Oh, the characters we love to hate! Writing a horrible antagonist is great fun for an author.
In my Circle of Nine series the main antagonist is an older woman named Adele. In fact, she is the grandmother of the protagonist’s boyfriend and that makes things a little tricky! Although she is older in the main storyline, we do get to see her within the series at many ages beginning at age eighteen.
Adele is both conniving and jealous. In fact, jealousy and perceived slights are her main motivations throughout the series. These feelings are mainly directed toward the women in the Circle of Nine who serve as the guardians of the ancient stone circles of Ireland and the old ways of their tribe, the Tuatha de Danann. Adele has always coveted a spot in the Circle and believes that she (as the more devoted to the old pagan ways and spells) ought to have inherited the position that went to her cousin. The Circle has very firmly established lines of inheritance from one eldest daughter to another . . . and since Adele’s mother was NOT the eldest daughter, Adele has spent her life aching (and plotting) for something she cannot have.
Adele is often given chances to redeem her past behavior by either repenting or doing good. You can see that she hasn’t always been treated well by the world and there’s a bit of understanding for her resentment, but just when you think she’s going to turn into a sympathetic character . . . she turns ugly again and lashes out at those offering her a second chance. In rereading her pivotal scenes, I ache for the mistakes she makes that keep her alone and isolated from the rest of the Circle. She’s alternately falsely repentant all the while planning her next bit of treachery. When confronted by members of the Circle, she indignantly defends her actions. (I think we all know people who do this to some extent in the real world.)
Throughout the series, she has trouble embracing the Rule of Three . . . that which you send out into the world good or bad returns to you three-fold. You’ll have to read the series to see if Adele finally learns this lesson in the end.
If you’re at the beginning of a story and attempting to get a handle on your antagonist’s key traits, spend some time thinking about their motivations and what made them the way they are. Knowing your antagonist’s backstory is key to writing a fully developed character. There’s a subtly to understanding that an antagonist doesn’t have to be all bad and we sometimes enjoy a story more when the antagonist has a complex character that doesn’t read as pure evil.
Remember that an antagonist is not necessarily a villain—it’s just someone or something that works against the interests of the protagonist. This could be parents (antagonists) who refuse to believe that their son (protagonist) is mature enough to do certain things on his own. Or an antagonist can be a thing . . . like the weather. In an adventure story, someone surviving a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness is up against the environment as their nemesis.
My list of the best of the worst antagonists include the easy-to-hate President Snow in The Hunger Games and Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter (I know I should hate Voldemort more – but we’ve always known that he’s pure evil while Umbridge poses as someone good while being absolutely horrible.) Two others that stick with me because they made my skin crawl are the creepy neighbor, Mr. Harvey, who rapes and murders Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones and the crazy, cunning wife, Amy, in Gone Girl.
B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
Valerie Biel’s debut novel Circle of Nine — Beltany has been honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist, a finalist in the Gotham Writers’ YA Novel Discovery Contest and the Readers’ Favorite Book Award Contest as well as being a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree. The final novel in this trilogy, Circle of Nine — Sacred Treasures, has recently earned distinction as B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree along with a 5-star review from Readers’ Favorite. Biel has also authored two middle-grade novels and is represented by Kim McCollum of the Purcell Agency.
When she’s not writing, she’s working on freelance publicity projects and helping other authors through her business Lost Lake Press or teaching about writing topics at conferences, libraries, and schools. Away from the computer, you might find her working on community theater projects, local history preservation, wrangling her overgrown garden, traveling the world, and reading everything she can get her hands on. Once upon a time, she graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and political science. Now, she lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and children and dreams regularly of a beautiful cottage on the Irish coast where she can write and write and write.
Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my favorite “baddie” from my series. It was great fun to write this character! I hope my advice helps other writers create their own “love to hate” antagonist. As always, writing is the best adventure!
Valerie, I agree it’s such fun creating a ‘baddie’ but my current antagonist is in serious danger of running away with the story! I’m having to reign him in big time. Makes me wonder whether I shouldn’t be writing a different novel altogether?
and using a spellchecker…’rein’