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Fleshing Out The Antagonist

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We all know the antagonist should be a rounded, not flat, character. They should demonstrate likeable traits as well as bad ones, and should have a back story and motive behind their actions. My problem is that in my story, the MC is battling a Satanic figure. ("You call him Tsernobog, some say he's Loki, my grandfather would have said he's Lucifer.") How can I make him into the fleshed out character a good antagonist is supposed to be?

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I can't say that listening to his thoughts would be a good idea, but there are some things that might help you.  Start by thinking about the different forms of sin.  You have everything from the serial killer to little white lies.  However, things rarely start off so big as a serial killer.  They are leading up to that point.  The Bible talks about building a foundation, line upon line.  Just as good men are built this way, it is also how evil men are built.  It is gradual.  If you want to make your antagonist more believable, you need to learn about psychological warfare.  Everything from battles, to battered wives, to peer pressure, to internal struggles.  Remember that your antagonist will have no boundary in his manipulation of people.  No care for who he hurts.  He does not care if he lies.  Nothing is wrong in his eyes as long as he gets what he wants.  You are facing evil, and they will do whatever it takes to win with no guilt and no remorse.  This can be hard for people who have never been around truly evil people, so make sure to do your research.  Let me know if you have more questions.  

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Surely there is one good little piece of his character. Perhaps he likes dogs? Maybe he saved a cat? (Yes, reference to Save the Cat.) Maybe he's a smooth talker who even helps someone (when it's to his advantage, of course). 

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4 minutes ago, carolinamtne said:

 Maybe he's a smooth talker who even helps someone (when it's to his advantage, of course).

This sounds very realistic.  

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Last night we watched The Jungle Book. I came home trying to figure out how to redeem Sher Kahn. (had to type that three times before the spell checker gave up!) Of course, SK has no redeeming features, and lots of people have read the book.

 

However, I agree that the antagonist should have something in his favor.

 

 

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You could develop the LOKI angle. A trickster God of mischief isn't diabolically malevolent but a negligent prank could result in enormous harm. 

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I've heard others say that one of the best ways make sure your antagonist is strong is to make sure that their behavior is caused by a logical belief, goal and motive - these beliefs can be wrong, and founded on faulty logic, but the character should believe they're true. Make sure you know what their goal is and why they want to achieve it so badly. Here's an example of a well-rounded but pure evil villain from recent pop culture: I'm an unabashed fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I think Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War is a great villain; he's obviously crazy, and completely evil. He wants to kill half the universe in order to solve the problem of overpopulation. But he's completely calm and rational about it, believing it's his duty after his own planet perished due to overpopulation. A lot of viewers, myself included, understand where he's coming from and why he thinks it's a good idea, even though we completely disagree with it and know that it's wrong. 

 

This might be stuff you've heard before. :) I'm still learning about antagonists myself, as I tend to lean toward *internal* struggles rather than actual antagonists in my stories...

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On 7/21/2018 at 6:35 PM, carolinamtne said:

Last night we watched The Jungle Book. I came home trying to figure out how to redeem Sher Kahn. (had to type that three times before the spell checker gave up!) Of course, SK has no redeeming features, and lots of people have read the book.

 

However, I agree that the antagonist should have something in his favor.

 

 

Shere Khan from the Kipling originals was a powerful antagonist! The jackal that accompanies him was a Salacious Crumb-Uriah Heep kind of evil fawning brute you wanted to see killed. But Shere Khan - aside from being a man eater- is pretty riveting in the book.

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Is your antagonist human or demon?  A human will always be a Type of Good, or a Type of Bad, meaning not a complete representative.  We want to have the hope that that human bad guy can be redeemed, so give them some kind of longing for good.

But no matter how hard you try, you will never make a demon redeemable. Any attempt to make the demon likable is heresy. Oh, they'll make themselves look good, but the reader needs to see behind the mask, and does not need to identify with them at all. 

 

The secular world a) desperately wants demons to be redeemable, because that would negate the need for God.

                             b) wants to identify with demons because they look so powerful and attractive. 

Therefore I would say, the "rules" about making your antagonist likable only apply if they are human.  

  

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46 minutes ago, Nicola said:

Is your antagonist human or demon?  A human will always be a Type of Good, or a Type of Bad, meaning not a complete representative.  We want to have the hope that that human bad guy can be redeemed, so give them some kind of longing for good.

But no matter how hard you try, you will never make a demon redeemable. Any attempt to make the demon likable is heresy. Oh, they'll make themselves look good, but the reader needs to see behind the mask, and does not need to identify with them at all. 

 

The secular world a) desperately wants demons to be redeemable, because that would negate the need for God.

                             b) wants to identify with demons because they look so powerful and attractive. 

Therefore I would say, the "rules" about making your antagonist likable only apply if they are human. 

Well said!!!

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