Friday, August 5

I'm Not Evil: Writing From the Antagonist's Point of View

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This week's Refresher Friday takes an updated look at writing from the antagonist's perspective. 

You most likely know who your antagonist is when you start your novel, even if it's as vague as "the killer." A mystery writer friend of mine often has multiple suspects in mind as she writes, and it isn't until the end that she discovers which "who" actually "done it." No matter who (or what) the antagonist is, they're in the way of your protagonist's happiness.

I've talked about fleshing out your bad guys and plotting from their perspective before, but let's give them a little attention this week.

Let's talk about writing from their perspective.

Writing as the antagonist can be a tricky point of view to do, because a much of novel's tension comes from readers wondering what's going to happen next. Being inside the mind of your antagonist shows that, which can reveal too much too soon. Readers know what's going to happen because the bad guy told them. Keeping things interesting takes a little more work to achieve. Such as:

Finding ways to keep the mystery in the story even though the reader knows both sides.


Aim for revealing information that will change the outcome of a scene, but in ways readers can't predict. The antagonist's point of view could focus more on teasing what might happen to create worry or anticipation. Or, you might hint at things that have been building in the background, but readers haven't picked up on yet, laying the critical groundwork for events that will shock them later.

(Here's a fun way to create unpredictable plots) 

Developing the antagonist the same as you would your protagonist


If the antagonist is important enough to get his own point of view, he ought to have goals and motives driving him--same as any other character. He'll likely have reasons for acting that have nothing to do with the protagonist; the protagonist just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the antagonist's action are personal, you might show why he's against the protagonist or why he's trying to achieve his goal.

One trick to writing a solid bad guy is to make him the hero of his own story. Few people actually consider themselves evil or bad, so even if there's a bit of conscience bugging him, he'll rationalize it same as your hero would. To him, the protagonist is the one getting in the way and messing things up. The protagonist is his villain.

He becomes a real person with real problems and readers are much more likely to find him fascinating. And a bonus--since both sides (protagonist and antagonist) are fully developed characters driven by real motives, you craft better plots. All bets are off and anything can happen.

(Here's more on crafting a compelling and relatable villain)

Letting the antagonist's narrative and internalization reflect who he is. 


It's easy to let your views about the antagonist color his scenes, because he's the bad guy, so you think of (and write) him in all his badness. But instead of showing what makes him tick and letting readers understand him, you show him "being evil" and turn him into a cardboard villain with no depth.

(Here are 10 traits of a great antagonist)

If a character is important enough to warrant a point of view in the novel, her or she is important enough to be a well-developed person with goals and motives.

Have you ever written from the bad guy's perspective? What did you like the most about it? What did you like least?

Looking for tips on writing your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel, and the just-released companion guide, the Planning Your Novel Workbook

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and the upcoming Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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15 comments:

  1. That's something I'm trying to do with my antagonist. I wasn't going to write in his POV, but since none of my protagonists will have any interaction with him until the end, I was struggling to get across the threat he posed. Since he isn't to be the mystery villain anyway, I decided to write his viewpoint to increase the sense of threat, show him setting things in motion that may not have any direct or immediate relevance to the protags until later.

    I'm finding it easier to understand him and figure out what he would do now that I'm trying to get inside his head. I'm not quite sure I'm there yet, but I'm making progress in solidifying the vague ideas I'd created him with. I've also "discovered" a whole slew of information about him which clarifies his motivations. He's more real in my head now.

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  2. I like this post! Writing from the antagonist's perspective can be a really valuable tool for developing the story even when the antagonist's point of view won't be appearing in the main narrative, i.e. even when it's just an exercise. Knowing how the bad guy thinks can totally change how you write his/her behavior.

    A narrative that uses both hero/ine and antagonist viewpoints can create tension by utilizing a sense of confidentiality between the writer and reader. It doesn't necessarily give things away.

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  3. *small voice* I did this with my NaNoWriMo project this past year.

