When Not to Use Your Antagonist’s POV

This week’s video highlights a specific type of scene that should almost never be told from the antagonist’s POV.

Video Transcript:

It can sometimes be tricky to figure out which scenes are best told from the antagonist’s point of view. In general, I prefer a minimalistic approach to antagonist POVs, mostly because your standard bad guy tends not to have all that much to add to the story from an internal perspective. In most stories, your bad guy’s POV is just not going to be as interesting as your protagonist’s POV—or at least one would hope it isn’t. Plus, you also have the pitfalls of the antagonist’s POV possibly lessening tension, lending itself to info dumps or internal monologing, that sort of thing. So I would always caution writers to double check all antagonist POV scenes, just to make sure they’re serving the story as well as possible.

But, really, what I want to talk about today is a specific instance in which you’re almost always going to be better off not using the antagonist’s POV. And this is in confrontational scenes between the antagonist and the protagonist. This is so for a couple of reasons. The most obvious and most important one is that your readers are inevitably going to care much more about what your protagonist does and what happens to him. We care about the protagonist. We’re rooting for him, not the bad guy. Therefore, we’d much rather be in his POV.

But there’s another reason for this. You’ve no doubt heard the advice to give a scene’s POV to whichever character has the most at stake. Well, sometimes that character is going to be your bad guy. But please resist the urge to entirely frame confrontational scenes from the bad guy’s POV. This may seem like a clever way to show your hero’s skill as he whups the bad guy—and occasionally it may be—but, again, readers aren’t likely to really care about watching the poor little bad guy’s struggles to overcome the indomitable hero. Until that final battle, the odds should be the other way around—and the POVs should reflect that.

Tell me your opinion: Have you ever written a scene in which the antagonist had more at stake than the protagonist?

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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.

Comments

  1. Yes, but since I told it from the protagonist’s POV (quite intentionally) the reader didn’t really know it — though there were some really bizarre things said by the antagonist that an alert reader would say: “Huh? The heck is going on there?”

  2. Sounds like an interesting scene. Lots of layers going on.

  3. Agreed. I used to read a lot of Dean Koontz, and he usually gives equal stage time to both the protag and the antag. I always wished the scenes with the antag would hurry and and end so I could get back to the scenes with the character I liked the best.

  4. It’s tempting not skip forward on lengthy antagonist scenes most of the time.

  5. I used an interplay between protagonist’s and antagonist’s POV to spice up the climax gunfight scene in one of my stories. But, yeah, generally I stay with the Protagonist’s POV for most major scenes.

  6. Thanks to the omniscient POV of movies, authors often tend to feel confined within a single POV – particularly for showdown scenes. It’s creating an evolution within written stories for sure.

  7. I’m similar to Gideon in that respect. Except its separated even further by Then and Now.

    Oh, is there a time when its appropriate to do third person extremely limited? I was considering having the reader only know the characters physical actions and dialogue, but they don’t know their thoughts?

  8. It isn’t so much a matter of “appropriateness” as it is the author’s knowing what she’s trying to achieve. What you’re talking about is a limited but distant POV (such as used by Ernest Hemingway and the like). If you’re wanting to distance readers from the character, it can be used to great effect.

  9. Thank you for sharing. I’ll definitely be back.

  10. Makes sense to me. You do want your reader to identify with hero not the bad guy.

  11. I wrote a science fiction once where the entire thing was from the bad guys perspective…essentially the antag. There was no good guy or hero to root for only survival. It was hard to love and care about the assassin (no redeeming qualities), but readers kept turning the page to see because the stakes were raised and twisted until his ultimate demise.

  12. @J.R.: Thanks for stopping by!

    @Traci: Exactly. If the reader ends up empathizing more with the bad guy than the hero, you know you have a major problem.

    @J.L.: For all that readers love lovable characters, ultimately interesting characters are even more important. We’ll follow someone we dislike so long as they keep our curiosity aroused.

  13. What about mini antagonists? I’m in the process of outlining my novel and am not sure how to let readers know that the antagonist knows that the protagonist willingly failed him (the Key Event) so he can send his mini antagonists after her (conflict that continues throughout the story). Is it OK to write in the POV of mini antagonists?

    Madi

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