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What do you look for in a good Antagonist (group)?


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#1 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 501

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Posted 01 May 2014 - 08:48 PM

So I've developed a universe and was trying to figure out the story and what in general happens. I had an "enemy group" or several, but I largely ignored creating antagonists... and then it hit me... Every good story has a good antagonist (or several)! It's all good to have a faceless enemy group, but it doesn't really lend itself to drama when you take it to a personal level.

 

So this leads me to the question... What do you look for in antagonists or antagonist groups?



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#2 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4578

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Posted 02 May 2014 - 12:07 AM

Personally I think it's important for antagonists to have flair, style, something to offset them from just being disgusting.

 

- Tradition-focused is one kind of villain style, it works well for bigots, vampires, paladins and other knights, and people you want to do a heel-face-turn in the middle of the story after realizing they have been seriously misled by their elders/superiors/religion.  They generally complement a main character who is some kind of creative eccentric, free-thinker who can't fit in, person with a vision for the future, etc.

 

- Emo is another kind of villain style - this is the villain with abuse in their past, might be a halfbreed or a mutant or a minority, who started using force and not trusting anyone out of self-defense, and probably has no friends and a lack of social skills.  These characters are also good candidates for a heel-face-turn if you have a main character who is thematically aligned with love or friendship.

 

- Mad scientist is a third kind.  Personally I prefer the comical ones, that come up with some kind of complex plan or high-tech gizmo but often end up fouling up their own plans without the main character's intervention.  The seriously dangerous ones are kind of a different trope, more on the horror genre side of things.

 

- The ridiculously talented spoiled person who needs a rival and develops a twisted sort of crush on a main character in another villain archetype.  A more easy-going version of this is the amoral, brilliant, bored person who decides one of the main characters is interesting.  This character can be a 2-edged sword, who may protect the character they are interested in against others, despite the fact that they regularly attack the main character themselves (though perhaps not in a way intended to be fatal).  They may also provide other character with new gizmos or powers for the enjoyment of seeing what happens when the situation is stirred up or made less imbalanced.

 

- And then there's the insane sadist who is basically a rabid animal that needs to be put down for everyone's good.  The less said about those the better, probably.

 

- One I personally dislike is people with the philosophy that balance between good and evil should always be maintained, so they help whichever side is losing at the moment.


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#3 Got_Rhythm   Members   -  Reputation: 239

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Posted 02 May 2014 - 10:24 AM

This sounds like a great topic that I will follow closely. 

 

My project is an RPG that features 5 main groups, all of which at points are antagonists or "evil" at various parts of the story.

 

My first big writing decision was to really try to make sure their motivation was clear. What do they really want? What is driving them to be "evil" or antagonistic? It has to be rational and believable unless they are just completely insane or chaotic (for me at least).

 

Then I tried to make sure that motivation was tied to the world they lived in, so they really feel like part of the world instead of dropped into it as an afterthought. 



#4 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 17125

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Posted 02 May 2014 - 01:31 PM

I also like the occasional faceless individual. A villain who you keep on hearing about, or who you only see masked, who give themselves a name that hints at their nature but with a twist to it. They also have some unusual power that makes them extra deadly.

 

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, one of the books contains a military-genius usurper who seizes control of a few planets and is rapidly gaining power, and who calls himself "The Mule". The protagonists assume (because of propaganda) it's because he's brutishly strong, but in reality he's rather frail and lanky, and calls himself The Mule because of a genetic mutation that gives him his mental powers but also makes him sterile (mules are a cross between donkeys and horses, and are usually sterile).

 

In the book Players of Null-A (another sci-fi), the protagonists are fighting against an emperor trying to take over the galaxy (a common trope), but the emperor's dragon is a guy who calls himself The Follower, who has the ability to "phase out" of physical presence and become immaterial with a shadow-form. Towards the end of the book, they realize that The Follower's abilities were caused by an accident when he was young involving the high-tech computer systems the religious order in that area worships but don't comprehend, and that The Follower is actually the high-priest and is a zealous fanatic who actually believes in that religion, thinking that his abilities were given to him by divine intervention since the accident occurred in the main "temple area" of the high-tech spaceship they worship. The name The Follower is a not-so-subtle underlining of his own religious loyalty.

 

A name without a face can create quite an impression.


