What are the different types of screenwriting antagonists?
20. The bigger the baddie, the bolder the victory
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Does your kickass protagonist sound freaking awesome whenever she speaks? Is everything she does totally original & utterly unexpected? That’s just fantabulous – but without someone or something making her life hella complicated, you ain’t got no story.
We’re here to make sure you have all the skills & knowledge necessary to make any hero’s life suck super hard.
Antagonists take many forms
Antagonists can take many forms, but they all do one incredibly important thing: make the protagonist’s life difficult. Whatever the protagonist’s goal is, there needs to be a person or thing constantly pulling them the other way. Without it, there’s no story; the protagonist lacks obstacles to overcome and the end result is the absence of any feeling of achievement in the audience because she had it so easy.
The most basic type of antagonist is a singular person opposite the protagonist. The protagonist wants something and the antagonist wants it too; or, the antagonist wants something else entirely but the protagonist achieving his or her goal seriously messes up that plan.
The latter is the typical villain seen in action and adventure films, the kind of villain you’d see in practically any Marvel film: someone who will stop at nothing to prevent the protagonist from succeeding, such as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
Another type of antagonist is the inner antagonist, when the protagonist is so unbelievably flawed that his or her antagonist lies within. This could be a protagonist who never grew up, acting like a college freshman at every opportunity even though she’s pushing fifty. Her mindset is the antagonist.
Let’s call her Sandra. Sandra needs to go on a journey in order to learn to act her age, be a responsible adult, get a job, look after her kid properly, et cetera. However, during this journey her fear of growing old is so prevalent that whenever she tries to make a change in her life for the better, her old self takes control and she ruins her chances.
What does that journey look like? Let’s say Sandra finally gets an adult job and starts dating a really sweet guy who has his sh** together, but isn’t boring. Things are starting to look up! Her parents think better of her and her kid is starting to look up to her – but the office Xmas party rolls around and the party-centric old Sandra rises to the surface in full force.
Sandra brings naughty pills to the event, gets stupidly wasted along with her colleagues, and then sleeps with her boss. Typical! Her new boyfriend finds out and doesn’t want to talk to her again. Also typical! Even worse, inappropriate photos of her are circulating around the web for her daughter’s friends to see, and cause Sandra to get fired.
That is an example of what can happen when a protagonist is battling an inner antagonist. Sandra tried to overcome the irresponsible child in herself – the antagonist. It pulls her in the opposite direction from where she needs to go, like a dog being dragged to the vet.
Make your antagonist round
It’s important to imbue your antagonists with strong motives. Always ask yourself why the character takes certain actions, and your story becomes deeper right away. The antagonist must have solid reasoning (moral or immoral) behind his or her choices; audiences should empathize with the antagonist as a human being, even if just a smidge.
It’s even advised to give antagonists their own “save the cat” moments. Not familiar with that phrase? It refers to a selfless deed (such as saving a cat) early on in the story to show there is some good in the character and thereby humanizing him or her.
Consider your antagonist’s sociology (place of origin, placement in the social order), physiology (attractive or not, ill or healthy, etc.) and psychology (worldview, morals). These form the foundation of any character regardless, but are also a surefire way to zero in on a juicy motive.
You can use this knowledge for creating every character. Your screenplay will be oozing with originality and memorable characters.
If you wanna play with the big boys, you need this skill set in your creative toolbox. So get to work and create something magical! Continue on to the homework below.
Time to start piecing together your villains. Gollum, Loki, Hans Gruber, Hannibal Lecter, and Norman Bates all paved the way for sympathetic villains you just love to hate. Add yours to that list!
“I do wish we could chat for longer, but I’m having an old friend for dinner.”
Come up with a few bad guys. Make them different and as bad as you possibly can. They should be multi-dimensional and humanized. Develop a strong sense of belief in your antagonists. Remember, inside the mind of the antagonists, they are the heroes. Pay as much attention to the antagonist in your film as you do the protagonist.
Now you have a greater understanding of who your protagonist and antagonist are, go back to your script and start enriching the characters.
Keep on truckin’ with act three!