Antagonists are tricky. Too little work, and the antagonist comes across flat. A flat antagonist is easy and boring, because he or she won’t push the protagonist hard enough. Plus there’s that practice of making fleshed out characters and having interesting three-dimensional people, blah blah.
We all know the saying: Every villain is his own hero. Though I wrote these questions and prompts with famous antagonists in mind, you could actually pose them to your protagonist or other characters (just switch out the protagonist-themed questions for antagonist-themed) and it will still work.
I’ve always found it most helpful to answer questionnaires in my character’s voice, so I have written this addressing your antagonist directly. Try to answer in the way he or she would. You’ll uncover hidden backstory, depth, and softness in your antagonist.
But remember – even something “soft” (like empathy) can be a terrible motivator.
Your Antagonist’s Backstory
- Hurting people hurt others. What hurt you?
- When was the first time you were frightened by something you did?
- When was the first time you experienced pain?
- What is the most painful thing you have ever gone through?
- Do you have a mentor, or someone you’ve modeled yourself after? Who is it, and why are they so compelling?
- Have you killed anyone? Who was the first person you killed? (Alternatively: Who is the person you’ve hurt most?)
- When did you feel the most humiliated by someone else?
- Tell me about a time you faced rejection.
- Is there something you’ve said or done you wish you could take back?
- Who (or what) do you miss?
- What’s one thing you can never forgive? (Could be an event in the past, or a character trait like lying.)
- When did you feel the most accomplished or successful?
- When have you felt helpless?
- What was the first lie you told? What do you lie about most often?
Your Antagonist’s Habits
- What do you do to relax?
- Where do you go when you want to feel like you belong? If you can’t get there, where would you like to go?
- What do you like to read? What shows do you watch?
- What do you daydream about?
- What is your weapon of choice? How did you learn to use it?
- When you feel uncomfortable, what do you do to cover it up?
- What sort of clothes do you wear? Would you make changes to your wardrobe if you could?
- Do you have any unusual or advanced skills?
- How do you like to approach a problem?
Your Antagonist’s Personal Life
- Who are your parents? Do you have any siblings? Are they still alive?
- Who (or what) is one person (or thing/ideal) you would never harm?
- Who (or what) do you love? Would you call it love?
- What is one secret you’ve never told anyone? Would you consider revealing it to another character? If so, who?
- What lie do you tell yourself?
- What is one silly thing you’re afraid of?
- Tell me about your dream vacation.
- What is one fault in others you just can’t stand?
- What type of people do you like to be around (if any)?
- What do you feel other people misunderstand about you?
- Do you like kids? What about animals?
Your Antagonist’s Motivation
- Is your cause noble? Do you care?
- Do you consider yourself evil? Do you consider your plan evil?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
- How do you react when something goes wrong?
- Do you have flaws? Do you know what they are?
- What do you want, more than anything?
- What do you actually need? Are you aware of the difference?
- What is a line you would never cross?
- Who (or what) would you save if you could?
- Do you have a choice about what you’re doing? Would you take an out if you could?
- If you were put in a room with your worst fear, what would you see or experience?
- How will you know when you’ve won? What does successfully completing your mission look like?
Your Antagonist and the Protagonist
- In what ways do you admire your enemy (the protagonist)?
- In what ways does your enemy (the protagonist) drive you nuts?
- What’s one thing you and the protagonist can agree on?
- If you were the protagonist, what would this story be called?
Have I missed an important question? Want to share some of your answers? Leave a comment below!