Monday, February 15, 2016

Writing Villains and Antagonists in Different Kinds of Conflict

I believe that every type of conflict can use a villain. Every conflict has the potential to foster a certain evil someone… *cackles evilly* I mean, obviously, just because there is a conflict doesn’t mean there has to be a villain, either.

That said, I want to examine six kinds of conflicts and how they might employ villains and antagonists. Take note: when I say “antagonist,” I mean the conflict involves a conflict of interest (COI), but the person’s character may not be corrupt in that context. When I say “villain,” I mean someone who is wicked and immoral, at least from somebody’s perspective.

via Giphy

Person vs. Self

COI—a person is at odds with their own self, maybe because of a moral or personal issue

Villain—a person is at odds with their own self, maybe because they are an enemy to themselves, they are evil, or there is some lack of self control involved

Jean Valjean (Les Misérables) faces a COI when his desire for freedom and the freedom of an innocent man require that he submit to justice or face the consequences for his sin. Henry Jekyll (Jekyll and Hyde) finds himself to be a villain when he gives identity to his dark side and neither persona will surrender to the other.

via ReactionGifs

Person vs. Person

COI—two people disagree, argue, or oppose one another, but one side isn’t “evil” or worse than the other

Villain—two (or more, I guess) entities grapple for something of value and at the very least, they themselves have some idea about who is righteous and justified and who is not

Sam-I-Am (Green Eggs and Ham) has a friend who doesn’t want to try green eggs and ham in a COI, but his resistance doesn’t make him evil—he tries the food and likes it, but it would be perfectly valid for him to reject the food without moral consequences. Victor and Eli (Vicious) face off in a battle of good and evil, but there’s a twist: Victor, the traditional “villain” is the protagonist. (I say this so you know there is room for innovation.)

via Bookish

Person vs. Nature

COI—usually a person ends up stranded in the wilderness and learns that nature is overpowering, and they  must learn to survive

Villain—nature itself is evil (industrialist propaganda?) or perhaps is personified to represent some sort of negative-ish force

Katsa (Graceling) must fight to keep Princess Bitterblue and herself alive in the biting cold with scarce resources (COI). Usually Mother Nature isn’t evil, but in this episode of Hercules, Gaia is personified as kind of a righteous jerk (not exactly a villain, but I bet you could!) because Adonis did cause offense, but she could have been nicer.

via Ooquotes

Person vs. Society/Government

COI—there are legitimate social disputes that don’t revolve around what is evil, but what is best for that society, which is always tense, even in real life

Villain—then again, sometimes society itself is evil and promotes immorality and injustice, etcetera

Alexander Hamilton’s first cabinet meeting (Hamilton) demonstrates a COI in that the southern states resist his suggested economic policy as it does not benefit them. Not exactly evil, but still tense. And fine, a series like The Hunger Games does portray a corrupt government that enforces poverty and kills children to rule through fear. It is indeed villainous. 

via Funny or Die

Person vs. Technology

COI—the existence/evolution of technology threatens “the way things are,” and may put things like industry, values, and people in jeopardy

Villain—technology itself is evil, sometimes sentient, and commits immoral deeds usually threatening humanity

Matty and her friends (Cranford) face a COI with the railway coming to their small town. They don’t want the noise, danger, negative values, and disruption it would bring to their perfectly happy lives—they must come to terms with change and its value to their society. But in Overlord Protocol by Mark Walden technology itself is evil in that an Artificial Intelligence turns out to have engineered the protagonist and plans to murder every human on the planet.

via Animato Joe

Person vs. Fate

COI—destiny does its thing, someone tries to avoid its negative consequences, and they happen anyway

Villain—destiny itself enforces something evil and it must be resisted or changed for the benefit of the team we’re rooting for

Fate is hard, usually because it isn’t personified (minus Greek mythology). Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex describes a sorta-COI, wherein Oedipus met his fate and now fate is punishing him for it until he atones for his sin—fate insists upon balance that makes him suffer. A situation where fate is a villain might be when Nyx (Cruel Beauty) finds that the Kindly Ones try to enforce an existence that cannot stand. When she calls them out on it, their power fades.

Well, that was long. It could have been longer if I decided to do Person vs. Supernatural but that one confuses me and my research on the point of it was inconclusive.

Regardless: you can have awesome stories with conflicts produced by awesome villains. And you can have awesome stories with conflicts produced by awesome antagonists. What's more, you can even have awesome stories with multiple conflicts with both awesome villains and awesome antagonists.

