An enjoyable if not (quite) complete list from Jane Friedman’s blog: Adversaries in Fiction: Who Is Standing in Your Character’s Way?
Readers, fearful for the characters they love, grip the book tighter when conflict is close.
What will happen? Will everything be okay?
The more dire the threat, the more uncertain they feel.
Followed by a list of possible types of antagonists. This is a pretty long list, which I appreciate. Most important, it separates a lot of categories out from the “villain” category. I think that’s important. I often dislike villains — I almost always detest villain points of view. I like many other kinds of enemies, opponents, and antagonists, but outright villains, generally not so much.
So here are the categories given on this list. I don’t necessarily think all these categories work, but it’s nice to see a detailed breakdown of types of antagonists.
Rival — this strikes me as a lot like a competitor. If the author has set up a love triangle, well, I’m fairly bored with love triangles. If that’s the kind of rivalry that’s central to a story, I won’t say it can’t work for me, but the author has to do a better than average job with it or it’s a bit of a turnoff.
Antagonist (person) — I am personally most happy with an antagonist-to-allies story. That means I prefer a story where both the protagonist and antagonist are honorable or decent people. But hopefully without a tragic ending! I liked The Lions of Al-Rasan a lot, and I think it had the ending it needed to have, but oof! I wouldn’t be up for that every day of the week.
Antagonist (natural force) — I love a good struggle against the natural world.
Villain — meaning someone who’s pretty evil. Sauron. Saruman, for that matter.
Enemy — a personal enemy, which is perhaps a useful distinction from a villain, who might well be everyone’s enemy
Invader — I love this category! I’m really pleased to see it here. I think there’s a lot to do with this. Are the invaders villains? Not in their own eyes. Are they mean people? Not unless the author is heavy-handed. Which can work in some cases, but what I would greatly prefer is that the invaders be perfectly decent people, with a reason to invade that matters. I SO prefer setting the protagonist and antagonist at odds without making either of them evil!
Mind you, I’m aware that the Arobern in the Griffin Mage trilogy doesn’t have a great reason to invade. But to ME, he was never a bad person. I quite like him! I enjoy his ambition, particularly after that ambition has had a spike driven into it. His determination in the third book is the flip side of that ambition, and think what would have happened if he hadn’t been willing to take the risk of getting involved.
Frenemy — huh, not sure. I really don’t care for someone who’s sort of a friend but not really. Perhaps someone can think of an example that worked well. I honestly can’t, not at the moment.
Hater — someone who’s jealous, petty, backstabbing … ugh. I hate characters like this, pun intended, but the point is, I don’t generally want to read about characters of this kind in other authors’ work and I don’t much like to write them myself.
Bully — ugh, I don’t like bullies either. Except seeing them get knocked on their tails at some point in the story.
Meddler — tricksters can be fun.
Nemesis — probably you’d find this in a tragedy. Protagonist — hubris — nemesis — tragic ending. That’s all very fine, but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to read a book like this.
Challenger — that’s going to blur with “rival” and “competitor,” it seems to me.
Supernatural force — the post is including supernatural enemies who are people, but I think that should be split off from supernatural forces.
In the Spiritwalker trilogy, we have the weird supernatural master of the Wild Hunt with his inhuman detachment and casual cruelty. He’s like a supernatural force more than a person. I have to add, he’s a lot like Lelienne from The City in the Lake. Creepy, opaque … you couldn’t write from her point of view. Her point of view is too impenetrable. Like Kate Elliott’s master of the Wild Hunt, I think she’s more like a supernatural force.
Come to think of it, so is MY master of the Wild Hunt in The City in the Lake, except he’s not an antagonist. Or not exactly.
It’s fun to note that along with the supernatural master of the Wild Hunt in the Spiritwalker trilogy, we also have
-the mansa of Four Moons House with his certainty that people of good birth, like him, should naturally be able to dispose of lesser beings like villagers — he is an antagonist;
-amjiata with his suave, sympathetic conviction that he should be emperor — he’s an invader;
-and of course the fire mage James Drake, who is really awful — a real villain.
The various antagonists of the trilogy are definitely a strength. So are the various secondary characters who support the protagonist. I really should re-read this excellent trilogy.