care about?
What comforts him? Movies, a nice suit, a fine wine, great food. Or is there a person or animal he would do anything for?
- What is his bad habit?
Smoker, drinker, nail biter? Obsessive compulsive, worrier, anxiety prone, procrastinator? Whatever you choose, this will get in his way toward achieving his plan.
- What is he most afraid of and why?
This is his kryptonite, use it.
- What is he running toward/away from and why?
If she knows what he wants / doesn’t want in life, maybe she can thwart his desired path.
- What’s he trying to hide and why?
Failure, shame, regrets, embarrassments? The best characters always have something they’re hiding, maybe even from themselves.
Phew! That’s a lot of questions. Some will apply, others won’t. After one pass go through them again and fine tune your answers.
What’s the tree?
A simplified synopsis of story structure goes like this:
- Get your character up a tree.
- Throw rocks at her.
- Get your character out of the tree.
So, by looking at your antagonist you’re asking yourself, “What kind of tree am I putting her in?” The answers will give you ideas for the rocks you throw at your protagonist and how to get her out of that tree.
There’s another bonus to looking at your story from your antagonist’s perspective; you’ll see your protagonist as the bad guy. Like looking at her in the mirror, you’ll see her flaws more keenly. Be sure to burnish those flaws, they’ll make your protagonist more relatable, more believable, more real.
Back to the antag for one last note: He has to be at all three climaxes in your story. If he’s not, you’ve got the wrong antagonist. See my primer on plot structure for more.