    *gulps*

    Most characters were brats, aristocrats, lunatics, pragmatists, sociopaths, or some combination of them. The hero/villain was a pragmatic sociopath who in and of himself freaked me out to work with. I sometimes felt like curling up and hiding from him in my closet. A friend later told me later that it had given her the creeps just to hear about him.

    So just a warning... if you're going to dive into the head of someone who's seriously psycho, make sure to do it in fragments for the sake of your own comfort and sanity.

    And this coming from someone who considers Evanescence and Within Tempation good music for when she's happy.

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  4. This is such great advice. Writing from my antagonist's pov, I've found that I *empathize* with him. Although I don't agree with his methods, making his goals rational ones have made him a deeper, more interesting character. That, in turn, gives depth to the story. Right on, Janice!

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  5. This is such great advice. Even if you don't write any of your story from your antagonist's pov, you have to understand him/her like your other characters. And like you say, he/she has to want what they want for some reason that makes them think they are right. Otherwise they are just evil for the sake of being evil and are not very interesting characters and your story lacks depth.

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  6. I've always loved villains. A good bad guy is a thing of beauty. I'll have to do a villain book one day, though no clue what that might be!

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  7. Great post. I heartily agree.

    I've recently added my antagonist's POV and I'm finding it so elucidating. The things that go on inside his head and the skewed way he rationalizes it all! He's more sympathetic when you can see the evil is prompted by madness.

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  8. Heather, sounds like my kind of antagonist! The bad guys can be so much fun.

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  9. I'm currently writing a script for my comic book series and there are a number of villains that pop up in it throughout the series. One of the early ones is a vampire (it's a horror/supernatural themed comic). Real ugly looking fellow and ruthless when it comes to the blood drinking process, but when it comes to turning others into vampires he can be really picky. He seeks strong people, warriors, leaders. He sees his condition not as a curse, but a gift. He sees vampirism as a sort of "natural progression", a new stage in evolution, so to speak. One of the primary protagonists is suffering from his own kind of curse and has done evil things while under his own alter ego's influence, and this vampire preys on this and yet sympathizes with him.

    Long story short, the vampire makes one hell of a convincing argument, using the protagonist's own faults and past misdeeds against him. Naturally he does not see himself as a bad guy and even uses the line about glass houses and those that throw stones while in them.

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  10. This is great advice! I don't have any scenes my series antagonist's POV yet, but I used an idea that I either read here or over at Kristen Lamb's blog, about plotting from the antagonist's perspective, and it really solidified the arc for the series.

    What my antagonist is trying to do, what the protagonists *think* she's trying to do, how it changes and escalates...

    What I'm hoping to do, when she does get scenes in her POV in book 2, is show that she's doing all these terrible things not because she's evil, but because she loves her people and wants to protect them from what she is convinced is a threat, not greed, or personal gain.

    Fingers crossed that it works...

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  11. This is great advice! I don't have any scenes my series antagonist's POV yet, but I used an idea that I either read here or over at Kristen Lamb's blog, about plotting from the antagonist's perspective, and it really solidified the arc for the series.

    What my antagonist is trying to do, what the protagonists *think* she's trying to do, how it changes and escalates...

    What I'm hoping to do, when she does get scenes in her POV in book 2, is show that she's doing all these terrible things not because she's evil, but because she loves her people and wants to protect them from what she is convinced is a threat, not greed, or personal gain.

    Fingers crossed that it works...

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  12. Thanks for reposting. I followed the link to the "10 ways to make a great antagonist" and was going to put it on my class wiki (teaching writing again. Yeah!) and found it was already there. :) Great minds think alike--or something like that!

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  13. Love this post! Especially if you're writing about one of those villains who falls from heroism, getting into the antagonist's head this way seems like it would be really useful.

    I like stories that feature some of the antagonist's perspective early on in the book. I often wonder if maybe the reason villains stereotypically monologue once they have the hero captured (apart from giving them time to escape) is because the author didn't have time to give them any characterization beforehand. Visible bad guys are more fun. :)

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    Replies
    1. I like that theory! Makes a lot of sense.

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