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April 13 – Writing A Killer Antagonist

While I love all three of my main characters, I have a soft spot for my creeper. He’s polite, charming, and well-spoken. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone – he just wants his life to be as it once was.
In order to write a great antagonist, we as writers have to create empathy for that character. Sure, your readers want the brave protagonist to win, but they also understand the bad guy’s motivation. His thoughts and actions not only give them goosebumps but tug at their heartstrings. On some level, they understand him, which is both fascinating and unsettling to a reader – and it will keep them engrossed in the novel.
Naturally, I didn’t think about this when I first began writing my book.
In the beginning, I just wanted my bad guy to freak people out. I wanted readers to be glad he wasn’t after them. But thankfully my amazing critique parter and editor pointed out that an antagonist has to be as three dimensional as a protagonist. “And remember,” she said, “the very best bad guys aren’t all bad – think Hannibal Lector.”
And back to the drawing board I went. I asked myself these fundamential questions: where does my creeper come from? What events shaped his life? Did something tragic happen to him? What are his redeeming qualities? Once I began to approach the antagonist’s character this way, I had a whole new understanding of him.
My plot benefited as well. A well-rounded antagonist helped me to come up with some great symbolism, and I realized that the showdown between bad and good that I’d originally planned needed to be fixed. Creeper was far too sophisticated to be so brash.
Now, I’m excited about the ending. Matching my antagonist and protagonist against each other will be great fun to write, because I know them equally well.
Although I enjoy the brash slashers and uncomplicated criminals, the best antagonists are the multi-layered ones. A bad guy whose head I can delve into is far more gripping.
What are some of your techniques for writing the bad guys, and who are some of your favorite antagonists?

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