One is good, Six is better – How multiple antagonists can broaden your novel


One of the best ways to make sure that you don’t have a linear story is to broaden the plot line.

By increasing the conflict and varying the scales  you can make the story more interesting. But the important thing is to be subtle – to ” bigger isn’t always better.”

Classic stories usually involve  a single hero engaged against a single antagonist.

Although this can work well,  the desire line is a clear one and the goal is simple there are also disadvantages to keeping things straight forward .

Multiply it up.
One antagonist is good, multiples are better.

The best way to broaden your story and to increase the conflict is to use more than one antagonist. This  allows you to hit your hero and secondary characters with more than a variety of  conflicts from a multitude of angles.                   An average hero will need to become a epic hero  in order to overcome several protagonists.  A word of warning at this stage be careful or you could end up fragmenting your story, making it convoluted.

Only one problem but the solutions are endless.
Every story is essentially about how a character goes about trying to solve their problem. In a  story the problem is a puzzle with several possible solutions. Each antagonist  will embody a different side of the problem,  and in turn present a different possible solution for the protagonist to explore.

We all love antagonists that  bring out the weaknesses of the hero. So using different antagonists to “attack” the hero’s main weakness in their own unique ways, will deepen the story line.

You can even makes things even more interesting by having three antagonists with three times the conflict, and have them them at odds with each other and the hero.

Having more conflict is also a  great way of developing your hero, as the more they deal with, the more they will grow.

So How Many Antagonists should you include? 
The principle of minimal characters states that you need the least number of characters to tell a story.  So as a rule of thumb : One protagonist, three antagonists and six minor characters.  

In “The Hobbit,” although Smaug is the main focus, Bilbo has many antagonists. As he wanders through the story Bilbo interacts with Trolls,  Goblins, wolves, the Spiders of Mirkwood, the Wood-elves, Smaug himself and then multiple enemies in the Battle of Five Armies.

A Single, Clear Desire Line
In order for this to work well, you need to be careful not to interject more than one main desire line into the story. Otherwise, your story could fragment into a tangled mess. This doesn’t mean no subplots but when you use subplots, find a way for it to affect the main story line.

How to put this into action.

1. Create one single main opponent with a system of values that define his actions.

2. Add secondary and tertiary antagonists. Then determine how they will interact with the protagonist and what problems they will present.

3. A figure in the shadow is a good surprise to have up your sleeve. The best surprises are from a antagonist hidden from sight. Also if the villain is close to the hero it can be great for internal conflict.

4. Determine how each antagonist will affect the main story goal?

5. Determine how subplots will affect the main story?

6. It is essential that the main antagonist drives the central conflict of the story, whilst the secondary antagonists increase conflict and chaos into the story by fighting against each other as well as the hero.

So with a broader story line, we can develop richer more engaging characters and really captivate the reader. Which is great when book two comes out.

Neil Sehmbhy is a an author who lives in a town that likes to think of itself as a city. Author of the forthcoming Corporation, Jinx and Sunder novels, you can follow him on Twitter @NeilSehmbhy

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