I remember in high school, my teacher explained how the antagonist is the bad guy in the story. Now, as an adult, and as writer, I realize that is an over-simplified and even misguided definition of the term.
The word ‘antagonist’ means opponent, or work against. The antagonist simply takes the role against the protagonist.
He or she could be the enemy of the protagonist, but not necessarily evil. In fact, the antagonist of a novel doesn’t need to be human. It’s a person, place, or thing that opposes the main character. This could be anything from weather (The Perfect Storm) to a creature (Alien or Jaws), or a thing (cancer or other disease, or series of events).
The antagonist stands in the way of the protagonist’s goals. They oppose them, stand in their way, work against them, for whatever reason. They should have their own motivations, however justified.
I found through real life experiences the difficult people provide the best inspiration for antagonists in my stories. More importantly, how they behave and why they behave. Motivation and understanding that motivation is key to a good antagonist.
I remember once listening to a Buddhist monk speak on the topic of Dealing With Difficult People. It led me to the idea that difficult people are generally working from a darker place, a broken place. What fuels them could be anger, resentment, passions, fear, or even misguided views on the situation. But this offered me this epiphany on how to write characters, to give them these flaws in which to work with, and even potentially overcome.
What are your thoughts on this; evil or just antagonizing? Post in comments.