Go make them awesomely.

What kinds of conflicts do you use in your writing? Do you use villains or antagonists?


  1. great post! Villains are always some of my favourite parts of s story as I love to learn about their backgrounds etc.

    1. Yes, indeed! I like villains quite a bit, too. Thanks for visiting, Kristin!

  2. Ooh, I do so love this!! I LOVE villains *cackles evilly* But I like the kind of of villains that aren't always the villain. I like writing a book where everyone is "technically the villain to someone else". So probably person vs person mostly. *nods* I also like to throw in person vs nature, because that's always really unfair (why do you have to be meeeean, nature?!?) and I find it really amps up the conflict. Books are best when very conflicted. hehe.
    Loved this post and your analysis, Heather! (AND A+ GIF USAGE.)

    1. Yay, villains all around! Person versus nature can be very interesting to me... I mean, a lot of times it's just about a bunch of people who get lost and need to overcome their own limitations to do something with themselves, but I also think it's cool when people think outside the box and make nature its own thing. Thanks for reading, Cait! :D

  3. It's good to see you back! I mostly use person vs person because I think it's more interesting when the antagonist has a few good points. (And do you know what's awesome? When both people are the good guys but only one can win, like in "The Scorpio Races" (only one person can win the race) and "The Hunger Games" (only one can survive). It's hard, especially when both people deserve to win.)

    1. Thanks, Victoria! Person vs. person is indeed a common one, but yeah, there are some benefits of actually being able to characterize that evilness. Gray area like you describe is among my favorites! :)

  4. person vs. person and person vs. self are probably my favorites--especially when you're dealing with a villain who's more at odds with the protagonist than actually villainous. Villains with a sense of humor are wonderful, too--I adore Hades from Hercules and Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove. (Come to think of it, The Emperor's New Groove uses person vs. person, person vs. nature, and person vs. self conflicts. It's neat that you can include more than one type in a story.)

    1. Ah, yes, humorous villains do make me happy. :) And yes, I think we often get taught only to look for one kind of conflict, but I say the more conflict the better! Always!

  5. Ooh, this was very good. I really like the way you broke this down, because sometimes conflicts get muddled in my head and I cross the two. I think I've tended to include more person vs. self and person vs. person, because it's a more narrow focus and it allows for more introspection (at least it does in my mind :P).

    Thanks for sharing! :)

    1. Conflict can be confusing, yes, but also, good. And yes, person vs. person and person vs. self are very frequently used, and I do not think that is bad. They have been used rather well in a lot of things, I think. Thanks for reading, Liz!

  6. This is a really interesting analysis. As an addition to the Gaia thing, Gaia actually IS evil in the Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan. So yes, it's definitely possible. I don't think nature is evil, but your example of how it can create conflict like in Graceling (that was such a good book) is definitely true. (Unless you think of Gaia as mother nature, in which case see above). I also like your point that clashes of interests don't have to be evil, like the Sam-I-am example. I mean, green eggs and ham are a little frightening... This is really good analysis. Conflict is indeed interesting :)

    1. Aghhh on the one hand I think that's interesting but on the other hand I am headdesking because that completely betrays the entire point of Greek Mythology in my opinion. THERE IS NO EVIL. OBVIOUSLY. But okay whatever. But yes, also, there doesn't have to be evil... Green eggs and ham are just something new!

  7. This is a really interesting analysis! I've always loved thinking about the cause of the evil in antagonists. People vs fate is always a good one in my opinion, because you start to feel bad for the antagonist and you get to see a more human side of them.

    Great post!

    1. Yess, because you have to understand that if fate is driving the protagonist, it is also driving the antagonist, and thus there is NO RESPONSIBILITY POSSIBLE and that's pretty cool.

  8. This post is super cool! I guess most of my stories include either person v. person or person v. government, but all of them also include person v. self, at least on some level. I guess I just love internal conflict (provided it isn't overdramatic and overdone), and it just reveals a lot about the person and their eventual growth when half of the battle is against themselves. :)


    1. Person v. Government is one of my favorites to read about! Also, yes, internal conflict really helps us get a cool perspective of the character arc. <3


Check it out, comments and stuff. I love to hear from readers, and I always respond to commenters! Here's the fun part—if you leave a link to your blog I'll show up and comment back. I have just one rule down here: Don't Be a Problem. This spans the entire umbrella of rudeness and crudeness, so I reiterate: Don't Be a Problem. Thanks for stopping by!