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June 24, 2022

What’s an Antagonist? Definition and Examples

When you're writing a script, the two most important characters in your story are your protagonist, your hero, and your antagonist, your villain.

But is the meaning of being an antagonist and how do you write an effective antagonist who challenges your protagonist and doesn't fall flat?

Let's explore the topic to find out.

What is the role of an antagonist in screenwriting?

The definition of an antagonist in a script is when a character embodies opposing values to your protagonist.

In a narrative, we are positioned with the protagonist: the story is largely their point-of-view and follows their agenda.

The antagonist opposes the protagonist and must be defeated somehow, either through death, defeat, or redemption.

Let's take some of the greatest antagonists of all time and break down how their values misalign with those of the protagonist.

Voldemort (Harry Potter film series)

Voldemort is an exceptional example of an antagonist as he personifies the opposite of everything that Harry stands for.

Voldemort is scared of death and will do anything to achieve the goal of immortality, including splitting his soul, killing innocent people, and showing no mercy to anyone that gets in his way. He values only power and control.

On the other hand, Harry is prepared to sacrifice himself and face death to save his friends. He values compassion and love and seeks to protect those around him from death and harm.

Further, those two value systems clash before the start of the first film when Voldermort killed Harry's parents and attempted to kill Harry.

The Joker and The Batman (The Dark Knight)

The Joker adores chaos. He wants the people of Gotham to prove him right and act in a greedy and self-obsessed way. He also believes the capitalist system is the root of many of society's problems and seems bent on replacing it with a form of anarchy and nihilism. When he is dangling by a thread in the film's climax, the Joker's villain monologue reveals his ideology.

So too does Alfred. The butler famously says of the Joker, "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

 The Joker pulls his face into a smile.
The Joker is the main antagonist in "The Dark Knight."

Batman, however, stands for integrity, law, and order and believes that the people of Gotham are generally decent and will do the right thing if they have a hero to look up to.    

A hero is a villain in someone else's story

Remember, your protagonist may well be a villain in your antagonist's story. This is important because considering this stops you from crafting stock villains as your antagonists.

Your villain shouldn't be evil with no redeeming features. In fact, all narratives are about perspective. As a writer, all you are doing is telling a story from a character's perspective. That character interprets the world in their own way, which is conveyed to the audience.

How can you write an antagonist?

There are several ways you can write an antagonist. First, list the values of your protagonist. What kind of world are they fighting for? What types of people can help them on their way?

And, which types of characters would get in their way? Your antagonist should antagonize and frustrate your protagonist's journey and worldview.

Another way to develop an antagonist is to think about people you've met in real life that you dislike. For example, consider what you disliked about them and why. You could loosely base your character on them, changing their name and exaggerating their negative features.

The four types of antagonists

Antagonists don't just take the form of villains. In fact, there are four types of antagonists you can slot into place.


Villains are the classic antagonist. As we've previously discussed, they oppose your protagonist at every stage on their journey because they hold conflicting values.

What makes great villains is a capacity for good as well as evil. Reichsmarschall John Smith in The Man in The High Castle is an excellent example of this.

He is undoubtedly a villain because he has been complicit with the Reich policy of extermination. We see him unafraid to move against enemies for his own personal survival. However, we also see him as a family man of compassion, and he saves the Japanese Pacific States from nuclear destruction at the end of series 2.

Reichsmarschall John Smith wearing his Nazi uniform.
Reichsmarschall John Smith in "The Man In The High Castle" is a great example of a well-rounded villain who shows the capacity for evil and goodness.

In Series 4, we learn that he decided to go along with the Nazi regime in 1946 after Washington D.C had fallen to the Axis so that his children could eat. So when his wife openly questions, "How did we get here?" he replies that he doesn't know and that he doesn't know how to stop the Nazi regime even when he has become the leader of a free America.

The more human you make your villain, the more rounded a character they become.


Conflict creators are not necessarily villains; they are not evil, but their values are just not aligned with the protagonist, and that leads to a clash.

Draco Malfoy is an excellent example in Harry Potter, as well as many of the characters in Slytherin House. Although Malfoy often clashes with Harry, it isn't because he is evil; it is due to his differing worldview and conflicting interests.

Harry was raised in a muggle house and mistreated by his aunt and uncle. Malfoy was spoiled and brought up with wealth and privilege because of his family's position as one of the sacred pureblood families.

In the final movie, we see Draco - and other members of Slytherin House - side against Voldemort and see the error of their ways.

Inanimate forces

These are forces out of the control of our protagonist. Often these are acts of nature. For example, in Interstellar, the environment is the antagonist as it threatens to destroy life on earth.

Nature is also the antagonist in many disaster movies, such as 2012 and James Cameron's Titanic.

Protagonists themselves - internal conflict

The protagonist can also be the antagonist if their own internal conflicts are holding them back.

However, this type of antagonist is more complex to convey on screen than on the page because we can't see your protagonist's inner thoughts.

One way around this is through the use of a narrator. Either an omniscient narrator who knows everything, or it could be the narration of your protagonist speaking from the future about what they were thinking at the time.

Write a well-rounded antagonist

We often hear a lot about writing well-rounded main characters, but this should also apply to your antagonist.

You don't want to write an antagonist that comes off as a stock villain because your audience will either laugh at them or find their motives hollow and unbelievable.

What is an antagonist? Never forget, the most frightening villains are the ones that have a human element to them.

If you're looking to get started writing, then don't forget that Arc Studio can help you with its industry-standard tools for plotting, writing, and drafting.

Happy writing!


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What’s an Antagonist? Definition and Examples
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen using Arc Studio. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, Readers' Digest and Newsweek, amongst many other publications. He has just finished his second novel for young adults, set in a boarding school. He holds a BA in English from Loughborough University.

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