How to Write Multiple Antagonists (What I Learned Writing Storming)

How to Write Multiple Antagonists (What I Learned Writing Storming)

You may have a great plot and a great protagonist, but without an equally great antagonist, you’re going to be stuck spinning your story’s wheels. That’s no problem. Just stick in a great bad guy! But what happens when even that’s not enough? Sometimes your story is going to require not just one, but multiple antagonists.

How do you juggle them all? How do you keep them from becoming redundant to the conflict? And how do you make sure each antagonist’s addition to the story makes it all the better?

Storming K.M. Weiland

Storming (Amazon affiliate link)

Welcome to the sixth installment in our month-long series, inspired by writing techniques I learned or had reinforced for me while writing my dieselpunk novel Storming (releasing December 4th). As you can probably deduce, I ended up using (drumroll!) multiple antagonists in Storming. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t something new for me in this book. Almost all of my stories (especially Behold the Dawn) have featured layers of antagonists.

But Storming was fun since its plot challenged me to include a more varied cast of antagonists than usual, which in turn allowed me to layer the conflict in personal ways for the barnstorming pilot protagonist. This is one of those stories in which the primary plot mover—the Big Bad—was off-screen for much of the story, both for practical reasons and to facilitate some important mysteries. This opened up some really delicious opportunities for other antagonists to step up in his stead and interfere with the protagonist in different ways, while still keeping the conflict hopping.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the benefits (and drawbacks) of multiple antagonists, and how you can make sure you’re taking full advantage of them to keep your story running at full steam (or diesel!) ahead.

Benefits of Multiple Antagonists

First of all, remember: not all stories will require multiple antagonists. Sometimes the conflict will be better off if it’s straightforward and laser-focused, thanks to a singular opponent. But many stories will broaden in interesting and compelling ways with the addition of some creative antagonists.

Benefit #1: Conflict on Every Level

Multiple antagonists will ensure you have conflict happening on every level of your story. Like me in Storming, you may end up with a main antagonist who’s just too dangerous (or busy or imprisoned or presidential or something) to appear in every scene with your protagonist.

Although your main antagonist will always be providing the primary obstacle between your character and his goal, your scene-by-scene conflict is probably going to need more immediate threats to keep things interesting. Complex stories offer conflict on a number of different levels, including the following:

Plot-Level Antagonist

This is your “Big Bad.” This is the antagonist who is opposing your protagonist’s main story goal. Sometimes, this conflict will start out as a relatively impersonal one. Your protagonist might not ever have come into contact with this antagonist, much less had a problem with him, if it weren’t for the story goal he conceives somewhere in the First Act.

Personal-Level Antagonist

Especially when your plot-level antagonist’s relationship with your protagonist starts out relatively impersonal, you’ll want to make sure you’ve also included a layer of conflict that hits your protagonist on a more intimate level. In Storming, my main antagonist starts out very impersonal. He’s someone the protagonist has never heard of before and really doesn’t care about outside of his plot goals. So I also gave the protagonist a very personal and equally formidable antagonist in the form of a corrupt sheriff who has a dangerous hold over the protag thanks to backstory baggage. Even in scenes in which the main antagonist can’t be present, the personal antagonist can.

Internecine Antagonist

Finally, we have internecine antagonists. These are people who are, at least ostensibly, on the protagonist’s side. But despite the goals they hold in common with the protagonist, internecine antagonists have agendas of their own that interfere with the protagonist’s main story goal. There were quite a few of these in Storming. The most obvious is a member of the protag’s barnstorming crew. They work together, but they have no love for each other, and they’re always getting in each other’s way.

Benefit #2: Richer Archetypes and Themes

Where you have layered conflict, you also have layered themes–because every angle of conflict should be presenting a slightly different perspective on the story’s Truth/Lie. In part, this is going to arise out of a complete working set of antagonistic archetypes–as found in Dramatica‘s story theory. (I discuss my take on all those archetypes much more thoroughly here.)


This is the obvious one. The antagonist is the Big Bad, the guy in direct opposition to the hero. Assuming your protag is on a positive or flat arc, the antagonist will either believe in or evolve into believing in the story’s Lie. He will help demonstrate theme in the ways he is similar to the protagonist.


The contagonist is a ton of fun. Unlike the mentor archetype, who helps guide the protagonist down the right path, the contagonist tempts the protagonist onto the wrong path. He will often be someone who seems to be on the protagonist’s side, but who consciously or unconsciously leads him astray.


