Monday, May 20, 2013

Antagonists - A Closer Look At Their Goals

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the newly released The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

Stories are strongest when there are multiple characters working against the main character. In the Harry Potter series, Harry isn't just up against Voldemort, but Snape and Draco and others as well. In The Hunger Games, Katniss is pitted against 23 other tributes, but also President Snow.

These antagonists have goals of their own that get in the way of the main character, and their goal tends to boil down to one of two things:

1. The same goal as the main character.

In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley wants Mr. Darcy for herself and has pitted herself against Elizabeth. They can't both marry him.

In the movie Cars, Lightning McQueen wants to win the Piston Cup. But so does his rival, Chick Hicks. Another antagonist in the story is Doc Hudson, who wants Lightning out of Radiator Springs almost as badly as Lightning does.

2. The opposite goal of the main character.

In Replication by Jill Williamson, Martyr and Abby are against cloning and want to expose the lab. But Dr.  Kane is desperate to continue creating clones and needs to keep his lab a secret.

In Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Claudia is trying to get Finn out of the prison while Queen Sia is trying to keep him in.

Secret option # 3 - A combination of the two

Going back to the Pride and Prejudice example, Caroline also wants something that's the opposite of Elizabeth. Elizabeth wants her sister and Mr. Bingley to be married because she sees they're truly in love with each other. Caroline, however, wants her brother to marry Georgiana Darcy and finds ways to keep Jane and Mr. Bingley apart.

One of my favorite experiences as a reader is when new information about an antagonist is brought forward, and we see that in times when we thought the antagonist was working against the main character, they were actually working for them. J. K. Rowling is masterful at this in the Harry Potter series, and this is also done well in Pride and Prejudice. For the first half of the book, Mr. Darcy plays the role of antagonist and Mr. Wickham the hero. When new information is brought forward, they switch roles.

Pick an antagonist from your story and examine their goals. What does victory look like to them? Is it the same or the opposite as what victory looks like to your main character?


  1. I love Pride and Prejudice! I was so happy when I saw it used as the examples!

  2. Pride and Prejudice is a WONDERFUL example! Hmmm... I haven't really gotten to the point in my story where I have a main antagonist yet... (I'm pansting this one) :D

    Also, this is *really* random, but I was wondering if any of you guys (other teen writers) are looking for a writing partner. I really need someone to keep me accountable with my writing, and I would LOVE to get to know some of you guys better. :)


    1. I'd love a writing partner! Do you want to email me at readerwritercookiebaker[at]gmail[dot]com and discuss? :)

    2. Yes!!! I'll email you soon, and we can talk about it. :)

  3. Ahhhhhhh. Yay, the work I'm doing on my antagonists is actually making sense!

    In the book I'm editing, it's option number two. The main character is trying to build a project to prove everyone is different, but the antagonists want to pick and choose who's "different" and who's "normal."

    In the book I'm plotting/writing, it's option number one. Protagonists want to bring the rain back to their city, as do the antagonists. :)

    I'm so happy I'm doing this right! xD

  4. My antagonist is probably 2#. She wants to destroy the Fey Hunters and start a war with humans by making them aware of the magical creatures around them. My protagonist is a Hunter whose job is to keep the peace and protect humans. :)

  5. Interesting! I really never thought of it like that, but it totally makes sense now. I'll really have to think about this - maybe it'll help me get un-stuck on my WIP! (btw...I loved the way Rowling executed this in the HP books. I really loved it.)

  6. I find it very interesting that this post is about antagonists right when I'm needing to work on my own, lol.

  7. I really thought you forgot about this post. I asked for something like this a few weeks ago! Thanks Stephanie. It was really helpful. I already knew I had some serious revisions to do, but oh man, I have some serious revisions to do.
    Thanks for the great post Stephanie!
    ~Sarah Faulkner

    1. I kept shifting it around on the calendar - sorry about that, Sarah! Glad that it was at least helpful when I finally wrote it :)

  8. My antagonist is kind of strange. He isn't really against my main character. He's sworn enemies against my main character's superior. Lol. My main man is a soldier (and loyal to a fault). Does the antagonist have to be directly related to the main character or can he or she merely be tied in, somehow? :/

    1. That's an interesting question, Ashley. And while I don't know much about your story, I think it could work. Often, I don't think the antagonists considers himself as opposing the main character. They're often distracted by their own goals, or by another character that they find more threatening. If your antagonist has underestimated your main character, I think that can certainly work.

  9. My antagonist wants my main character dead plain and simple. For most of the book they don't have anything to do with each other and it is only near the end that their stories are pulled together{for most of the book the MC's antagonist is his own mind} and then the villains goal throughout the book of finding fulfillment and power suddenly becomes an obsession with wiping my MC off the face of the earth. He disturbs her carefully balanced purpose and peace of mind, His joy in life endangers everything she knows about life's purpose and her own ambition. She needs him dead so that his joy will stop tormenting her.

  10. Than you so much! This post is just what I needed. I've been trying to sort out who my antagonists are personality-wise, and also how to make them different from each other, and I never thought of making them have the same goals as my MC. This will help SO MUCH.


  11. Hmmmmm . . .
    I guess for mine, the antagonist and the protagonist have the same goal but then my protagonist switches when they realize that the antagonist's goal is bad.
    Does that make any sense? Whatever!
    Thanks for the post Stephanie!!

  12. I think mine is the same as Fire's. My antagonists are working pretty well (because it's a dystopia, so there's a whole "do not disturb the universe" feel), but I need to make my main antagonist more human. Thanks for reminding me of that.
    Thanks for the post, Stephanie!

  13. Hmm. Well I didn't think I really had antagonists, but after looking at this I understand who my antagonists are, though the problem isn't that they're trying to hurt the main character, it's conflicting goals. Like her parents want to get a divorce but my MC wants them to stay together. And her best friend wants to do her own thing and my MC wants them to stay best friends forever, and her sister needs to talk but my MC wants to pretend nothing's wrong. And this causes problems for my MC even though no one's trying to hurt her.

    Sorry, I was thinking aloud... thanks for this post, Stephanie. I read the title, and I was like, if only I had antagonists, but I guess I actually do in a way!

  14. In one WIP I have two antagonists. One wants the same as my MMC, to give the MCs the best for them, and keep them together, and really means well to be honest. The other has an ulterior motive, and wants them apart and definitely doesn't want the best for them. In another WIP, I have an antagonist who just wants a little sneaky revenge on my MMC, and then be a friend for the FMC to turn to afterwards. But he's a bit...I don't know. Something. I know how his story ends, but I don't know how it gets there.

    ~ Gracelyn