Sometimes it might be hard to tell which characters fit into these categories – especially if you have a large cast like I do. I’m a deep thinker, so I think about this sort of thing a lot. Villains are usually antagonists (occasionally a villain might happen to be a protagonist though it’s rare), but there are also antagonists who are not necessarily villains. Even some anti-heroes could be considered fit the role of an antagonist, particularly if they are a rival to a more altruistic kind of hero who may or may not be the protagonist. While all three of these terms can be linked, each has a slightly different definition:
Antagonist – a character who is in opposition to someone or something; an adversary; usually to the protagonist.
Anti-Hero/Heroine – a leading character who lacks the usual qualities of a hero (for example: altruism/fortitude/morality/idealism).
Villain – a character who is evil and thrives on malice/wickedness in order to achieve their goal(s).
If we take the typical approach of the ‘good guy’ is the protagonist we’re expected to favour him/her, and hope and expect that he or she will ultimately prevail. I always find myself asking questions related to the antagonist(s), however, such as: what are the reasons for their behaviour? Has something happened to them in their past to make them behave this way? Is this character malicious for a reason? Why do the ‘good guys’ rarely (if ever) wonder what those reasons might be?
Don’t get me wrong, some stories do consider such details from the ‘good guy’s’ point of view, but I find they all too often don’t. Whether it’s in the form of a book, a video-game, an anime or perhaps a film, I feel much more connected if I’m able to see things from the antagonist’s point of view. If a villain does evil deeds merely for the sake of it, then I can’t help but see them as one dimensional.
Most if not all writers use their writing to express their true feelings, and I’m no exception. I wouldn’t want to be. It’s a part of who we are, and admittedly I find myself frequently relating to a lot of characters that bear the mark of the antagonist, anti-hero or villain. If I should find out that there is a very good reason for the antagonist or villain’s behaviour and can relate to it, I actually tend to find myself taking their side over ‘the good guys’.
It’s no different when you have the ‘good guys’ embarking on a quest that turns into a mission to save (for argument’s sake) humanity, without them giving much of a thought to why certain antagonists and villains behave the way do. Too often they’re hell bent on stopping the villain without pausing to consider their adversary’s reasons.
Alright, some villains are just plain evil through and through and all they care about is getting their own way, but there are still many who are driven toward such actions; all via negative and often devastating personal experiences. It all depends on who we want our readers to love, and those we want them to hate with a passion. That goes for any of our characters of course, but as for the focus of this topic, the most obvious way to consider loving or hating these kinds of characters is to think about whether they’re one dimensional or multi-dimensional. Those who are focused on their own selfish gain are the characters we should love to hate, and it’s the multi-dimensional ones who should be making us wonder. Who knows, we may even relate to them in some way.