The skeptic contrasts the supportive sidekick archetype. Unlike the sidekick, the skeptic is the voice of doom to the protagonist’s plans, introducing doubts and discouragement.

Pitfalls of Multiple Antagonists

Before we learn how to make the best use of multiple antagonists in a story, let’s first quickly mention two possible reasons you should avoid featuring multiple bad guys.

Pitfall #1: Too Many Characters

Honestly, not many stories can stand upright under the burden of a cast of thousands. Tight stories are good stories. Streamline your cast. If you don’t need multiple antagonists, don’t include them. Always be on the watch for extraneous characters you can delete or combine. The best stories are like Swiss watches: not a single extra working part.

Pitfall #2: Scattered Conflict

Every antagonist you include should contribute to the main conflict. If your antagonists are opposing many different goals from your protagonist, then they will be creating multiple threads of conflict that won’t tie together in the end. Even with a broad, complex story, everything has to ultimately be working toward the same end–the same Climactic Moment.

What Is an Antagonist?

Alrighty, so with all that said, let’s go back to perhaps the most basic–but most important–question.

What is an antagonist?

When we think antagonist, we think mustache-swirling melodrama villain–or serial killer–or megalomaniacal dictator. Strictly speaking, those are “bad guys.” But they’re not, perforce, antagonists.

An antagonist within a story is someone who creates conflict. And how does he create conflict? By presenting himself as an obstacle between the protagonist and his goal.

Goal Obstacle Conflict Infographic

As such, the antagonist doesn’t even have to be  sentient. Obviously, however, most stories find their best expression in giving the protagonist an equally human nemesis.

The important thing to remember is that this human doesn’t necessarily have to be evil. He just has to get in between the protagonist and whatever it is he wants/needs in the story.

The 3-Part Checklist for Great Multiple Antagonists

This all can get tricky when it comes to validating the necessity of each of your antagonists and then coordinating their efforts into a resonant overall conflict. Fortunately, you can simplify these problems by making certain you’re checking off the following three necessities in your multiple-antagonist story.

1. Does Each Antagonist Have Unique Goals?

If all your antagonists want the same thing for the same reason, then there’s zero reason for them all to coexist in the same story. Even when you’ve got sidekick antagonists carrying out the bidding of the main antagonist, each antagonist should have his own unique agenda, driven by his own personal motivations. The more your antagonists’ goals complement and particularly conflict with the other antagonists’ goals, the deeper and more layered your story will be.

2. Does Each Antagonist Oppose the Protagonist’s Main Goal?

It’s fine to have antagonists who aren’t, strictly speaking, interested in your protagonist’s overall story goal one way or another. But even if they’re not deliberately trying to oppose your protagonist’s main story goal, their actions still need to be getting in the way of that main goal, either directly or indirectly. Otherwise, their presence and the conflict they’re creating is extraneous to the story and has no place within it.

3. Is Each Antagonist’s Contribution to the Conflict Thematically Resonant?

Even in a story with deep and varied themes, all those themes need to coalesce into a single resonant motif. If your main conflict is all about loyalty to family, but one of the minor antagonistic conflicts is driving home a theme about opposing political graft, then that secondary conflict almost certainly isn’t closely related enough to your main conflict and theme. Its presence is going to fragment your story and weaken your story’s overall thematic message.

Multiple antagonists have the ability to add lots of interesting layers and possibilities to your story. Make sure you’re using them judiciously, and you’ll make your story that much better.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Have you used multiple antagonists in your work-in-progress? Why or why not? Tell me in the comments!

How to Write Multiple Antagonists (What I Learned Writing Storming)

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. In my one story, I have a story where the antagonist, a queen, can’t be present for much of the story. I do have an internecine antagonist who is definitely going to be around the protagonist a lot, but I’m afraid the queen might end up lackluster because she’ll most likely be talked about all throughout the story and then finally appear in the climax. That would create a lot of tension throughout the story, but I’m afraid that we’re not going to be able to see different facets of her in the big climax scene, and she’ll end up boring.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a definite risk. You can fix the problem, to at least some extent, through heavy foreshadowing. Perhaps other characters, who *have* seen the queen, can report back to the protag about her. At the very least, you can emphasize her threat through foreshadowing.

