When I was about sixteen, I was friends with a girl who I am very much no longer friends with now. Retrospect is a heck of a fun tool. Like anything about my past that makes me cringe, I try to think of a way to make it into a writing lesson, and this girl has served as a perfect model for what I like to call ‘The Sneaky Antagonist.’
Once, we got into a fight that was her fault, and she apologised by giving me a bag of jelly tots with all her favourite flavours taken out. She opened the damn bag and took out all her favourite ones and gave me the leftovers by way of apology, even though her favourite flavours were also my favourite flavours, a fact she was aware of. I forgave her with the most elaborate of eyerolls, but it’s just one example of her sneaky antagonistic behaviour that has made me laugh recently, so I figured I’d share it with you, in case you need fuel for your story.
Today, I’m going to talk to you about the irritating SOBs who will make your story extra juicy.
The chief antagonist’s role in the story is to give the protagonist a reason to fight. If the goal is too easily attained, the story won’t be worth telling. The antagonist is the obstacle in the path of our protagonist. The key to a well written antag is if the reader is able to see from their point of view, and maybe even root for them a little.
The guys I’m talking about today? They’re the ones you love to hate.
We all know that chief antagonists are needed in every story. In the run of the story, these guys are almost so scary that they go beyond the capacity of our protagonists. They’re like that project that’s due at the end of the year instead of your homework for tomorrow – you’re aware it’s there, it makes you feel slightly nauseous, but it’s a problem for future!you, so it’s not as scary anymore. Sure, Harry spends a lot of time worrying about when exactly Voldemort might try to kill him, but he spends more time bitching about Malfoy and Snape. Alina is concerned about that irritatingly sexy Darkling being all up in her biz, but Zoya manages to get under her skin by being a flesh and blood version of her own insecurities, both in her strength and her attractiveness. These sneaky antagonists are more opposite to the protagonist than the chief antagonist in the story, which is what makes them so much fun to write.
My advice? Consider your main character. Write a list of their fears and their inadequacies. Create a character who embodies everything on your list and force them into a situation with your protagonist, then watch the sparks fly! They don’t even necessarily have to be an enemy of your character – think of Rhiannon in Easy A, a character who starts out as the best friend, but whose jealousy and inability to listen turns her into an antagonist.
It’s not enough to have a villain in your story. It’s too obvious that we have to hate them. Give us a character who we can chose whether we like them, someone who is on a more personal, one to one basis with your protagonist. Give us the kid who spied on Harry and Ron while they were in Hagrid’s Hut and ended up in detention with them. Give us the girl that gets landed on her ass when she tries to face Alina, but gets her own back by kissing Mal. Give us someone who we can say OOH THAT LITTLE SHIT, because let’s be real, they’re the ones we love to hate, and they are the ones that will make us cackle while we’re writing them!