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Antagonist Definition

Since most stories have conflict, the majority of stories have antagonists. Your protagonist will fight to accomplish something significant to them, while the antagonist will add more complexity to this battle. Understanding the antagonist in your story and the motives they have can greatly enhance your non-fiction, fiction, and storytelling.

Even if your story includes one character, the character is likely to face an antagonist. What exactly is an antagonist? Let's define it in this way by looking at examples of antagonists and the distinction between antagonist and the protagonist, and what exactly is the purpose of an antagonist within a narrative.

Antagonist Definition


In general, the antagonist of a story can be a character, group, power, or an idea that opposes the interests of the protagonist.

Antagonist definition: The antagonist in a story is the individual or group, force or concept that opposes the goals of the protagonist.

Sometimes the antagonist may be an unaffected threat, as an object that is positioned on the road. But more often, an antagonist is actively opposing the interests of the protagonist.

Since antagonist and protagonist are antonyms, it's simple to conclude that an antagonist represents exactly the opposite of the main character or the protagonist. In some instances, this could be valid: if the protagonist is a symbol of justice and goodness while the antagonist may represent evil forces and injustice.

But the real world doesn't work on clear-cut binaries, nor do the battles between protagonist and antagonist. A lot of stories feature characters who have a lot of similar traits. However, they have distinct or opposing motives, leading to conflict between antagonists and protagonists.


The principal role that an antagonist serves is to hinder the protagonist's path. Whatever the protagonist would like, it won't be simple for them to attain this goal, particularly since the antagonist stands in their way. Whatever the protagonist's desires are, it won't be easy to fulfill their goals since the antagonist is standing in the way.

This conflict between protagonists and antagonists can create meaningful themes for the narrative since themes typically represent larger challenges and human experiences.

Who is the antagonist? It's not only a who. It could also be a what or a where. Let's take a look at some examples of antagonists from the literature.


No matter what their origins are, the antagonist and the protagonist have different motives and traits. Therefore, even if you aren't familiar with the stories in the following, we've described the traits and desires of each person or entity and mapped out the conflict that is the basis of the overall story.

Here are examples of antagonists in four different works of literature.


Protagonist: Offred, a handmaid to Commander Fred, an official of high rank in the dystopian Republic of Gilead.

Antagonists: The Handmaid's Tale has numerous competing forces. Offred's primary adversaries are Fred (her commander), as well as Fred's spouse Serena Joy, Gilead's society is structured to combat anyone who attempts to escape the Republic.

Conflict: Offred has been a handmaid within the newly-formed government in Gilead (formerly in the United States). Gilead's system of government forces handmaids to engage in non-consensual relationships with their commanders to resolve the low birth rates that plague the country. Offred is forced to become a handmaid and, secluded from her child prior to Gilead's, decides to live and be free of Gilead despite society's interest in her, as she is one of only a few viable reproductive women within the population.

For her enemies, Offred has no means to escape. In Gilead, there is a possibility that anyone could be a spy or a soldier, or even a Zealot, making it almost impossible to be able to trust anyone and even less to be able to escape over to the Canadian border.

Themes: Alongside the central themes of gender and society, it also explores issues of the power of religion, corruption, and the environment.


Protagonist: Margot, a child who claims to remember what the Sun felt like prior to when she made her move to Venus.

Antagonists: William, along with the children, none of whom can remember the Sun prior to living on Venus. The children are jealous of Margot's memories of the Sun and beat her due to the regularity of Venus' rain.

Conflict: This is because the Sun appears once every seven years, but only for one hour. Although she is quiet and unassuming, Margot is frequently bullied by her peers at school, who lock her up in a closet just prior to when the Sun is released. Every child longs to be able to see the Sun.

Themes: "All Summer in a Day" contains themes about childhood, loneliness, as well as the feeling that comes with being an outsider.


Protagonist: Benjamin Button, the son of a hardware store's owner, was born 70 years old, and he gets younger as time goes by.

Antagonist: Benjamin Button's antagonist is his own reverse aging which is a very abstract antagonist. What does "reverse aging" want? What can you do to stop it? (Like normal ageing, it cannot be put on hold.)

Conflict: As with all characters, Benjamin has no choice other than to accept the fact that he is never dying. However, his slow aging often causes issues throughout his life. Benjamin has divorced, has his name snubbed from universities, and becomes insufficient to play sports. In addition, Benjamin does not get the normal childhood he deserves, nor does he pursue the path of life that promotes lasting relationships.