      It’s also possible, of course, to include the queen’s POV. I generally recommend avoiding antagonist narratives, but they *are* an easy fix for this problem.

      Finally, the most basic solution to this is simply to make sure she’s awesome in the finale. When she finally does show up, make her so evilly awesome that it was worth the wait for readers.

      • I do have a character who could easily be a reliable way to give the readers an idea of what the queen is like, so I have that option. I’ve contemplated doing her POV, but I think in the end that would end up being detrimental to the story. I’ll just have to make good use of the foreshadowing and make sure she shines in the finale. Thanks for your help. 🙂

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          You bet!

          • Ede Omokhudu says

            I have three antagonists in my main project. The most interesting being the contagonist. I’m trying to marry their goals. Very interesting conflict building in their ranks as is.

      • I have 2 antagonists I want to put in my story. I looked at your checklist, but I am not sure if I should keep them.

        The first character is human and his backstory, motivations, and his similarities make more sense for him to be my protagonist’s antagonist.

        On the other hand I have a non-human character who opposes the protagonist because she is jealous of his love interest.

        Should I combine or delete the human antagonist since I want my main plot to be the relationship between the protag and his love interest?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Look at your Climactic Moment. Which villain is defeated there? That’s your primary antagonist. If the other antagonist doesn’t support the main conflict, you’re probably better off deleting him.

    • @Mirkwood In the Inheritance Cycle, King Galbatorix(sp?) is for the most part and unseen threat to the protagonist Eragon. I think if the protagonist is constantly under pressure that the queen is the real problem, occasionally reminding both the hero and readers by stumbling upon various atrocities, or complications caused by the queen, things will work out fine. You could always use a proxy or have the queen’s minions intervene against the protagonist

  2. I have one story where I have multiple antagonists, which I’m editing presently. Currently there’s three, but one of them’s about to get cut out completely because he’s unnecessary. And the other two are in cahoots, but I don’t divulge it completely until late in the book. It’s an interesting contrast since they don’t have the same goals, but are working together for their own reasons.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good for you for recognizing the extraneous bad guy and cutting him. As fun as multiple antagonists can be, I’d have to say they’re also one of the easiest character types to fall into repetition with.

  3. Steve Mathisen says

    Brilliantly explained and brilliantly illustrated in your new book. Fantastic. Thanks for new levels of understanding that will allow me to write better.

  4. Wow, that helps so much. Thank you!

  5. Yes, I am currently using three different villains in my novel. But the story arc has changed so much during the writing that the character that started out as the main antagonist now appears to be slowly siding with the protagonist, and the other two seem to be emerging as the main antagonists working in tandem against them both. Now I’m interested myself in how my story is going to turn out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s always fun! I love antagonist redemptions–as long as the progression is believable and I actually end up caring about the character.

  6. In “A Christmas Carol,” if Scrooge is the protagonist and his goal is to be left alone to count his money, then Marley and the three ghosts are antagonists.

    But the ghosts have no separate agendas. They are merely Marley’s agents.

    I think Marley is really the protagonist, because he wants change and puts effort into achieving it, and does achieve it.

    And if we regard the visions as mere dreams, then the moving force is Scrooge’s guilt–personified by Marley–so it’s all the same.

  7. That was a good read, thanks! I will take some valuable advice from this for sure.
    In my plot I do not have a single protagonist but actually two who get separated early on. I will have to come up with several antagonists to play their part in the interlaced plot-line to keep both story-lines moving forward and contributing to the overall goal… of course there are other contributing characters … but I will need obstacles and conflicts for both main char’s. #noteasy #butfun

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Creating antagonists actually becomes a bit of an interesting puzzle in most stories, since the Big Bad is *rarely* going to share the same physical space with the protag for long. Scene conflict has to come from somewhere. So what’s a clever author to do? 🙂

  8. This couldn’t have come at a better time!

    I’m writing a marriage of convenience novel with two protagonists (Simon and Sarah) who share two common threads: the antagonists. The main one for Sarah is her ex-boyfriend who cannot accept the wedding, and the main one for Simon is his mother who (rightly) believes the marriage is a fake. But, the antagonists also create conflict for the other protagonist: Sarah’s new mother-in-law is doing everything she can to discredit Sarah, and Simon is threatened by Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. And, of course, Sarah and Simon are at each other’s throats.

