When we talk about what makes a captivating film with a powerful story, there are a few key elements one needs to consider: an elaborate plot structure, protagonist’s motivation, dramatic writing and many other factors. Yet, having a strong antagonist is arguably the most important aspect of effective storytelling in film.
But what is an antagonist?
The best way to define an antagonist is as an obstacle to your protagonist’s wants. It is a chief foe of your hero, a force of chaos, an adversary.
Whether it is a havoc-wrecking madman or a source of ethereal evil, we love stories where our protagonist is faced with a truly ravishing villain.
But what makes a powerful, unforgettable and iconic antagonist? What storytelling devices do you need to utilize in order to create one?
Here are three storytelling rules that every filmmaker and screenwriter should take into consideration when creating a badass antagonist.
Give your Antagonist a Powerful Objective
It is simple: the stronger your villain’s motivation is, more of a threat your protagonist is faced with.
This is the foundation of dramatic writing.
Two characters have opposing goals and they clash in pursuit of this. Stronger the goals, higher the stakes, greater the conflict.
We are all motivated by something, and your antagonist is not an exception. Embrace your antagonist’s goal, empathize with it, now the very root of its longing. This will make your antagonist more human, more relevant. We all want to root for someone who is relevant to us. With the understanding of your antagonist comes the ease of writing this character.
And most importantly: do not judge your antagonist.
Make your antagonist more powerful than your protagonist
Do you like a hero for whom everything comes so easily? Would you spend 2 hours of your life watching a feature, where a noble knight slays a dragon with a first try?
This is not dramatic writing. This is lazy writing.
The stronger your antagonist is, the harder it is for your hero to achieve the ultimate goal. Equip your villain with deadly weapons, gift them with substantial superpowers, make them indestructible!
Knowing this is a key to making your story more effective, stakes higher, and viewers more engaged in your hero’s journey.
Equip your villain with an unforgettable look
What characters come to your mind when you hear the term antagonist?
Joker? Freddie Kruger? Anton Chigur? Mildred Ratchet?
The reason why those villains are remembered is not solely a strong motivation and power. It is an iconic visual aesthetic that also makes them unforgettable. Those manifestations of malevolence forever stay as an impact in viewers’ minds.
This is not just the job of the writer, but of the filmmaker, too.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when you are working out the visual look of your antagonist:
- What themes does this character embody?
- What weaknesses does my protagonist have? How can I manifest them through the villain’s look?
- What makes the visual aesthetic of my villain stand out from all the other great antagonists?
So we established that all the best antagonists have powerful objectives, unforgettable outlooks, and strengths greater than those of the protagonist.
Just by applying those rules to your writing, you can create a great villain.
Keep these canons in mind, and go write the next Darth Vader!
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