Showing posts with label antagonist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label antagonist. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How to Name Your Antogonist

Contributed by Dave Chesson

Is there anything more memorable than a decidedly sinister antagonist?

I’m not talking about ‘realistic’ villains who operate in something of a moral grey area.

Instead, I mean the true villains that leave a strong impression even after the book is finished.

The Voldemorts. The Count Draculas. The Patrick Batemans.

Crafting a character that speaks so strongly of pure evil is a whole different article. Perhaps even a full course. Instead, today, we’ll focus on finding a suitably fiendish name.

Make It Genre Appropriate

Just as there are tropes to adhere to in different genres, there are also expectations regarding names.

It would seem strange if a character in a historical drama set in Elizabethan England had a name like Stacy. Or if a hero in a steampunk story was called Denzel Bladez.

Similarly, the name for your story’s villain should be suitable for the genre you are writing in. So what are some of the ways to apply this idea?

●    Read voraciously within the genre you are writing in to get an idea of naming conventions. You should read within the genre anyway, but pay particular attention to villain’s names. Are there any stylistic themes that emerge? What about conventions of format? For example, all the villains within a historical genre may have a formal title, such as Mr. or Sir, whereas in crime they may go by an alias such as The Raven or The Steel Claw.

●    Get feedback from real readers on what is and isn’t working within a particular genre. Read through reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Which villains receive praise? Which receive mockery? Learn from these opinions.

●    Feel free to run polls testing several villains names. You can easily create a poll in a Facebook group of relevant readers to see which of several potential names they prefer.

Just as you would with any other element of your story, make sure your villain’s name works for that style of story specifically.

Consider Symbolism

A symbolic name might not be the right choice for every story, but it can work well for certain types.

A symbolic villain name is of course any name that carries a hidden or subtle meaning. These have been used by writers throughout history to add a layer of literary meaning to their villains which wouldn’t exist if the name was merely conventional.

So how can you add a touch of symbolism when naming your villain?

●    Consider examples of other symbolic villains throughout the history of stories. For example, Cruella de Vil isn’t exactly subtle, but it sounds like ‘cruel devil’, does it not?

●    Consider using a name with a different meaning in a foreign language which might not be obvious to all readers but will reward those who take the time to look into it.

●    Consider naming your villain after a famous historical figure. For example, within the TV show ‘Lost’, many of the characters had surnames relating to famous historical figures.

Symbolism should be used subtly. If you can avoid being overly obvious, you can add a layer of reward for your readers who take the time to dig deeper.

Life Is The Best Source Material

Sometimes, drawing upon your own life experience is the best way to come up with a suitably scary name for your villain.

Think back throughout your personal first and second-hand experience. Which names stand out to you as scary?

●    Often, a name on its own won’t be scary. But perhaps you had a sinister teacher whose name and physical traits paired to create a truly horrific combination.

●    Think about evil people you’ve read about in the news. Which of their names seemed appropriately evil for their deeds, and why?

●    Often, the seeming normality of someone’s name adds a sinister edge to their acts. Bret Easton Ellis gave the outwardly respectable Wall Street banker in American Psycho the plain name of Patrick Bateman to devastating effect.

Drawing upon your own life experience gives you not only potential names to consider, but also emotional truth to draw upon when writing your antagonists.
Naming Your Antagonist Final Thoughts
Thanks for checking out my guide on naming your antagonist.

I’d like to open up the discussion.

Which are your favorite villainous monikers throughout literature? What do you think makes them particularly effective?

How did you name your last villain?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Dave Chesson is a self-published author and book marketing obsessive who runs Kindlepreneur. His free time is spent with his family in Franklin, TN and nerding out over the latest sci-fi.


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Villain or Antagonist: What's the Difference?

Is a villain and an antagonist one and the same? Sometimes, and sometimes not. First stop, the dictionary definitions:

Mwa Ha Ha

A villain is: 1. a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; 2. A character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.

Second, a peek on Google by searching popular villains in children’s literature (which was wicked, good fun.) A few all-time favorites:

  • Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School, in Roald Dahl’s book and the film, Matilda, is the tyrannical educator who terrorizes her students with creative, over-the-top punishments.
  • Cruella de Vil, originally the character from the Dodie Smith 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, who kidnaps Dalmatian puppies for their fur.
  • Captain Hook, from J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, is a “callous and bloodthirsty” pirate. Note: In Disney’s animated film Peter Pan, Hook is more comical than the original villain.

The Not-so-Dastardly Antagonist

An antagonist is: 1. A person who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another; opponent, adversary; 2. The adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: Iago is the antagonist of Othello. (Definitions from

And now for examples of popular antagonists in children’s literature—a little harder to find. This is where the words villain and antagonist get blurred. Examples found on Pinterest include the Evil Queen in Snow White, The Evil Step-Mother in Cinderella, The Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz, and so on. Villains or antagonists? You decide.