    Could Sarah’s ex and Simon’s mother occupy both the plot-level and the personal-level Big Bads, or would the more immediate threat (Sarah’s ex) occupy the plot-level antagonist?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, totally possible for a single person to occupy more than one antagonistic role. In fact, that only deepens the layers of personal conflict and makes things all the more interesting.

  9. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Indeed. Every villain is a hero in his own eyes.

  10. In my fantasy, Archomai, with the main kingdom, and in the sub-kingdoms, there are a total of forty-one characters with names, sixteen bad guys, twenty-three good guys, and two undecided. The bad guys are after one thing, control of the kingdom, and they are in a pecking order; however each expects a personal piece of the pie. The good guys are out to save the kingdom, which is the main theme for them, but there is an underlying theme that is hinted to by the unseen one who over-shadows everything, watches over all, and whose desires is to see this theme bear fruit. Each of the characters has an important part in the whole of the story. I have in the back of the book a glossary, with their names, how to pronounce them and a short description of who they are. Lest I forget them in the next book, and create a huge hole in my story.

  11. This is such an interesting topic to me! Antagonisms can be as varied as internal or external sources. In the work I just finished, it was a pretty basic example of an antagonist against the M.C.’s overall (external) goal, and another against his internal goal.
    In the future, I’d like to experiment with the M.C. being his own internal antagonist as well as dealing with external antagonists. Among other antagonists, how about one who the M.C. can oppose, but also learn from? Maybe a mirror to his own internal antagonist? I’m not sure I’ve really ever considered this on a working level, but I like thinking of how these different antagonists can bring a multi-faceted appreciation to one’s argument! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Expressions of theme actually revolve around this very idea: the protagonist’s inner evolution (overcoming his own inner antagonist, i.e., his belief in the story’s Lie), in which the antagonist is very often a major catalyst for change. We think about a story being about the *differences* between the protagonist and the antagonist, but it’s actually in the similarities between the characters where the most interesting thematic context is gained.

  12. In my WIP (my debut novel), I have three primary antagonists. Two of them, bad gal and bad guy, serve the same Big Bad, but have personal goals that conflict. Bad gal and bad guy never work together.

    When Big Bad does make appearances, he’s never the viewpoint character. Bad gal is the main antagonist throughout the story, which is set for the first half of the book in the city where she lives. She has many scenes in which she makes an appearance, but she’s not the viewpoint character in any of them. Bad guy is carrying out his plans in a nearby city, so I cut to him in his own scenes every so often to show his progress. He is the viewpoint character in these scenes.

    Bad guy has his spy network, and one of his spies lives in bad gal’s city. This spy is a minor supporting antagonist character. Some overzealous, discriminatory city guards also become antagonists at a point in the story.

    All these antagonists came about in an organic fashion. I started out with just bad gal. By the seventh draft of the story, these other antagonists have been brought in to fill perceived gaps in the story. I don’t believe I will need any more.

    Thanks for the post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Organic is always best! The story is much better at telling us what we need than we are at consciously trying to figure it out sometimes.

  13. I actually had 2 major antagonists in my first Nanowrimo book this year. They work against each other and one works with the protagonists for a time, but they both ultimately cause instability in the world and they would both rather the main protagonist be dead.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The gray-area antags are always some of my favorites. You never know quite where they stand, and they can dance on both sides of the thematic premise, raising some really interesting questions and opportunities for exploration.

  14. Hmm.. reading this made me realize something… I have 3 POV characters, and they are all viewed as protagonists at one point or another. The main character is always a protagonist, through and through. But the way the reader would likely view the other two changes throughout the story. At the start, one seems to be on the … not gonna say bad guy’s side, more the Contagonist’s side (although that’s hard to say…). But he gets screwed over by them and carries out his personal goals, which are actually in line with the protagonist.

    The second is the MC’s brother, and is a good guy to begin with. However, he has a negative character arc, does bad things, has bad blood with his brother, but still contributes to the happily ever after (well, not ever after, according to my lore… but that’s a tale for another time)

    Meanwhile there is an entire faction that is looking out for the good of everybody, but they are getting in the way and have some strange ideals… then there is the two downright evil blokes.

    Well that’s some random thinking out loud. I think where I am going with this is a question… but what was it? I think it was something along the lines of my characters’ roles becoming cloudy in what becomes a LOT of chaos. It’s also a Trilogy, so things change I suppose.

