Writing Flat Antagonist on Purpose?

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This topic contains 7 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  TheContemplativeWordsmith 2 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #656808

    Chef Dodo

    I’m in the middle of writing the first draft of my novel. which I am planning to have three parts, kind of like episodes within the novel. In the first part I have a villain that right now is a little on the flat side and is more there to get the ball rolling plot-wise. Since it is the first draft my main goal is to get the story on paper then go back and flush out certain parts.

    I’m trying to figure out if this villain is worth the effort of going into great detail about her past, or can I just kind of summarize her in a page since she is not the main villain.

    So to sum it up: Is it okay to sometimes have flat antagonists purely for moving the plot? Or should they be as detailed at your primary villain?

  • #656810

    Rob Vargas

    Think like a reader.

    Does the story move the reader to the next page, and the next, and one after that?

    If your honest answer is no, then you know what you have to do.

  • #656820


    There are plot-driven stories and there are character-driven. If yours is plot-driven, readers won’t expect “full-bodied” characters – but they still have to have some level of interest in them. And you need to be careful that any character is not truly “flat” – nobody likes to read about cardboard characters.

    As to the character’s past, even in character-driven stories their past is not always necessary to know. Often a little “mystery” works as well as a biography. I like to know enough to understand why a character acts/reacts the way they do – but I also prefer that information to come when and where it’s needed, and not in one big blob of info.

    Like Rob said, keep the reader turning the page. If either the characters or the plot makes the reader wonder if it’s worth continuing, you’ve got some work to do.

  • #656840

    Chef Dodo
    Is it okay to sometimes have flat antagonists

    There are lots of villains on TV, movies, and novels that are flat. It’s up to you if you want to have a flat villain as well.

    Chef Dodo
    I’m trying to figure out if this villain is worth the effort of going into great detail about her past, or can I just kind of summarize her in a page since she is not the main villain.

    When you can take the pebble from the master’s hand, you have also become a master.

    Characterization & backstory can be shown through thoughts, dialogue, action, and interaction.

    If you can weave characterization & backstory into the flow of the plot…

    You may have just taken the pebble from the master’s hand.

    – Neon Grasshopper (A.K.A. Dreams of Tanelorn)

  • #656868

    T. A. Rodgers
    Senior Moderator

    I don’t think any character should be completely flat. Why identify a character if they have no dimension? I understand a crowd of people may not have character traits, but a main antagonist? Surely, you want the reader to invest their time with your main characters. This includes the antagonist. Some of the best novels I have read had a incredible antagonist full of character traits and flaws. If you are going to spend time with your characters make them fun and exciting. Give the reader something to remember.

  • #656923


    I’ll answer based on a novel I read recently. In Scarecrow by Michael Connelly the main villain of the story doesn’t undergo change and doesn’t have much of a backstory other than a flashback or two into his past and that is the villain of a pretty good thriller. The character is still fleshed out in his actions though. The way I think of it is the character should be well rounded in your mind even if they don’t get a high word count in the book. That helps them shine in the few words they do get.

  • #656938

    Rob Vargas

    (Fiction) Reading is an experience. It’s a momentary journey into another world, even if the world mirrors our own. Sometimes, that’s even true in nonfiction.

    Sometimes, a character is “flat,” two-dimensional, as a form of satire or commentary. Maybe the backstory would make you empathize with a character, but the character is still evil. Maybe the focus of the story is “what,” not “who.”

    My thought is: recognize it. Own it. And then decide if the story is okay with that. Maybe it is, and your work (in this regard) is done. Maybe not. Maybe your character just does not make sense like that. Maybe the story is too scattered without focusing that character a bit.

    Editing requires me to step back from being a writer and become a reader. Because that’s who I’m trying to entertain. Not myself and not the agent.

  • #656970

    I’ve not developed villains as much as the main character because so much focus in that direction can confuse the reader, and as others have said here, the best advice is to think like the reader.

    If this character is a sub-villain – you you will – your character exposition focus should be even less than your main villain, and somehow tie in the the overall focus of the “evil” you may wish to convey.

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