I may have mentioned before that I like bad guys. No, not in that damn stupid pop-psychology ‘I can change him’ way. But in fiction, a good bad guy can make or break a story.
I was thinking about the idea of antagonists in the shower the other day*, and trying to sort out what I really like about some of them. Both ones I’ve read and ones I’ve written. I’ll spare you the long, meandering route my brain took to reach a conclusion and jump to the point: my favourites are antagonists that in some way mirror the protagonist.
They should have some key aspects in common: background, proclivities, something. The idea is that the antagonist should take some of those good or neutral qualities and twist them somehow. Maybe they go a step further down the road to hell than the protagonist, maybe they do things for fun that the protagonist has to do out of necessity, maybe take a good quality to such an extreme that it becomes something terrifying. But they should have a connection. Because if they don’t, then what the hell is the story about? Why are these two people** at odds? Why do they so desperately want to stop each other from achieving their goals?
I read somewhere once—can’t quite remember where, but I must have liked it—that real hate, the kind that fills you with fire and acid, doesn’t come from differences, but from similarities and differences paired. We can’t really hate someone completely different from us because we don’t know them. They are alien to us. But someone who is enough like us to highlight every flaw, every choice gone wrong, every might-have-been moment…maybe them we can really hate. Because they are, in some way, something we could have been. Or, worse, something we might still become. Which is why it’s so important to fight them.
I have to think in the shower more often.
*See? I follow my own advice.
**I am aware that not all antagonists need to be people, but most of mine are, and it makes the construction of the sentence simpler. If you prefer to be a pedant, read this sentence as, “Why is the protagonist at odds with this person/thing/force, natural or otherwise/social paradigm/whatever the hell else you feel like making the goddamn antagonist now leave me alone.”