    Anywho, thanks for the article, KMW! If you noticed that there is a question in there somewhere, feel free to answer. I can’t even tell, myself.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Complicated characters with complex morality are always interesting. I would suggest though that your “through-and-through” protagonist really *is* your protagonist, while the other characters are fulfilling prominent supporting roles. Most (although not all) stories will have a single protagonist, no matter how important the other characters.

  15. I’d like to do that in the near future. As long as there’s the big bad, writing other great antagonists will depend on the writer’s skill and story’s potential to carry out those things.

    The one thing I’m concerned about when handling multiple characters is that, the more people you have to account for, the more likely for you to miss inconsistencies future readers could notice. 😀

    I hope to write an antagonist so real and remarkable that readers will love him/her. Writing a flawed character that opposes the main protagonist is definitely challenging. 🙂 As much as we’d like to give the emphasis on the main character, there will be times when the antagonist is just too good for him/her to beat.

  16. Megan Webb says

    This is excellent. You have helped my writing so much. I found you at the tail end of my first book, which Amazon is in the process of formatting for publication. Your ideas for structuring gave me the courage to take out a lot of unnecessary stuff in the beginning. Now that ideas are flowing in for my second book, I’m so excited to have your knowledge there for me right from the start! It is going to save me so much rewriting. Keep up the good work, and Thanks!!

  17. “Internecine antagonists”

    I had to look up that word, since I’ve never heard of it before now, and that’s exactly what one of my fantasy WIP characters is. (Spoilers) That guy, plus one of my “protagonsists” are each being groomed to be villains in later installments of my series. The first you can pretty much see coming a mile away, but the conflict he presents will be dealt with maybe halfway through the novel and he’ll move on with life seperately from everyone else to become the villain in another story. The other one, the “protagonist” is different– it won’t ever be directly confirmed that he’s a “villain”, but his job is to make the readers uneasy about his existence. He will also be eventually separated from everyone, but the readers will get to see him one last time and his parting words will confirm to the readers that he’s coming back, and it definitely not in a good way. (End spoilers)

    “Where you have layered conflict, you also have layered themes”

    This makes me feel sooo much better about my above-mentioned WIP. I had at one time tried to kill one of my antags early on, because I thought it would be better to focus on only one to simplify my story, but I couldn’t make any sense out of the resulting story. All it really did was make life too easy for my protags, and that’s just unacceptable. Most of the conflict that would have remained would have had to rely too heavily on my internecene antagonist (look, I can use it in a sentence! :D), and that just isn’t acceptable. I’m glad to be informed that it’s okay to have multiple themes, although I don’t know what initially gave me the impression that I shouldn’t. :/ *Head scratch.*

  18. You know, come to think of it, I know an even BETTER example of an internecine antagonist in the sci-fi/ superhero co-op WIP with my husband (is “SFSHCOWIPWMH” a legit abbreviation?)– His male protag is a cop who organized the superhero group, but vigilantism is of course illegal, so he’s doing it secretly (there’s a reason the police won’t cooperate with his idea to do this). Then there’s another cop on the force who is darn near being a superhero himself (legally), and is ragingly jealous of most or all other superheros in the area– MOST. ESPECIALLY. MY. FEMALE. PROTAG. *Cough*whomhethinksismale*cough* So he can’t stand it when every time my superhero shows up, “he” outshines rage-cop at every turn. He also (rightly) strongly suspects the male protag of being involved with these new superheros, but can’t get enough evidence to do anything about it. So he’s there to make life miserable for the male protag as well as the rest of our supeheros– to the point where sometimes he doesn’t care that he’s causing problems for other people and interfering with EVERYONE’S ability to defeat the villain at hand.

    • Whoops, forgot I had another thought to add to that. XD

      Looking over the character traits and interactions between the two cops, it turns out the male protag creates some of the same problems, in that he can sometimes interfere with progress during some missions. Part of his problem comes from his low confidence in himself, but in particular he does sometimes exacerbate the problems that rage-cop tends to create. Which only serves to continue the cycle, of course. 😛

      In the meantime, female protag often wishes she could smack both their heads together and knock some sense into them. XD

  19. Joe Long says

    Catching up on blog entries…

    I don’t have a clearly defined antagonist, but reading this and the linked “What If Your Antagonist Isn’t a Person” have helped me to clarify it in my mind.

