I’ve always known the importance of a good antagonist to a story. I usually root for the bad guy. The Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith are among my favorite movies. Most of the other films, on my list, are ones in which the good guys are pushed to the brink and their victory comes at tremendous cost. The Wrath of Khan comes to mind.
In each of these cases, the villain(s) generally have a compelling reason for doing what they’re doing. They have something that drives them and usually have a something important to lose if they fail. These are the best antagonists, in my mind.
Above, I have one of the most popular villains in contemporary pop culture, Loki. This picture is from the first Avengers film, but as a villain, Loki was much better in the first Thor movie. In that movie, Loki learns he is actually the son of one of Odin’s rivals. He was found on the battlefield, as an infant, then taken to Asgard and adopted as Odin’s son. He was never told who he actually was and no one else knew. He grew up always feeling like he was in his brother’s – Thor’s – shadow, never quite feeling like he belonged. When Odin chose Thor, over him, to ascend to the throne of Asgard, that was the last straw. He conspired with the frost giants to help them retrieve a source of power Odin took from them, years before, that would restore their planet and make them a force Thor would have to reckon with as king.
This type of jealousy would have been enough to drive an ordinary villain, but AFTER all of this, he Odin tells him he is the son of the frost giant king. This revelation pushes Loki’s motives beyond simple jealousy. It becomes extremely personal. He knows he is meant to be a king. He hates Odin for never telling him who he was. He hates Thor more because now all of his perception of Thor being favored seemed legitimate.
Everything he does from that point on is done with a deep-rooted purpose.
If he succeeds, he becomes the King he was always meant to be. If he fails, there is nothing left for him. He can never feel like he belongs in Asagard or Jotenheim. That’s why he drops himself into the cosmic abyss at the end of the movie.
To me, that’s a compelling antagonist and that is one of the larger pieces, in my opinion, required to for your protagonist and a good story plot, in general.
As I said, I knew all of this. But I didn’t realize just how key it was until last week. I’ve been trying to outline military sci-fi story that’s been in my head, for quite a while. There are a lot of cool things that happen. I love the war technology I’m coming up with. And I liked my antagonist. He was doing incredibly clever things. Very manipulative, behind the scenes. Kind of like The Phantom Menace George Lucas INTENDED for the prequel trilogy. But I kept getting stuck at the same point and I kept coming back to the issue: my antagonist, as much as I liked him, was basically one of those villains with his hand on button, telling everyone he’ll blow up the world if we don’t do what he says, *metaphorically speaking*. I never understood that kind of bad guy. I know it’s the “threat” that’s supposed to make them compelling, but I believe that flies with today’s audience.
More than ever, we will ask “why?”
When I figured out my antagonists “why?”, the ideas started pouring out. I got super excited about this story again. My protagonist will grow, as a character, in this story because of that “why”.
I’m still outlining, of course, but making significant progress. I’m projecting two books out of this story arc. It might make it to a trilogy, too early to tell.
Hope you like cliffhangers 🙂
“Know your why”, is something you hear from motivational speakers. It’s good advice. Knowing your antagonist’s “why” is GREAT story advice, for me. Making sure I put a focus on figuring that out when I start building a story is going to be a top priority for me after this experience.
What do you think?