The antagonist* in a story doesn’t always have to be an evil man, or a very powerful witch, or an abusive boyfriend, a fearsome lord. One of the most powerful antagonists there is, is fear.
Let’s say you are an evil knight, terrorizing the lands. Unless the people are mortally afraid of you, there isn’t much to you. You can wave your sword around all you want, but you won’t be much of an antagonist. In stories people are always afraid of the bad guy, and often for good reasons. That is why fear is immensely important for any story. Without something dark looming over our hero, without an antagonist standing in his way, there won’t be much of a story.
But as all of you know, you don’t necessarily have to be afraid of a person. People can be afraid of many things like diseases, animals, water, insects, volcanoes, fights, the dark, an attack and many more. In a story the antagonist doesn’t always have to be clearly shown as “the bad person”. It can also be a shadow that is always creeping onto the page from the edges. In books that take place around 1940 for instance the antagonist would be WW II. Of course that doesn’t mean that you can’t also put in an enemy soldier that makes our protagonist’s** life living hell, or an annoying bully. Often there is one main antagonist and a few smaller antagonists. Having something like WW II hanging over the protagonists back, makes the story a lot more interesting, his actions a lot more meaningful and relatively normal scenes can suddenly be really exciting.
In the 21th century the mostly unseen fear would be terrorism. Everyone has to deal with it at some point. This antagonist of ours isn’t entirely invisible of course. Everyone remembers the twin towers and every other attack there has been since then. And everyone is extremely afraid that something like that is going to happen again. But it doesn’t consume us in our every day live. We don’t constantly think about it. It’s not like an evil witch that is tormenting your village. It’s something that you don’t really think about, but always lingers somewhere in your mind. For instance yesterday it was Remembrance of the Dead in the Netherlands. On the Dam Square in Amsterdam there was a crowd just like always including some of the royal family. I was watching it live when suddenly during the two minutes of silence I heard shouting and then everybody started screaming and panicking and started running in all directions. I can tell you that the first thought in my mind was “Oh God not another attack”. As it turned out it was just a man screaming to cause a ruckus and people got scared and panicked, thinking it was an attack. You could see how scared everyone was (even I was scared and I was save in my own home). That is what fear does with you. Everyone was thinking about terrorism or some other sort of attack on the royal family like the one that happened a year earlier.
And it’s that kind of fear that makes the strongest antagonist.
So if any of you had an antagonist that was lacking something, or felt that your story wasn’t excited enough: add more fear. Make the people constantly afraid. If something happen make them think they’re under attack. Make the antagonist have a horrible reputation, no matter what he is really like. Make people whisper his name in fear. Make the people of your story nervously talk about his power, his troops. Or if you’re making a kind of story where the antagonist is for instance an abusive boyfriend; make him get hold of the key to the apartment. Let him come in unexpected in the night so that the protagonist is constant afraid it could happen again. Make her turn down the photos of him when he’s not there because she trembles every time she sees him. Make the reader know how afraid they are.
But don’t overdo it of course. You don’t have to remind the reader every second. But if you give small hints and sometimes remind them of the fear, they’ll feel it themselves as soon as the open the book.
Some people don’t like to write or read about villains. They detest them in books as much as they would do if they were real. That’s good, that means that you are making a solid, fearsome characters. And there are some people, like me, who actually enjoy creating villains and think up the evil deed that they will do.
Either way, every story needs a bad guy because without someone standing in the protagonist’s way, there wouldn’t be much of a story.
Good luck to everyone in thinking up the fear for their story and creating their antagonists! And as always please leave comments with questions, criticism, a friendly hello, or suggestions of what I can write about next time!
For those of you who did not know:
*Antagonist: A person, or a group of people who oppose the main character, or the main character. A.K.A.: the villain or the bad guy.
**Protagonist: The main character, the person around whom the plot revolves. It’s the person that the reader is supposed to relate to and care about. A.K.A.: the hero.