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#5 Mia.   Members   -  Reputation: 364

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Posted 02 May 2014 - 03:34 PM

I agree with Got_Rhythm. I look for a realistic or compelling reason for whatever they are doing. For me, the stories that are truly great demonstrate growth and change in both the protagonists and the antagonists. If you're interested, the following link is a good resource for figuring out what type of antagonist(s) you wish to include in your story: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Villains . Best wishes!


Edited by Mia Blue, 02 May 2014 - 03:35 PM.


#6 J. Faraday   Members   -  Reputation: 417

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Posted 03 May 2014 - 12:53 PM

Definitely a great question. According to a few books on strategy and how leaders provoke their teams to commit to battle and taking sides against a common enemy, there are several criteria that would allow for a dedicated "antagonist group". When the basic needs of people are at risk, humans instinctively become defensive and wage war against that which is adding this threat to their way of life, whether in an organized physical manor, or mentally. This building rage will either subside or become stronger depending on the magnitude in which the threat continues or progresses. If this threat is strong enough, the desire to fight back will eventually win. If there are more than one person that this threat is effecting, common solidarity will draw them together and a group may then be formed to battle against this threat.

 

It is best to have a common idea or entity to call your "enemy". This way, the army, or group, will have a concrete set of values as to "why" they are against this idea / enemy. Often times, things that cannot be seen are often great methods to use to wage war, or convince a group of people to dedicate themselves to a set of values. You can see this taking place in the Middle East with Muslims and Christians. Religious zeal trumps commonly held values because of the deep belief system that comes along with these. If someone's religious freedom or god is attacked, a war may be waged, people will die for their cause, etc. 

 

I hope this was a decent example and not too abstract. 



#7 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 501

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Posted 03 May 2014 - 02:23 PM

It seems to me that coming up with individual antagonists are fairly easy. You just need someone to throw a wrench in whatever plans the protagonist has and this can stem from "because I felt like it", "because I really like you but can express it", "because it's my duty", "because if I let you do this it will cause problems for me", "because my god says so", "because your beliefs are bad", "because you are inferior", etc...  and coming up with enemy groups is likewise pretty simplistic as all you need is a reason to rally multiple people behind which can be all of the previously mentioned + communal reasons such as "If we don't get your resources we'll die" or "You hurt someone we know so now we hurts you" or even something as simple as "this be our territory!"...

 

And since all these are very basic and can all be messed up, the harder question is, what changes an antagonist from some generic character to something memorable. And in groups of antagonists how do you balance the group and since each individual antagonist is different (in most cases) what are good combinations of these personalities, beliefs, etc? Is a random mixing of memorable antagonists as good as any other, or is there a best, or best in a given situation, mixing?


Edited by Durakken, 03 May 2014 - 04:16 PM.


#8 TechnoGoth   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 2205

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Posted 03 May 2014 - 07:14 PM

There are several different kinds of antagonists that I like.

 

The Mustache Twirler (Trickster)- There is something about a completely over the top villain who literally chews the scenery who's motivated by nothing more then "because they can".  For example the master from season 3 or 4 of doctor who. He's funny, evil, and over the top all at the same time.

 

Antithesis - The antithesis villain is the opposite of the hero they share common traits or abilities but their ideals are reversed.  Where one sees strength the other weakness. 

 

Nemesis - The hero creates his own villain or the villain creates the hero who will eventually destroy them.  There is a moment small for one but life changing for the other that sets the two on course for irrevocable conflict. They will attempt to destroy each its just a question of when.  

 

Harder to pull off well but could be very compelling would be having the protagonist and antagonist both be morally grey and pursing mutually exclusive goals.  


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#9 Mouser9169   Members   -  Reputation: 389

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Posted 03 May 2014 - 07:40 PM

I like the 'gradually revealed' antagonist myself. Sometimes even the 'antagonist who isn't an antagonist' trope.

 

Remember: Every hero needs a tragic flaw, and every villain needs a redeeming quality.

 

Yes, it's a rule that's broken all the time, but I think it's a good guiding principle in most situations.


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#10 Shane C   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1103

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Posted 04 May 2014 - 09:26 PM

Creativity and uniqueness. -The first time I watched Darth Vader in the original Star Wars movies, it felt unique. He felt so mysterious up until the end.

 

-Give him traits. It doesn't have to be heavy breathing, but really think of something.



#11 Tutorial Doctor   Members   -  Reputation: 1406

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Posted 04 May 2014 - 10:28 PM

J.Faraday hit it right on the head. And this is a nice topic. Following...

