The Worth of the Wicked

By: Stephanie D. Tyson

Sometimes writers mistakenly devote most of their attention to developing the main character while leaving the antagonist flat and underutilized. Yet so much of the meat of a story can be found in the doings of a well-written bad guy who experiences hatred, pain, torment, and even the opportunity for rehabilitation.

A character’s hatred can be triggered by a variety of circumstances, big or seemingly insignificant. Perhaps someone once neglected to offer him a ride home from work, or kicked his dog, or even killed his sister in an unforeseen accident. Whatever the hatred is, it must be visible to the reader right from the start. Even if the antagonist is able to maintain the subterfuge in outward appearances that he is a good guy, writers should weave in hints of his true shady character for readers to detect. It is never a good idea to blindside an audience with an action that seems to have no actual potential of happening until BOOM, it’s there.

Be it mentally or physically, we have all felt pain at one time or another. It is up to the writer whether or not the antagonist shows his pain. The pain could be pushed down deep inside, thus helping to fuel the ember of discontent into a bright flame of hate. Maybe an accident several years ago left him alone, or with a defect that has made getting a decent job difficult. Perhaps at a young age he was bitten by a rabid raccoon, or forced to care for an ailing parent that had no hope of recovery. There are countless painful reasons why a person could lose his or her sense of what’s good in the world.

Torment plagues most protagonists from time to time. Bad guys should experience torment as much as, if not more than, the good guys. Torment is what keeps that dark flame of hate burning like a wildfire. Maybe it springs from letting a girl he truly loves slip through his fingers or from the investment he scoffed at that has made others millions. True torment lies deep within, and it’s something he refuses to acknowledge even when faced with his own demise at the hands of the hero. It is the driving force that keeps his goals at the front of his thoughts at all times.

Keep in mind that the antagonist doesn’t always have to be the one readers love to hate. Maybe as the story progresses so does his rehabilitation from hate. He might find himself helping others because of an experience he had, or nagging thoughts at the back of his mind. Gradually, a begrudging hero could emerge. He becomes the guy readers hate to love, yet can’t help but admire anyway.

No matter what the root causes of the antagonist’s actions are, it’s important to develop them as much as the protagonist’s. Readers then can find things to hate and relate to in both types of characters. They can contrast each character’s motives and decide for themselves whom to root for. Likely they’ll choose the hero, but who knows? If you’ve developed the antagonist well enough, probably they’ll find something in the bad guy worth cheering for after all.

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