The Best Way To Introduce A Villain Or Antagonist

In recent weeks, we have looked at how to introduce a main character and a secondary character correctly. Thus, this week, it is time to complete the trilogy by discussing the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist.

The Four Factors

It must be noted that, when introducing your villain or protagonist, the same four factors apply as per the main character and any secondary character. So, to refresh, when considering the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist to the story, writers must appreciate that the secondary character must engage the audience. The correct way to do this involves four factors:

  1. Giving the audience a flavour for the character (i.e. his/her status, personality and goals);
  2. Hinting at his/her struggles and goals for the rest of the narrative (without divulging too much detail)*;
  3. Adding parts in the dialogue that are key to the character, which will be extrapolated over the course of the narrative.
  4. Showing the context of the world in which he/she lives in.

*However, there is an exception when in comes to villains or antagonists because they do not have to tell the truth about what they want to do.

Villains/Antagonists

As has been said in a previous blog post, if the main character drives the plot forwards, the villain or antagonist must be the one who sets the central protagonist on his/her journey (and who gets him/her out of bed in the mornings).

But when it comes to the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist, they can be:

  1. Introduced early in the narrative;
  2. Mentioned early on, but not physically introduced until later in the narrative;
  3. Revealed in the last third of the narrative as someone we have previously met.

Example for Introduced Early On – Scar

the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist - scar, right at the beginning
Scar (voiced by Jeremy Irons) is shown to the audience very early on in the film and makes himself immediately empathetic to the audience.

In The Lion King, Scar is introduced to the audience immediately after the prologue, after Simba has been heralded as the heir to Pride Rock. Scar had been the heir until his nephew (or the “little hairball” as he calls him) was born.

Yet, Scar is intelligent and frames his situation in a way that makes the audience empathise with him. When he complains that “life’s not fair, is it?” he makes the viewers smile as everyone can relate to life not being fair from time to time. That he is not as big or as strong as his kingly brother, Mufasa, enables the audience to empathise with him further.

Nevertheless, there is no hiding Scar’s bitterness at being displaced by Simba. Due to his dark complexion, wide smile, and green eyes (which emanate envy), it is obvious that Scar is going to do something villainous to usurp the throne at some point in the narrative.

Example for Physically Introduced Late On – Lord Tywin Lannister

In Game of Thrones, arguably the chief antagonist is not physically introduced to the audience until Episode 7 of the first season. Before that, we are given hints that Lord Tywin is the richest and the most powerful lord in all of Westeros (not to mention that he loathes his dwarf son, Tyrion).

Yet, the wait to meet Lord Tywin is worthwhile as he oozes power. From his words, we get an understanding for his demanding, formidable and utterly ruthless nature. When he asks his beloved son, Jaime, why he didn’t kill an injured Ned Stark, and he subsequently derides Jaime for being honourable. We see it again when he downplays Jaime’s achievements – “You’ve been a glorified bodyguard for two kings: one a madman, the other a drunk.”

Plus, in his introduction, we learn of Lord Tywin’s intentions – to establish a Lannister dynasty that will last for a thousand years. From the force behind his words, the audience appreciates that he will stop at nothing to fulfil his goals.

Lord Tywin’s introduction is excellent. Nevertheless, it is just a taste for what he has in store for his enemies (notably, the Starks).

the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist - introduce him/her late on, like Lord Tywin Lannister
Lord Tywin is introduced quite late into the narrative, and makes his presence and intentions abundantly clear when we finally do meet him.

Example for Someone Previously Met – Ra’s Al-Ghul

In Batman Begins, after supposedly killing Ra’s Al-Ghul and returning to Gotham, Bruce Wayne learns that Ra’s Al-Ghul is alive and has been hiring Dr Crane to pollute the city’s water systems.

At Bruce’s birthday party, Bruce comes face-to-face with Ra’s Al-Ghul. And it is his Henri Ducard, Bruce’s friend/mentor, who rescued him from a Chinese jail; who gave Bruce a purpose; and who Bruce saved before leaving Tibet to return to save Gotham.

Henri insists that Ra’s Al-Ghul is more than a mere mortal (a theme that runs through the The Dark Knight Trilogy). Subsequently, he reveals his plan to destroy Gotham.

*Exception – The Intentions of the Villains/Antagonists

When writers consider the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist, the second of the above four factors can be abandoned. In short, villains/antagonists do not have to reveal their intentions when we first meet them. Thus, Writers can either:

  1. Leave the ambitions of the villains/antagonists vague; or
  2. Have them outright lie about what they truly want to achieve.

However, if writers choose either of these options, they have to make sure that the chosen option is consistent with the character.

Example for Vagueness – Renard from The World Is Not Enough

Renard (Robert Carlisle) shortly after we meet him in The World Is Not Enough, firing at James Bond in a (successful) bid to get away.

The villain for the 19th James Bond film is Renard (played by Robert Carlisle). Shortly after the opening sequence and song, M informs Bond that Renard is a former KGB agent turned terrorist, who is immune to pain and who kidnapped Elektra King when she was a girl.

While there is no need to guess who the villain of the movie is, we don’t know from M’s speech what Renard actually wants. Therefore, when we finally meet Renard, over a third of the way into the film’s runtime, we are intrigued.

Renard’s introduction reveals his tough, ruthless and unpredictable nature. He holds a scolding rock without flinching before placing it into the hand of his no.2, Davidoff, because he let him down. But then just as we think Renard is going to relieve Davidoff of his pain (by killing him), Renard orders his guard to shoot his other trusted advisor, Dr Arkhov.

Still, though, from this scene we do not learn much about what Renard wants. We know from it that he hates being let down and that he has no love for Bond (although, that’s not saying much as he is the ‘Bond baddie’). But what are his true intentions?

Renard’s introduction is typical of the character. He keeps his cards close to his chest, revealing only a little information at a time. Thus, the audience must be patient as scene by scene we find out what Renard really wants.

Example for An Outright Lie – The Joker from The Dark Knight

As has been said before on this blog, the Heath Ledger’s Joker is quite possibly the ultimate antagonist. This is because he challenges the central protagonist (Batman) at every single juncture throughout the course of the narrative. Indeed, by the end, the Joker breaks Batman psychologically, and even wins.

But what does the Joker want? At first, we think we know his intentions when we are first properly introduced to him when he is sitting with the mob bosses. After he performs his (chilling) ‘magic trick’ of making a pencil disappear, he tells the mob bosses that he wants to “kill the Batman.”

Only, this is a lie. In fitting with his character, it is a joke he plays on the audience (indeed, one that we only realise upon a second watching). The Joker doesn’t really want to kill Batman. He wants to keep Batman alive and fight him for Gotham’s soul, as he reveals in his final scene.

While Batman believes that people are inherently good, the Joker believes the complete opposite. The Joker wants to prove that deep down everyone is like him. Throughout the course of the film, he constantly sows chaos and disorder to prove that when people are hungry, scared and/or angry, the beats inside them comes to the fore.

the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist - when a villain/the Joker lies
The Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight, when we meet him, when he lies to us about his intentions.

Thank You

As ever, thank you for reading this blog post on the best way to introduce a villain or antagonist. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. As it is the last blog post of 2019, I want to thank you again for reading my blog posts since April of this year when I started. I hope you have enjoyed them and deemed them helpful. Happy new year, and may 2020 being you joy and success, and so much more.

Paul

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