The Exciting Antagonist

It constantly amazes me how I keep discovering the same things about writing over and over and over again, especially since it’s the stuff I teach. Knowing something intellectually and using it viscerally when you write are two very different things, but you’d think I’d learn. This time it’s the exciting antagonist. I’ve said over and over again that the antagonist has to be as interesting as the protagonist, more interesting, in fact, since he or she shapes the story. Then working on You Again, I wrote a one-note antagonist who was pretty much a stereotype and wondered why I couldn’t get the story off the ground. There were so many improvements I was making in the rewrite, but none of them made the story zing the way I wanted it to.

Later, I watched one of my favorite You Tube clips (two things I’m a rabid fan of, Doctor Who and John Simm), and I thought, Boy, he’s fun to watch. What a great antagonist to write, that over-the-top, tear-big-pieces-out-of-life-and-consume-them-while-singing-the-Scissor-Sisters kind of guy. Well, here’s the video, see for yourself.

And then I thought, Wait. I could write that kind of antagonist. I could write the hell out of that kind of antagonist. I SHOULD WRITE THAT KIND OF ANTAGONIST!

Yeah, sometimes it takes me twenty or thirty runs at an idea before it sticks. Argh. And now I have “I Can’t Decide” as an earwig which is okay because it’s going to be my antagonist’s theme. You Tube, John Simm, Doctor Who, the Scissors Sisters . . . salvation comes in many forms, so thank you all very much.

While we’re on the subject, who’s your favorite antagonist? Clearly I have Master-lust, but there are so many more . . .

31 thoughts on “The Exciting Antagonist

  1. OH GOD YES SING IT MASTER! Seriously though, my love for this song will never die because of this scene. He was beyond perfect here. And when he killed his cabinet. He’s batshit, but so fun to watch.

    Favorite antagonist in literature? Not sure I have one, actually. Though Xan from the Unfortunate Miss Fortunes is pretty damn cool. For TV/movies: are we just talking antagonist lust or all kinds of favorite? Either way, Tom Hiddleston as Loki forever. And Angelus, who I always found infinitely more interesting than Angel and infinitely more terrifying than Spike. And Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne. All of them tortured, gorgeous, slightly insane, murderous–everything you need in a Bad Guy (pun!). Just favorites would have to include Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Because dear god did he have the best lines. Moriarty from Sherlock, too, because he is also unabashedly crazy and devious and fun and a Bad Guy. Last but not least is Glory from Buffy. She was all-powerful, amazingly selfish, un-self-conscious, desperately homesick, and beyond psycho. Just breathtakingly awesome, our Glory.

    Looking at this, it seems I have a thing for crazy, dark-haired murderers. Let’s hope it only extends to fictional characters…

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    1. How could I forget about Angelus??? He was the best of the Buffy bad guys. Although I do love the Mayor and Faith in season 3.

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    2. The Mayor from Buffy will always be my fave from that series. Such style, even if he did violate the Evil Overlord rules and turn into a giant snake.

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  2. Can we count Sterling from Leverage? I love him and hate him at the same time; it’s wonderful that whenever he goes up against Nate it’s always a draw. Clea in Faking It – she was so single-minded and selfish, but she knew what she wanted and she knew her strengths. Almost have to admire that. Sometimes I wonder if she eventually did kill Rabbit. And of course, Tracy in Heyer’s Black Moth. I actually don’t care much for that book compared to her others, but he is FANTASTIC. In fact he’s more interesting than the protagonist. So glad she gave him These Old Shades, even if she changed his name.

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      1. I adore Vidal, too, particularly right after Mary shoots him. And when he’s hauling Julianna with him in pursuit.

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      2. Vidal isn’t the antagonist, he’s the hero! He may start out giving Mary trouble, but you always know they will end up together.

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    1. Mark Sheppard is always an excellent antagonist which is good because the guy is in freaking everything. I was watching an ancient X-Files episode a couple of months ago and he turned up as a crazed killer. But you’re right, Sterling is special. I loved him in the series finale especially.

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    2. JUST finished re-reading Faking It. Clea doesn’t care who she has to step on, she’s going to be rich and beautiful forever… Til Davy and Tilda just annoy her to no end!

      Reading Eleanor’s list.. the best antagonists are the ones having fun being evil!

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  3. And now I have a new song to go with my usual everyday mood.

    Callisto from Xena was fun batshit crazy. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

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  4. Just a few off the top of my head.

    Hans Gruber: Alan Rickman in Die Hard.
    Sheriff of Nottingham: Alan Rickman in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves.
    Dr. Evil: Mike Meyers in the Austin Powers movies.
    Sam Stone: Danny Devito in Ruthless People.
    Sue Sylvester: Jane Lynch in Glee.
    The Witch in Hansel and Gretel – I always thought the kids were destroying her house.
    Winifred Sanderson: Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus.
    Harry Groener: The Mayor in Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

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    1. Dr. Evil is definitely my favorite part of the Austen Powers movies! “Throw me a fricking bone, people.”

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  5. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Of the three things I’m writing right now (or would be writing if my life wasn’t falling apart) two have antagonists that I love almost more than my protagonists.

    It makes SUCH a huge difference.

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  6. Loki in the Avengers. (I will watch Hiddles in anything, though.)
    Xanatos from Disney’s Gargoyles
    Will Danahur (sp?) in The Quiet Man
    Moriarty on BBC’s Sherlock
    The Kaiju in Pacific Rim. They count, right?
    Claude Rains in Casablanca (even though he goes good in the end.)
    Prince Zuko and Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender (who also turned out good in the end…)

    I think I really like villains redeemed. Like Avon from Georgette Heyer. It’s a good trope.

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  7. Gah, I forgot – Root from Person of Interest. She’s so insane, but she’s so smart, and she has so much fun doing what she does. Also she’s Amy Acker; that probably has a lot to do with why I enjoy that character. Elias from that show is great, too. The best kind of criminal mastermind.

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  8. Melisande Shahrizai from the Kushiel series.

    Peaceable Drummond Sherwood (though he’s a pretty heroic antagonist, technically he is on the “other side”) from The Sherwood Ring. I am kind of obsessing about this one right now and wishing I was good at thinking out how spies and other super clever people think.

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  9. Victor in American Dreamer. I felt sorry for the guy. As well as Don Carlos.

    William Cooper in RED because he was cute & was being played.

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  10. Andrea Parker as Miss Parker in the Pretender. She can’t give an inch because of who’s watching her but she’s a lot more complex than she *pretends* to be.

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