All terms

What is an Antagonist?

The character who opposes or stands in conflict with the protagonist.

Antagonist: More Than Just a Villain

In creative writing, the antagonist is not just a cardboard cutout bad guy. Rather, the role of the antagonist is to provide conflict and opposition to the protagonist's desires and goals. This often leads to complex relationship dynamics and character development as the protagonist navigates the obstacles posed by the antagonist. In fact, a well-written antagonist can sometimes be just as compelling as the protagonist.

Etymologically, the word 'antagonist' comes from the Greek word 'antagonistes,' which means 'opponent' or 'competitor.' Understanding the roots of the word can help writers keep in mind that the antagonist is not simply an evil force. Rather, they are a force working against the protagonist, which can sometimes provide necessary challenges and ultimately contribute to the protagonist's growth and development.

Grammar-wise, it's important for writers to distinguish between 'antagonist' and 'villain.' While most villains are antagonists, not all antagonists are villains. The antagonist could be a well-meaning but misguided friend or family member, for example.

Antagonists in Literature: Not All Villains Are Created Equal

Two classic examples of the role of the antagonist in literature.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In this iconic novel, the character of Tom Buchanan serves as an antagonist to Gatsby, creating conflict and tension throughout the story as they vie for the affections of Daisy Buchanan.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

In this beloved series, Voldemort is the primary antagonist, but there are also several other antagonists, including Professor Umbridge, who provides a different kind of threat to Harry and his friends during their time at Hogwarts.