    The main character’s first problem is Self. He just wants to have a girlfriend, to feel loved, like everyone else – but he’s so shy and anxious that at age 19 he has virtually no experience. Those personality traits have been worsened by his father. Dad means well, but he’s always critical to the point where his son wants to curl up and hide. They have good moments too, but it’s a very strained relationship.

    Second is Society. When he does find a girl and they fall for each other – she’s several years younger (a college guy with a high school girl) and his cousin. It’s everything he was looking for, but it’s like navigating a minefield on how much they can tell to who. Fudge her age. Neglect to mention the relationship. And certainly keep it from their parents. It will cause stress between them.

    The third act is looking to be painful, but they both emerge from the fire.

  20. Victor’s goal was to turn people into super-soldiers against their own will and clone them in the second book. It looks like one goal in the first, but by the time Vance sees his clone making a move on StarGirl as well as Victor, he does his best to help keep her safe, since they are, after all, best friends, and there were robbers and aliens, as well as an arsonist, and Victor does come back, and StarGirl ends up meeting Samantha, who, like her, wants to protect people close to her and her city, but enjoys killing and torturing bad guys. I have no idea who the Big Bad could be, but StarGirl did deal with a lot of inner and outer conflict, since a lot of times, she has to deal with people that are to rob a bank/event, aliens that want to take over the world, the whole super-soldier and clone thing,, someone who most likely likes to creates fires, and someone who opposes her way of handling justice by just rounding up the bad guys and letting the police arrest them. Samantha doesn’t know that if it’s an alien threat, StarGirl will probably decide to handle it herself. The inner antagonists are her lack of self-confidence and whole not trusting her instincts thing. There could be someone who doesn’t KNOW about StarGirl and vice versa. That might be interesting, and she is starting to think that there might be something between her and Vance. Could the sidekick ALSO be the love interest? He is important to her and vice versa, since he has helped her train and DID save her from Victor, and she managed to save him.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Love Interest can be just about any of the other character archetypes, including the Sidekick.

  21. Hello this may be a year old, but I feel like commenting anyway. I enjoyed the different categories you gave regarding the multiple antagonists.
    One the other issue, I’m currently working on a novel and also happen to have multiple antagonists. The main issue I’m having and its quite annoying is that I can’t decide which one of my baddies is the designated Big Bad of the whole tale. Every one of them serve a purpose and have their given traits and personalitie so there’s no need to write them off. There’s five of them and four of them are leaders an the other is an enforcer working for one of them in hunting down the heroes. Their all after the same goal (Huge hidden treasure) Baddie #1 is the underboss of the rival crime family and the longtime arch-enemy of my protagonist ( By the way there are two protagonists, both males and different goals but end up teaming up.) and he won’t be hands on participating until near the end, so he sends his top assassin after protagonist #1 in order to locate the gold and kill him. Baddie #2 is Protagonist #1’s jailed underboss of the crime family, but since he’s locked up and the now deceased Boss of the family always favored Protagonist #1 he has grown jealous as he knows that if he returns with the treasure, the family’s leadeship will be handed to him so he works behind the scenes by tipping off the rival family into chasing Protagonist #1 and hopes of killing three birds with one stone via all his competitors killing each other and claiming the treasure. Baddie #3 is a shady/corrupt government agent who was involved in the robbery of the treasure but was double crossed by the Protagonist #1’s Boss and has been searching ever since for a clue to the location. He and Baddie #2 have a shaky untrustworthy alliance and pool out their resources in order to achieve their goals. He’ll be heavily hands on involved half way through the novel and will confront both protagonists. Baddie #4 is more of a sideline antagonist as he’ll only beef with Protagonist #2 as he has a score to settle with Protagonist #2’s lover’s family.
    The first three are the ones which I’m undecided into giving the reigning title.
    Also I know that all three of them have connections to Protagonist #1, but Protagonist #2 is just as important since its his mother that knows the true location of the treasure and must protect her at all costs as well as his friends since the antagonists will try everything in order to get the valuable information, being just a high school senior with no clear future this journey will be like a coming of age for him.

    Your opinion will be valuable to me

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The simplest way to identify the main antagonist is to take a look at your Climax. What antagonist is defeated in the Climactic Moment, ending the story’s conflict? That’s always your main antagonist, whose conflict must be set up in the First Act’s Inciting Event.

      • Sorry for the long post, but yeah I understand. Since I’m currently 3.5/5 into the book being finished my brain just went haywire for a sec due to my overthinking.

