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Article - 'Viewpoint And Motives' by Runiss Knight

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Aug 7, 2004

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Viewpoint And Motives - A Look At Antagonists

"im teh evil. i keel u."
In spite of the fact that there are few cases that actually follow a similar concept to the above, somehow, people have a tendency to stereotype an 'evil' character as a character who is evil for one reason and one reason only: For the sake of being evil. However, as I've said, this rarely holds true. My aim is to give some insight into the antagonist, and what makes them seem believable...

There are several different things that make the main enemy seem both evil and believable. Though I can't possibly list off all of these (Especially since I don't know all of them), I'll try to grant a fair understanding of the few that I know well, and know to work.

1: An evil character never THINKS they're evil. Assuming we're not talking about the somewhat common "Essence of pure evil" antagonist, the main enemy doesn't find themselves to be wrong. They simply believe something opposite of the main character. This simple concept is basically the seed for just about all other ideas and concepts behind creating an evil character.

2: It's all about PERSPECTIVE. A story could be told from both sides. Your first goal in designing an evil character is to consider the fact that they, as the antagonist, could just as easily have played out as the protagonist. What I mean is this: Depending upon what point of view you take, you decide whether or not a character is good or evil. Consider the Ogre Battle Saga (In particular, Person of Lordly Caliber and The Knight of Lodis). In Person of Lordly Caliber, the Holy Lodis Empire was shown primarily in fault. The Brigade of Radiant Cross went around killing people, giving orders to other nations not strong enough to fight back. You never saw the good done by Lodis. However, in TKoL, you ARE a member of Lodis, and quite on the contrary, you see very little of the wrong they did. Lodis is seen as a protector rather than a bully. It's all in the perspective.

3: The character has a reason to do what they're doing. The antagonist always has to believe what they're doing is of benefit to someone. Whether they are opposing the hero for revenge, to 'unite' the people or to slay the infidels, you must realize that the only reason a person likes the hero more than the antagonist is that the hero is depicted as good by the person/people who are telling the story. Selfish characters make for nearly fail-proof evil characters, because they can do whatever they want as long as they find it beneficial to themselves.

4: The evil character usually wasn't always evil. Almost all antagonists were at one point either heroes or normal people. They had their own set of beliefs and they practiced those beliefs... There always exists a point at which they take those practices too far, however, and it is at that point that they become evil. For example, let's say there's a guy who wants power. The power to change things, and give protection to the 'little guy'. So, he fights off bandits, thieves, and corrupt nobles, in the process gaining strength... Eventually, however, his lust for power overtakes his want to protect the weak and he starts fighting anyone, provided they can further his power...

5: The main enemy must be likable for some reason. If you find that your antagonist is so hateable that you can't stand him/her, then there's something very wrong with the way you designed them. Remember, if you followed all the other rules, then at least SOMEONE has to like them, because they aren't necessarily bad people... Just very, very different from your hero.

Follow these guidelines, and you should have a believable antagonist for... Whatever it is you want a believable antagonist for.