6. If your antagonist remains hidden for much of the story (as in a mystery), give him proxies or let him work behind the scenes.

6. If your antagonist remains hidden for much of the story (as in a mystery), give him proxies or let him work behind the scenes.

Forcing the protagonist to defeat proxies in order to reach the final battle with the primary antagonist is an excellent way of raising the stakes. One of the best examples in recent literature is the Harry Potter series. In the first book, the ultimate antagonist, Lord Voldemort, receives scant mention; Rowling gradually reveals his importance as the series progresses. Harry and his allies must confront an array of proxies throughout the series, including a basilisk, Death Eaters, dementors and a host of others before coming face to face with Voldemort for the climactic battle. Voldemort is, of course, working against Harry from behind the scenes even before the first book opens, but he must use the proxies to carry out his schemes until he regains a body and his strength.

In most fiction, bringing the antagonist and protagonist face to face on more than one occasion will heighten the tension. When this is not possible for plot reasons, proxies can work, as can behind-the-scenes machinations such as anonymous threats and indirect attacks against the protagonist’s reputation, family or self. Rowling enables mental contact between Harry and Voldemort before their physical confrontation; that type of “mind meld” won’t work for all stories, but it reminds us to be creative in the ways we structure protagonist/antagonist interactions.

By internalizing these six tips, you can amp up your antagonist and make him better than he was before. Stronger. Wilier. Worthy of making your protagonist’s life a bubbling cauldron of conflict … and of giving readers a story experience they won’t soon forget. If we start giving antagonists the respect they deserve, maybe we won’t get any more snarky emails from our villains, and maybe our book sales will zip toward the stratosphere. (Note to Eva N. Carnate: Don’t get any ideas. You’re still not getting your own series.)


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