Remember: antagonists think they’re right

When I write, I try to create antagonists who relentlessly oppose the hero or heroine. Antagonists — the villains, the bad guys — should desperately want something, and this desire should conflict with what the good guys desperately want. And so the characters clash, and thwart each others’ desires, and voila, a plot is created.

When I teach writing workshops, I tell my students: You must give antagonists powerful needs and desires of their own. And you must remember that in their own minds, antagonists think they’re right. They rationalize their actions — morally, emotionally, logically — so that they believe every harmful, vicious, or murderous act is justified. If your antagonist isn’t convinced that his actions are desirable, or excusable, or even valorous, rewrite him.

As an example of how human beings can self-justify even the most appalling and murderous schemes, here are 6 Crazy Attempts to Hire a Killer That Failed Miserably.

When Meredith Lowell took to Facebook to order a murder last year […] she used her account to post an open request to any remorseless stab machine who happened to see it, wanting someone killed outside of her local library for wearing fur. Not a specific person wearing fur, mind you — absolutely anyone at all who happened to be wearing fur outside this particular building. She further stipulated that the hit man should either use a gun with a silencer or a knife with a 4-inch blade, and that the target should be at least 12 years old.

It’s “the target should be at least 12 years old” that convinces me this wannabe thought her murder-for-hire scheme was reasonable and fair — even restrained.

The fact that she posted her ad on Facebook shows that her logical processing skills were sorely lacking.

That’s hint number two for creating a powerful antagonist in fiction: their belief that they’re in the right will be coupled with a severe blind spot.

Have fun building your villains, kids.

One response to “Remember: antagonists think they’re right

  1. False. If you want a great story make your antagonist an asteroid.

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