        Much appreciated.

  22. Brian Cummings says


    I just came across this post while looking for helpful insights to improve my current WIP and it is everything I could’ve hoped for and then some. Concise, well written, and well organized. That said, I have a quick question. Is it possible (or even wise) to have two opposing plot-level antagonists? The characters I am considering would fall into diametrically opposite extremes: order/purity at any cost and chaos/corruption, and would struggle with each other as well as the protagonists over the primary point of conflict.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thematically, it definitely sounds interesting. However, your major consideration for whether it works or is simply too complex is how the two antagonists affect your protagonist’s character arc. Archetypally, the antagonist exists to represent the thematic Lie and to provide a mirror image of what the protagonist will become should he reject the story’s thematic Truth and accept that Lie. If your two antagonists represent different aspects of the same Lie, they will probably work. If, however, they’re representing different Lies, the plot is likely to become too fragmented. More the Lie here: reating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 2: The Lie Your Character Believes.

    • Amber Bennett says

      There is a cast of protagonists in this vein in the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman; it might be useful to check them out.

  23. Imagine a war that starts by accident (to make it simple, let’s call it a communication breakdown). Our protagonist is on a quest, after learning it was an accident (midpoint), to get to the other side and convince them to stand down, as HIS side, considerably weakened and nearly out of supplies, it going to have one more counterattack that will destroy everyone–no one will “win”. His side, and bad elements from the other side (remember, this war started by accident) both are trying to stop our protagonist from getting to his goal, the commander of the other side, who has the power to stand down.

    Who is the protagonist? The other side’s bad guys seeking revenge and caught up in a major mess caused by our own trigger happy troops, or our leadership, trying to stop the protagonist from getting to the other side period?

    IOW, a war has started, the protagonist has the key to stopping armageddon, but both sides have elements that want to stop the protagonist. Is it both, or one or the other, and the other is a subplot?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Which is the main conflict and which is the protagonist is ultimately your choice. But whichever you choose to focus on, make sure that the story’s structure bears out that choice at every turning point.

  24. Abdulaziz says

    First of all, thank you for all of this information, it was very very helpful! I wanted to get your input on one thing however:
    I have a story with three “leaders” of three different kingdoms. One of them is the protagonist, while the other two are international stake antagonists, but they are all (including the antagonists) are against each other. I read in other articles that you said antagonists are not necessarily bad guys, but are people who have a goal that conflicts with the protagonist’s goal (this is what is what is happening with the first antagonist). The second, however, is closer to a more traditional antagonist and thematically, is the antithesis of the protagonist. My question is can this conflict exist in a story while maintaining the story structure, or do you think it will be too sloppy? and because at the very end of the story, the protagonist and the first antagonist agree to take down the second antagonist, will the first antagonist even be considered an antagonist in the first place?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This can definitely work. The “good” antagonist is still an antagonist as long his goals create obstacles and conflict for the protagonist. As long as the conflict between them is sensibly resolved, that’s what’s most important.

  25. The Harry Potter series came to mind immediately! Naturally, if Voldemort is such a big deal, he can’t appear in every scene. . .it seems like that would almost minimize the threat he poses.

    So, J.K. Rowling presents us with a fabulous array of antagonists who are all different, all believable, and all bad in their own ways. Professor Snape, Draco Malfoy, Dolores Umbridge, Cornelius Fudge. . .the list goes on. Even Harry’s friends take the form of mini antagonists at some time or another.

    Thank you for your posts! They are truly helping to create my writing foundation.

    P.S. So cool that you are a Jane Eyre fan! I think it’s possibly one of the best pieces of literature you can ever read.

  26. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    I have a deep appreciation for Jane Eyre. Writing the annotated version for Writer’s Digest taught me *so* much.


  1. […] How to Write Multiple Antagonists: This is has some really great tips and is extremely helpful for me with my four villains (Anarr, Ra’ Hazak, Nakavar, and the-secret-one-that-I-can’t-tell-you-about.) […]

  2. […] How to Write Multiple Antagonists – I don’t believe I ever linked to this article by K.M. Weiland before, but if I did it’s worth repeating. Using her entertaining novel Storming (a fast read) as an example, she discusses tips and pitfalls for how to structure a story with multiple antagonists. My novel has two, three if you count the environment. Her tips have proved helpful. […]

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