Every story is about conflict. The struggle between two opposing forces is what drives every story. Often that means that there is some form of antagonist or villain. As the antagonist, it’s easy to forget how to properly build a character, but weak antagonists can hinder your story just as much as a weak protagonist.
An antagonist’s role is to give your protagonist something to struggle against. This could mean the unknown killer from so many mysteries, or it could be the jilted lover from your favorite romance. Antagonists are there to hinder the progress your main character makes throughout the story. When they’re poorly developed, the obstacle they present is also poorly developed, which in turn means the struggle the protagonist faces becomes both weaker, and less believable.
To avoid that, spend a little time working on your antagonist. What motivates them to do the things they do? Consider what they gain by stopping your protagonist. Often, motivation is a life-and-death factor. That’s not to say that if they don’t succeed they’ll die, but that to your antagonist, failure is a death in and of itself.
Take for example, the stepmother in many Cinderella stories. Cinderella is often the prettier, more desirable child of her late husband’s first wife. Stepmother’s two daughters on the other hand, are in some way undesirable. In order to provide a good life for them, she needs to marry them off—preferably to someone rich. Failure to do so means she could be housing her daughters until her old age, with the strong possibility of never having grandchildren. Ergo, the stepmother must get rid of Cinderella in some manner.
When creating your antagonist, ask the same questions you might ask of your protagonist: What do they care about most? What threat does the conflict provide to the things they care about?
Also consider the heroic qualities your antagonist displays. Every character should have some heroic quality. Your antagonist however, will use those heroic qualities to get in the way of your protagonist.
A good example of this is the Sherriff of Nottingham of many Robin Hood tales. The Sherriff is out to capture or kill Robin, even though Robin is trying to help the poor. Depending on the version, the Sherriff is doing so either because he is so fiercely loyal to his king that he is insistent on maintaining peace in the kingdom, or because he’s aiming to advance his career and livelihood. In this way, the heroic qualities of loyalty and independence push him to get in the way of Robin’s desire to help the people.
Make sure that your antagonist has good qualities as well as negative ones. No matter who you are, someone else cares about you—the same holds true for your antagonist. What positive traits do their loved ones admire in them? These traits are ones that will be easiest to turn against your protagonist as they’re already things your antagonist does to help the people they care about.
What are some of your antagonist’s motivations? What are some of their heroic qualities? Let me know in the comments below!