Does the Difference Between a Villain and an Antagonist Even Matter?
Summed up:
  • A villain is evil, through and through. His motivations are evil and his actions are evil.
  • An antagonist opposes the protagonist. She causes conflict with the main character.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road
In my WIP, I have crafted an antagonist. I wanted to make sure he isn’t simply a one-dimensional character. Through research and reflecting on personal experience, I think I have found a way to make him quite an interesting, and I’m hoping compelling, fellow. Below, I have used the term “villain,” but I think the same holds true for your antagonist.
  • Understand your villain’s motives: Make her as detailed and nuanced as your main character. Achieve this, and you’ve uncovered one of the most important keys to a compelling story. Where to begin? Get personal. Mine your personal experiences and the people you have known and expand from there.
  • Find a model: Your villain can be based on someone you know, a celebrity, or someone you’ve seen on TV. I’m guessing most women have had a catty gf at one time in their lives, someone who wouldn’t be considered a friend, and may have even done mean things to them. I’ve had two incidences that I know of (luckily, I’ve been spared from knowing any more than that!), one in early grade school and the other as an adult. At the time these incidences occurred I was devastated. My adult experience took me about two years to get over—after two years I said Enough! and finally was able to let go of the hold the experience had on me. 
  • Describe your villain as carefully as you’ve described your main character: Add to your villain’s persona a drooping eyelid, a telltale scar slashed across his cheek, or something that connotes this character’s dark side.
  • Conjure up how your own misfortunes made you feel: Keep these feelings in a notebook. If your model is a stranger, watch how their misdeeds make the protagonist feel. Show these feelings in your story. Caveat: Little did I know that later I would be able to draw on the bad feelings I experienced to help me empathize with what mean words and actions can do to my characters. And also, how my experiences have helped me craft my villains.
  • Nail down your villain’s motivation: Was it something bad that happened to her in the past? Did he do something, such as steal something small, find that he enjoyed the thrill of living on the edge, and try for bigger and better spoils?
  • Show that your villain is fearful of something: J.M. Barrie’s Captain Hook, from his play Peter Pan, had two fears: the sight of his own blood, and the crocodile who pursues him after eating the hand cut off by Pan. In Roald Dahl’s book and the film Matilda, Miss Trunchbull is very superstitious and has an intense fear of ghosts, black cats, and the supernatural in general. 
  • Show that your villain has a good side: Each article I researched made the point that portraying your villain as all bad risks creating a cardboard character. He will be more human if he has some good qualities.  J.K. Rowling does this expertly in Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort was once a student at Hogwarts, just like the series’ hero.
  • Show that your villain is likeable: In Mark Twain’s book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, according to Cliffs Notes, thirteen-year-old Huck Finn’s “literal, pragmatic approach to his surroundings and his inner struggle with his conscience that make him one of the most important and recognizable figures in American literature . . . He is playful but practical, inventive but logical, compassionate but realistic, and these traits allow him to survive the abuse of Pap, the violence of a feud, and the wiles of river con men." 
  • Have a clear idea of the conflict between the villain and the hero in your story: How does your hero thwart your villain’s main goal? At your story’s climax, your villain and hero need to confront each other alone. Make the stakes as high as possible by ramping up the obstacles the villain has thrown in your hero’s path.

Follow these guidelines and read more detailed information on the creation of your villain/antagonist by consulting the list of articles below that contributed to this post.; post by Annika Griffith
Clipart of villain courtesy of: Clipart Panda

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Criminal Behavior

            Psychologist Abraham Maslow gave us some rules that govern basic human behavior. These rules have become the foundation to understanding criminal behavior. Human motivation is described in terms of a hierarchy of needs. These are placed ito five categories:
            1) Physical - such as food.
            2) Security - concerning things like shelter
            3) Belongingness and love - the desire for roots and a need to be wanted
            4) Esteem - desire to be liked and respected
            5) Self-actualizaion - a need to know and understand our world around us,
                to invent and create, and to discover joy in solving problems.
            Criminals degenerate in behavior, and this is displayed by three basic traits that signify the criminal personality:
            1) Weakness - emotional and/or physical which lacks discipline.
            2) Immaturity - childish egocentrism
            3) Self-deception - a severely narcissistic personality with a distorted
                 sense of personal reality
            Though it is not necessary to go into the details that cause a criminal to become a criminal, a writer must understand the mind of the criminal he/she is writing about. It is just as important to understand what makes your antagonist tick as it is your protagonist. Otherwise how are you going to make your readers understand why the murderer is killing or the robber is stealing? The writer must also develop a feeling of sympathy for the bad guy as well as for the protagonist. It all boils down to a believable story, and the bad guy has a backstory that makes him do the things he does just as the victim does.
            There are some questions you can ask that could help you understand your bad guy:
            1) What is the victimizer’s psychiatric type, and who are the victims? What
                is the victim’s profile?
            2) Where did the crime occur? What was there about this environment that
                 could have facilitated the crime?
            3) What time was the crime committed, and what is the relationship of the
                time to the crime?
            4) What occurred? What types of acts defined as intentional trauma?
            5) How did it happen? What was the injuries; what were the weapons and
                tools used?
            6) What was the motive for the crime?
            There are three characteristics that make up criminal behavior:
            1) They have a dominant ego where what they want is all that is important.
            2) The criminal exhibits dominant childish etal and emotional qualities.
            3) The bad guy has an obsession with sex.
            Developing your bad guy is more than just a physical description or a sad narration of his/her childhood. Just as you do with your protagonist, you must get into the mind of your antagonist. But you do not stop there because once you get into his mind you need to understand it and why he/she is the way he/she is.

Reference:  Malicious Intent
                   by Sean MacTire
                   Published by Writers Digest

Faye M. Tollison
Author of: To Tell the Truth
Upcoming book: The Bible Murders
                           Sarah’s Secret
Member of: Sisters in Crime
                    Writers on the Move

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