Photo…Eve Harrington in All About Eve

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Why do we love to hate antagonists?  In a successfully crafted antagonist the reasons are clear — we understand their motives, we somehow relate to their actions, and we are drawn in because they are so plausible that we cannot believe what they are doing to achieve their goals.

Often known as the villain, the antagonist is the character whose objective is to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her goal. However, antagonists do not have to be villains — (‘the bad guys’) — but they must demonstrate some type of opposition to the protagonist’s goals.

Film executives must empathize with your antagonist.  This doesn’t need mean sympathize — they must feel something for them such as hate, disdain, outrage, and disgust. Readers can disagree with the means by which your antagonist is going about taking action against the protagonist, but they should understand or even relate to why he or she is doing so.

Let’s turn the clock back to 1950 and the film All About Eve written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Why do we love to hate Eve Harrington? We are drawn into this memorable antagonist not only because she is duplicitous, scheming, and lies about her true identity, but she is smart, charming, and her goal to become a Broadway star is surprisingly realistic — she is a talented actress.  Eve will stop at nothing to achieve her goal — to become a bigger star than protagonist Margo Channing, who — eventually catching on to Eve’s intentions — leads to one of the film’s most famous line spoken by Margo: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Here are some tips for bringing out the best of your antagonists in your screenplay:

Top Tips

  • Avoiding one-dimensional or stereotypical antagonists will help you to avoid your script getting rejected.
  • Create empathetic, multi-dimensional antagonists whose motivations and behaviors are clear and plausible within the context of the plot.
  • Establish what’s at stake for your antagonist, and what he or she gains by succeeding in achieving his or her goal.
  • Antagonists who are emotionally complex, mysterious, flawed, vulnerable, and/or have a sense of humor are engaging to readers.
  • The antagonist’s true identity can be revealed in any act of your screenplay; however it’s best to establish the antagonist’s goals and intentions in Act 1 to raise the stakes in your protagonist’s journey.
  • Generally, antagonists are the ones who receive their punishment or retribution by the script’s climax. (For example: The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.)
  • Fully develop your antagonist’s character arc.

To learn more about writing and developing antagonists, as well as all your characters, read my book SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! Analyzing and referencing over 220 films, offering 34 screenwriting exercises, and providing six templates from fictional scripts, to inspire screenwriters to unleash their ideas, break through stumbling blocks, and strengthen their characters. (Save $1.00 off the $14.95 price by clicking on and use DISCOUNT CODE: G22GAZPD.  On Kindle: (discount code does not apply).