Antagonistic Forces; What They Are And How To Do Them

The most important element of any story is the Antagonistic Force. This is the force that keeps your protagonist from getting what they want. Below I have a list of the most common types of Antagonistic Forces, though by no means all of them.

  • Man vs Man
  • Man vs Self
  • Man vs Society
  • Man vs Technology
  • Man vs Nature
  • Man vs Reality
  • Man vs Fate

The list is pretty self explanatory so I won’t really get in to what exactly each one entails, but if you want to know and don’t want to do the research yourself, contact me and I’ll write a post about it.

Stories rarely have only one type of Antagonistic Force in them. Adding in layers of conflict can give your story so much more depth and meaning and CONFLICT. Don’t stifle yourself and use just one. But you should have a pretty main force, or maybe two, such as Man vs Man and Man vs Self.

Even though there are lots of different Antagonistic Forces, the most common one is undoubtedly Man vs Man, so that’s what I’ll spend the majority of this post discussing.

Despite what you might think, the protagonist isn’t the most important character of your story. It’s the antagonist, or villain. If you were to have your only one character in your story, it would be your villain. Just reading about your protagonist and their life would be boring. But if you were to read a book about a villain and all he did, that would be interesting. Not interesting enough to be a published novel, but more interesting than just reading about your protagonist. You have to have both sides in order to have a good story. A story is made by conflict, and conflict is made by your villain.

So what makes a good villain? (Ha, oxymoron.) Well, their motivation is first. Having a villain who is only motivated by wanting to be evil…..is stupid. I’m sorry it just is. Unless you have a sociopath who enjoys watching other people suffer, that might, possibly, MAYBE, work. Maybe. It’s kind of a weak motivation unless you play it out really well. Power is another overused, or more correctly, misused motivation. You have to get into why they want power. And you can’t just say ‘because they want power’. I mean, really, come on. Here are some alternative reasons your villain might want power:

  • To keep themselves safe. Were they abused as a child and only feel safe when they have total control?
  • To keep others safe. Love can become tWiStEd when it comes from a selfish mindset.
  • To prove something to themselves and/or others.

A few other motivations for evil deeds in general are:

  • Love
  • Greed
  • Revenge- if you do it right. Let’s avoid cliches please.
  • Fear
  • Twisted sense of justice
  • Survival
  • Desire to not be like someone and either going to the extreme other side or ending up the same

There are lots of variations you can do with these. And there’s not really any rules to a villains motivation besides make it real. Their actions have to be as believable as your protagonist’s. An excellent backstory for your villains is also super important, maybe even more important than your protagonist’s, because it sets up all of their future actions.

“You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own world.”

John Rogers

People don’t do bad things just because they like doing bad things. Hitler thought he was saving the integrity of the human race by eliminating Jews and creating a pure bloodline. Now, your villain may not be committing genocide, (maybe he is, it’s a good conflict) but this quote applies to them anyways.

Even if you have the most brilliantly written villain in the history of literature, depending on how your plot line plays out, one villain may not be enough to keep the pace of your book at the correct speed. This is why we have Minitagonists. If you read my post Some Basic Writer’s Lingo then you already know what these are. If you didn’t read it, that’s okay. Traitor. (Joking, joking.)

Minitagonists are characters who opposes the protagonist, but they aren’t the main opposing force. They’re like Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter or the orcs in Lord of the Rings. They can cause a whole lot of problems, but they’re not the central conflict. But they can be absolutely critical to keeping up your pace. It would be hard to write a compelling book that was all about the protagonist getting ready for their big face off with the antagonist without any other opposition for the whole first three quarters of the story.

Now, your minitagonists don’t have to be school bullies, or highwaymen, or corrupted officials; they can be your protagonists significant other or younger sibling. Being around other people means that you’ll have conflict to deal with. Use this to your advantage! Siblings never get along 100% of the time! Trust me, I have five.

Your minitagonists also provide a host of subplots for you to exploit. Standing up against the bully, fixing relations with loved ones, revealing a hidden scumbag for who they really are, learning how to help others, etc, etc, etc. The list really is endless.

Now that you know all about conflict, go and put as many stumbling blocks in your protagonists way. Make them struggle, make them suffer, make them fail, make them break, make them grow. Now scurry off and get to work.