Themes: These include apart from being a reverse bildungsroman, the story is about relationships, family, and the man's mortality.


Protagonist: Jack is the son of a white father and a Chinese mother. Jack's mother is able to give life to origami creatures.

Antagonist: There's no single antagonist to be found in "Paper Menagerie," but the majority of Jack's issues are rooted in anti-Asian racism.

Conflict: Jack loved his mother since childhood and her culture until he is confronted with the daily racism that is typical of small-town America. His friends are snarky about his origami creations, as if they were made of garbage. His neighbours are amazed at how "Chinesey" he looks and sounds, and he begins to be greeted with slurs of racial discrimination against Asian Americans. Jack immediately turns his back on his mother and the culture she grew up with and blamed the mother for not being able to blend in.

Topics: "Paper Menagerie" follows themes of racism, childhood and family.


In all of the antagonistic examples, the protagonist is in a position of difficulty in overcoming the obstacles that the antagonist has set. What makes each adversary a part of the story, and how do they create real conflicts?

For generating meaningful antagonist examples and creating a great battle between your antagonist and protagonist, follow this five-step procedure.


Like other real people, the protagonist in your story has desires, needs and motives. The motives of your protagonist will determine the story's core and its primary conflict and plot points.

The motivations of your protagonist can be either abstract or concrete. The concrete motives could include the basic needs of every human being: water, food and shelter, for example. It could also be a physical item. For example, your protagonist could want a million-dollar Swarovski watch.

Abstract needs can be defined as concepts such as companionship, love, acceptance of oneself as a part of the community, believing in God and forming a personal way of life, etc.

These needs are the core of the story's plot as well as your character's personal journey, so take your time defining exactly what drives your protagonist.


A second important aspect to think about is your protagonist's role within society. This will assist you in determining the needs of your protagonist and the obstacles they might confront. Each of the protagonists above is a product of their social position. Offred's identity is a woman, which affects her ability to navigate Gilead. Benjamin Button's identity as the son and businessman of a wealthy man has an impact on his life trajectory. This gives him a clear path that he must follow, just like any other upper-echelon child.

It will be easier to create strong antagonist characters when your protagonist's role in society is established. This is because the antagonist will attempt to stop your protagonist from completing his journey. The antagonist's main role is to be an obstacle in the protagonist's life and stop him/her from achieving their goals. The conflict between the antagonist and protagonist adds excitement to the plot, and the audience resonates with the protagonist and supports him in his quest for justice.


Your antagonist should be a reaction to your protagonist's motivations and their place in society. Your protagonist should communicate the obstacles they face.

Your antagonist will react to the motivations and social place of your protagonist.

For example, look at Delia in Zora Neale Hurston's "Sweat." Delia desires a stable, clockwork-like life. Her clockwork life will be disrupted by a good antagonist. Sykes is an abusive husband as a man from the early 20th Century who has both legal and physical power over Delia. Sykes, who is a man who hates Delia, uses these powers against her. Delia, a black woman of colour, cannot fight back against Sykes' physical power and can't seek legal protection. Sykes interrupts Delia's life, and Delia must find refuge and safety on her own. Delia sees an abusive husband as the ultimate obstacle to her dream life.


Once you have identified the obstacles that could disrupt your protagonist's journey, create an antagonist.

Remember that your antagonist also has motives, desires and weaknesses, assuming they are a living being. Your antagonist is standing in the way of your protagonist's desires and motives.

Pulling again from "Sweat," Delia wants a clockwork lifestyle, and Sykes wants to marry a fat woman. According to the story, Sykes chose Delia for his wife because he couldn't find a fat woman who would marry him. Sykes philanders with women but is unable to find a woman to marry him. Sykes then takes his frustrations out on Delia, who is everything Sykes desires but slim.

The antagonist is often also created by the protagonist. If your antagonist isn't a living thing, such as a house, then make sure it still gets in the way of your protagonist.


The antagonist and the conflicts they create with your protagonist can be used to explore larger themes and ideas.

For example, in The Handmaid's Tale, the antagonists of the story are Commander Fred and Serena Joy. Offred is also being held back by society as a whole. Offred is trapped in a sexist society which condones the assault and ownership of the female body. Offred has no friends, and there is no escape. Each antagonist is susceptible to themes of sexism or abuse of power that make Gilead an inescapable hell.


The guide above shows how antagonist characters can be created as reactions to the protagonist. Try going backwards if you are having trouble coming up with a great protagonist for your story.

