When Your Villain Refuses to be Your Antagonist

6:00 AM

I wrote The Dream Walkers, draft 1, a year ago now. I vividly remember the planning stage: brainstorming the characters, world, and plot. I remember how I thought things were going to go. How I set up and planned for things to fall together. (spoiler: they didn't)

I started with two main antagonists, but as time and words have passed, I've realized I don't actually have two main antagonists. I have six, sort of. And none of those are the original two I thought they were. 

I know. It's funny. Ha-ha.

Through edits, this has been extremely frustrating. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize that my two "villains" weren't my antagonists. But once I came to this conclusion, I was faced with a question.

Who were my antagonists?

I haven't fully solved the problem yet, but I've pinpointed the issue I had and why.

So, what do you do when your villain refuses to be your antagonist?

I'm going to do this in list format because that's how my brain is working right now.

#1: get to know your villain

The first step to figuring out why my villains weren't working as antagonists was getting their backstories straight. I needed to know where they were coming from, and what the true motives behind their actions were.

Once that started to unfold, so many things about their character began to make sense. Why my evil Lord of Darkness was actually a softie, and why my Queen of Light was not a cold, cynical, merciless tyrant, but a terrified woman left with no other options aside from callousness.

Discovering who they were made me see why they weren't operating as the evil villains of my story like they had in the planning stage. They were pure evil in that process. But now ... now they're human.

YOUR JOB: Sit down in a quiet room and chat with the character you thought was your villain. Figure out who they are and why. If they're like mine--playing the bad guy, but not really a bad guy--ask them why. What's making them act this way? Why haven't they tried to do something about it? (or have they?)

#2: figure out who your real antagonist is

Of course, every story needs an antagonist. So a new problem rose when I embraced the true natures of my villains.

Who was going to fill their role?

Fortunately, this wasn't that difficult of a question, since the real antagonists had surfaced during the writing of the first and second drafts. The real problem has come in tying them more securely into the story, and connecting them to the main antagonist so that everything is cohesive and works together.

YOUR JOB: Examine your story. Who is giving your MCs the most grief? Who is thwarting their goals? Who stands in their way at nearly every turn? Who is out to get them? The villain your first thought might be the answer to some of these questions, but if there is anyone else in your story that earned themselves a yes on this list, I encourage you to take another look at them and their role in the story. Are they really just a side character, or are they the antagonist you've been missing?

#3: hire them and fire them

Hopefully at this point, you know who your villain is and you know who your antagonist is. Now it's time to do some weeding and skimming. Hire that good antagonist that's been lurking in the shadows. It's time to give them a larger role in the plot of your story. It's time to find out their true character and motive.

And, though it's hard, fire your old villains. Don't get rid of them! They are in the story for a reason, most likely. Just because they're not actually your antagonists doesn't mean they're not meant for the book. They might have a role you have yet to uncover. Keep searching through their character to find it.

It might be annoying or slightly terrifying to make such big changes like these. But I PROMISE you, if your current villains aren't meant to be the antagonists, it will be so worth it. Your story will be so much stronger, and your previous villains might turn out to be valuable assets to your characters.

Keep your mind open! You never know who might come knocking on your brain with a story to tell.

Do you struggle with your antagonists and/or villains? How do you be sure you have them properly categorized? Do you find it hard to fire characters from their previous roles? Have you ever had to? 


You Might Also Like


  1. thannkk youu. this is brilliant, and much needed. villains motives are super important, but get lost in the background pretty often for me #oops so, thanks for this, Hannah! <3

    sarah » the introverted extrovert

    1. Aw, I'm glad this helped! In light of our MCs, villains' motives are very easy to get pushed back, you're so right. Definitely something to watch for.

  2. This is great advice! Usually my villains hit me in the face as they march into my story, so I haven't had this exact problem, but you have my complete sympathy for their rebellion. They never do as we say. xP Hope your edits go well for you!!! <3

    1. Thank you lovely! <3 They certainly are going better with your comments guiding me <3

  3. Isn't it so strange how stories sometimes go the opposite direction we expect them to, even though we're the ones writing it?

    These are great tips, Hannah! Antagonists are so deep and complex... I love weeding out their past, figuring out the traits that are actually good in them, finding out what happened to make them evil. I've SORT OF been in a situation where the antagonist is not actually the antagonist, so this post is very helpful. *nodnod*

    Lila @ The Red-Hooded Writer

    1. IKR? It happens to me all the time! :P And I agree--finding good traits in our antags is always really interesting.

  4. I want to know more about this story if it has that many antagonists/villain types! Great post!

    1. Lol you could say it has one main antagonist, but each MC (there are five) have their own personal antagonist which are entities, if you will, of the main antagonist. It's kind of hard to explain :P But thank you for your interest! <3

  5. Soo....I know you said every story needs a villian...but mine doesn't, and I was wondering if you have any tips???

    My story is about an American teen who finds herself lost in the Congo rainforest, and the main plot is about her struggle against herself and God. So I guess I could say God is the antagonist, but I'm not really sure...help!?!?

    1. As long as there is conflict, it's highly likely you do have an antagonist. God could be it, but it might be that the real antagonist is actually something inside your main character. Some lie she's battling, or some belief she's clinging to. Being lost in the Congo rainforest could definitely make the setting an antagonist in and of itself! :P If you're struggling with the story having conflict, that's when you should be concerned about an antagonist. But it sounds like you've got plenty going on!

      Does that help at all?

    2. Yes, thanks for taking the time to reply to me! ;D

  6. I want to read more of your stories, your a good writer.


Comments bring us happiness and warm fuzzies, so please share your thoughts! Stan and I want everyone to be welcome, so we ask that you be kind and courteous and use nice language.

Popular Posts