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Crafting Believable Antagonists

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

If I’m going to spend several months with a character, they need to have layers that I can peel away like an onion. Sometimes they will start out seeming to be a certain way and then, as the story develops, situations and events will start to reveal their true character. Often there are things that appear that even I did not know were there. That’s the excitement of writing a novel; you may have an idea of who your characters are and how they will develop, but as you put them in stressful situations these different traits become exposed. Someone who seemed strong may crumble whilst another, seeming weak, will grow to become the hero.

I don’t do much planning. No matter how detailed your planning, things will change as you write the story. A new character will suggest themselves that you hadn’t pre-planned and they may have a huge influence on other character’s development and ultimate fate. It’s a moveable feast.

I try not to prejudge the final destination of any character, or even their impact on the finish of a story. To stay interesting, they have to be allowed to develop and these changes happen because of the situations we put them in and the characters we mix them in with. With this in mind, it isn’t always clear at the start who is the protagonist and the antagonist, and it shouldn’t be. If it is clear who is good and who is bad from the start, it’s not going to be much of a revelation at the end. If, when you finish a story, you have surprised yourself, imagine what you have done to the reader. For this to work though you must have placed little bombs in the backstory that are exploded as you near the finish. These will explain the reasons for the change in character. Without justification, you will just have characters doing things that aren’t true to their character and ultimately that won’t be believable.

Next post in this series - Developing Supporting Characters

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