I am sitting in my office thinking on how busy I’ve been this summer and looking at a poster on my wall. The poster is from a video game released in 2005 for the Sony Playstation 2 called Shadow of the Colossus. The premise of the game is that you control a boy who must find and kill 16 giants the game calls Colossi to restore the life of a girl. So you spend the game wandering the vast land on horseback encountering these monstrous beings, climb up them, find their weakness and slay them. When you get all sixteen the game ends.
Now I can’t tell you what happens at the end of the game for two reasons. One, that would spoil it if you have any intention to play an eight year old game. Two I never made it to the end. About two or three Colossi into the game I came to realize what for me was a game killing fault. I am tasked with killing these beings with very little context or reason other than saving the young girl, yadda yadda yadda. The only problem was the means of encountering them. You just come upon the first few Colossi. By the third one, lacking this story context I began to see the Colossus as a victim. At this point n the game the story has not revealed enough of the main story to give you a strong enough reason to go forward with the killings. The lack of context when you find the lumbering brute just wandering a meadow makes it even harder to scale it’s body and shove your sword into it’s unguarded flesh. Had I encountered other characters fleeing the Colossus or maybe see it ravaging a village, I would feel that I had to kill it. As it was I simply couldn’t justify the killing.
In a story the antagonist is the foil, obstacle, thing that must be scaled and defeated so that your protagonist can move onto the ending. While the reader does not have to hate the antagonist as much as your protagonist does you have to make it clear to the reader that the antagonist needs to be dealt with. The more extreme the dealing with for the more extreme the hurt, hate or adversity. After all you want the reader to root for your protagonist.
We’ve all read about the heroes you love to hate, but a bad guy you hate to love? It’s gonna take some special writing to make that happen and unless you nail it the whole thing is going to blow up in your face. Depending on the story you are crafting, there could be a whole host of activities, behaviors and traits you can bestow upon your antagonist to make the reader hate him, her, it. The only thing to be aware of is if your desire to write something that isn’t so black and white it becomes cliche. The last thing you want is to give your antagonist enough sympathetic qualities that the reader begins to see the antagonist as a victim. When the time comes for the protagonist to triumph you do not want the readers tasked with picking a side, even if they see multiple sides, they always must side with your protagonist.
In the case of my video game, the part of the story that made me want to continue with the slaying of these creatures took too long to appear. I could see the creatures were dangerous formidable opponents but that was not enough. I took this as a lesson and use it in all of my writing. My bad guys have to be bad, my obstructions have to be massive. There can be no question of motives. This way when the time comes for the protagonist to triumph it is a victory shared by the reader as well.