To drive story tension and conflict, every main character (protagonist) should have a villain (antagonist) of equal or greater ability.
That ability could come in the form of raw strength, cunning, knowledge, or any other skill that pins them against each other in a battle on a knife’s edge. The skill doesn’t even need to match. They don’t both have to be equals in strength—it often works better if their skills aren’t the same—but what does matter is that the protagonist and reader aren’t sure of victory.
The antagonist doesn’t need to be a human being. It could be an animal or an aspect of nature like a tornado. That is the main question in my short story Death Has No Shadow–who is the villain?
The protagonist and antagonist could share the same goal instead of striving for opposite goals such as one wants to save the world and the other wants to destroy it. Think of two-track athletes competing for the same prize. They share the same goal. Who wins or how they win it becomes the conflict.
Matching a great antagonist to the antagonist doesn’t end at ability. Consider their goals and moral classification. The matrix below shows how a popular method of categorizing moral alignment. The role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons made this matrix popular. Players used it to label the moral alignment of characters and monsters.
Reading across changes the character’s views on rules from “lawful” (ridge adherence to a code of conduct) versus “chaotic” (rules? I don’t need no stinkin’ rules). Reading up and down changes the character’s moral distribution.
The chart above shows some characters you might recognize. Do you agree with their placement?
Challenging the Flaw
But, in my opinion, the best element in finding a good match for your main character is the antagonist challenging the main character’s moral or psychological flaw. The villain will achieve his goal only if the main character overcomes his inner demons. This is one of the approaches Johnn Truby takes in his book Anatomy of Story.
I could dedicate an entire series to balancing characters … but that’s for another blog.
Batman Villains by CelestialLion on DeviantArt –