Characterization: How to Write a Believable Antagonist

Antagonists aren’t always villains. An antagonist can also be a situation, an animal, a government or institution, or anything the hero must overcome before achieving his/her goal. In this post, the antagonist I’ll be discussing is the bad guy. Without an antagonist, we have no conflict, and without conflict, we have no story.

Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo, Photo Credit: Npsaltos62

One of film’s most memorable villains is Tommy Udo, played by Richard Widmark in Kiss of Death. Who can forget that famous scene when Udo, a psychopath, shoves a lady in a wheelchair down a steep flight of steps to her death? He even laughs while he does it.

Villains should present serious challenges to the hero. He may even be superior to him in some ways, thus forcing the hero to struggle harder. For instance, the villain may be smarter or physically stronger than the hero, or perhaps he can be a Houdini-type—an escape artist.

Make your villains as loathsome as Udo, but keep them believable.

Two Tips For Believable Villains

1.Let him justify his actions. Give him believable motivations..  Readers may not think his motives are justified, but he does. Get inside his head to  understand where he’s coming from. Is he greedy, vengeful, a bully? Why is he this way? Perhaps he was born into poverty or was picked on when he was a child.

2. Soften him up. Although he may be a bad guy, show a few positive traits.  Perhaps he’s a true gentleman around the ladies, or maybe he has a great sense of humor or works hard. If he’s too soft, however,  readers will sympathize with him, and this is something we do not want.

Villains are fun to write. Make them evil, yes, but also believable. I hope these two tips prove helpful.

3 thoughts on “Characterization: How to Write a Believable Antagonist

  1. Thanks for this, Jack!

    I’ve made my villains look like cartoon cut outs.

    I need to learn this skill.


    Dave Parks

    On Mon, Jul 5, 2021 at 9:35 AM The Author’s Cove: John Jack Cunningham


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