Begin by creating your antagonist. Give careful thought to their motivations and any themes they may represent. Next, create a protagonist with conflicting motives or desires.

This five-step process will create drama between the protagonist and antagonist. To make this conflict convincing, it is important to also consider your antagonist's traits. These are common traits that can make your antagonist more convincing and powerful.


These antagonist characteristics create tension and conflict between the antagonist and protagonist. Many antagonists are:

  1. Highly motivated: People who are highly motivated have their own desires, goals and dreams. In addition, they'll do whatever they can to fulfill their goals.
  2. Stubborn: The question is: What's an antagonist, if not stubborn? They're not going to surrender to the wishes of the protagonist. They'll mount an uproar because their own needs are in direct opposition to the desires of the protagonist.
  3. Adaptable: They'll experience some form of resistance from the protagonist and will not be able to achieve their objectives easily. However, the antagonist will engage in the fight, change according to their surroundings and think of different strategies to defeat the protagonist.
  4. Relatable flawed: The most likable villains are immensely flawed. An ideal antagonist is difficult to stop, and, on top of that, the most effective ones can be a source of comfort for the reader. It is important to understand their flaws by recognizing their humanity over other things. (This isn't the case when your antagonist isn't a human. However, the most successful ones tend to be flawed regardless of their biological makeup.)
  5. Convinced to be the protagonist: Everyone is the main protagonist in their own lives, which includes the antagonist and the protagonist of your writing. If you're writing about villains with superpowers, your antagonist might not believe that they're bad; they may believe they're the protagonist and your protagonist is actually the antagonist.

An underlying mistake is to think that the villain needs to be villainous, evil or criminal. But it's not required to tell a good story. The antagonist could be a good-hearted, compassionate person. The most important characteristic of antagonists is that they're against the protagonist's desire. You don't need to be a fan of your protagonist. Some of the most effective antagonists are kind, thoughtful people with different motives.

Many of the most effective antagonists are kind, well-meaning people with conflicting motives.

Your protagonist could have villainous, evil criminal, deceitful characteristics! The character you choose to portray is not necessarily good or bad.


If you're given the freedom to create your antagonist, make sure you don't create clichd, stereotypical characters. In the majority of stories, stay clear of these common pitfalls:

  1. Evil Genius Supervillains: They aren't relatable to readers even though they may have tragic histories and humble beginnings. If your story is spread across several books or is based on the conventions of a particular genre, it may be logical to create a character similar to this, but make sure to create a compelling narrative that readers can connect to.
  2. Ideal Opponents: A person who always wins results in boring conflict. There must have some back-and-forth; sometimes, the protagonist will win a battle, and sometimes the antagonist wins the battle. However, neither one should be able to overpower the other one. (This is assuming that the antagonist is human. However, if your protagonist is an opponent who isn't human, it could be an obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome or interact with.)
  3. Strangers: Based on the plot, it could be logical that your protagonist is unfamiliar with the antagonist. In most stories, it's better if the antagonist has an established relationship with the protagonist, whether it's a family member, a coworker, a former partner or perhaps an artisan barista in the local area with a bad personality.
  4. Stereotypes: Do not make racial, ethnic or sexual stereotypical characters, particularly your antagonist. They may have particular beliefs or identities. However, their position as antagonists is determined by their conflicting motives and those of the protagonist. Their backgrounds should support the motives and not make them the focus of your story.


  • The antagonist's viewpoint is not compatible with the opinion of the protagonist.
  • The antagonist and the protagonist are on opposite ends in an argument. They don't need to be either good or bad. They must be in opposition to each other. In this instance, the motives of the antagonist to defend the position of the protagonist must be just as convincing as the reasons of the protagonist to support their position.
  • The antagonist is seeking the exact things that the protagonist wants.
  • It is one of the main reasons an individual character is opposed to another, and, in addition, the antagonist may have valid reasons to desire the same things in the same way as the main character. The reason why we feel we should choose to support the protagonist comes from this perspective.
  • The personality of the antagonist is incompatible with the personality of the protagonist.
  • People with personalities that are not compatible clash frequently. The conflicting personality as the basis for conflict is more complicated than other reasons because it often doesn't have enough strength to sustain the main conflict. But it may support a concurring reason quite well.
  • The antagonist is on the opposite end of a conflict.
  • Stories are not just driven by the desire to accomplish something but also by the desire to fix the problem. In these situations, the protagonist and antagonist could have different views on what the most effective option is. The more plausible the arguments on both sides, the stronger the narrative.

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