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#12 Gaming Point   Members   -  Reputation: 515

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 12:02 AM

Antagonists should be someone or something (e.g. a natural disaster) that presents a difficult challenge for the main character, and at times, this challenge may be seemingly impossible to overcome. The key here is that the antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be evil, they just need to present problems for the main character.  

 

If your antagonist is a person, it's very useful to create a rich backstory to their motivations, because not only will this provide the character with greater depth, but it will also create mystery for the rest of the story. Someone mentioned darth vader being an awesome antagonist and that's because of the rich backstory of him being Luke's father. Avoid the typical cliches of villains who are 'pure evil' and only have self interests (such as wanting to take over the world at all costs) unless there's a good reason for them having those attributes.

 

I think interesting villains also have their own character arcs. Sometimes, they choose to do evil because their rational brains want them to do it, whilst their feelings and heart oppose that of their logic. This type of opposition between the rational vs. emotional brain is a great opportunity for change to occur. 



#13 traghera   Members   -  Reputation: 386

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 07:12 AM

I agree with Got_Rhythm. I look for a realistic or compelling reason for whatever they are doing. For me, the stories that are truly great demonstrate growth and change in both the protagonists and the antagonists. If you're interested, the following link is a good resource for figuring out what type of antagonist(s) you wish to include in your story: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Villains . Best wishes!

 

 What about the Joker then?(the movie ones) He, compared to Bane, is just plain nuts. He made the phrase: "Some men just want to watch the world burn" famous, not because he had an obvious reason behind it, like Bane did, but more so because of his rancid unknown hatred for the world. He is fun exactly because he's a nut crack; or just plain cool at times. He has no redeeming qualities that are known of (except maybe for brains), he's just plain crazy.

 

 You don't need a redeeming quality to make a good, loved villain(although it does help), you don't need to make a believable one, you can imagine a person so twisted as to kill a puppy in front of a child as long as you give him a purpose, keep them cohesive, and give them an actual personality. As long as he stands on his own feet and has a purpose, he'll work.

 

 Another kind of villain that hasn't been mentioned in this forum is the "fallen one" or simply the "good guy" who, tricked or simply misinformed thinks the protagonist is a bad guy, and try to stop him at all costs, maybe even renouncing some of his own former morals. Seeing a paladin fall down to the likes of a cutthroat over something as minor as seeing the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time, while devastating, will leave a lasting impression and  emotional attachment towards him.



#14 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4578

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 12:57 PM

I like the Joker, except I don't like the movie ones, he's too scary/disgusting.  I like the one in the animated batman, where he did stuff like drug the whole city so he could just stroll by collecting all the money because everyone else was too busy acting stoned or laughing so hard they couldn't stand up.  And jokerfish - that was an unforgettable concept:

Joker_Fish_%28DCAU%29.jpg


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#15 Durakken   Members   -  Reputation: 501

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 01:36 PM

Joker is not just crazy. He actually is trying to show one of the themes of batman overall of "One bad day and you could be just as crazy as you say we(the villains) are". He's also a solipsist where he believes it doesn't matter. That for all Batman and people's belief that things matter and there needs to be order to the world none of it matters and there is no order to the world, just people pretending that it is the case.

 

I absolutely hate what DC has done with almost all of Batman's villains since the new 52. They gone from having this rich character that is psychologically deep and interesting to shallow crazies that have always been "just crazy". It's irritating as a fan that they are so bad in current cannon.

 

On the other hand, I highly recommend people should read "Penguin: Pain and Prejudice" which delves into the history and psychology of Oswald Cobblepot.

 

I think what makes a good antagonist is a character that you understand where they are coming from and can see how they got from a position you could very easily see yourself in to this other position that seems completely nuts... in other words it seems like a good antagonist is a character that makes the Irrational rational.



#16 Kryzon   Prime Members   -  Reputation: 2485

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Posted 06 May 2014 - 01:39 AM

The antagonist becomes more powerful to me when he is very economic in his dialogue. The "less is more" principle in action. When he is serious, hard to read and has a quick execution of his actions; it makes him unpredictable and therefore frightening.

What I also look for in antagonists is a clear motivation. Anything short of that and the character starts feeling artificial, like he is motivated "because the script says so," instead of because of a believable reason.

Another way to make an antagonist more interesting is to make him of the opposite gender to the protagonist.
Most of the time the protagonist is a male, so a female villain would give room for some interesting directions that you could take in the story and dialogue.

Edited by Kryzon, 06 May 2014 - 02:04 AM.





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