The Key to a Great Story – Redeemable Antagonists

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Anyone can be a redeemable antagonist for a time, even the best of friends.

Anyone can be a redeemable antagonist for a time, even the best of friends.

As I said in my previous post antagonists are sometimes the most complex of characters and I really wasn’t kidding. I’ll be devoting a couple of blog posts to these characters because they are so complex. This post will be about antagonists that can be redeemable in the eyes of the reader and possibly also as part of their character development. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series offer great examples of characters that on occasion are antagonists but are written to be forgiven by the other characters and the audience.

The easiest type of redeemable antagonists to understand are those who are only temporarily antagonising the protagonist. Examples of such characters include best friends and family who are companions of the protagonist who are undergoing the same stresses at the protagonist but are reacting to them differently. The very best examples of these redeemable antagonists are Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger at various points in the Harry Potter Series.

How writers should approach these types of antagonists who disrupt intentionally or unintentionally with the protagonists actions or feelings is to remember that everybody is different. Humans react differently to situations differently. Some characters might want to charge into action while others might which stop for a few vital moments to think about what they are doing. These sorts of antagonists might only fall into this category for a chapter or two, but the key is to make sure that they are reacting for a good reason and their actions are understandable to the audience and to the protagonists for them to be able to forgive them eventually.

One of these ways a character might act like this is because they have a stubborn personality and they aren’t willing to admit that they are wrong. Ron and Hermione are both known to have stubborn opinions. For example Hermione is so determined that she is always right that at first Harry and Ron aren’t even friends with her. In the Goblet of Fire Ron is unwilling to accept that Harry didn’t put his name in to become a contestant in the tournament, and it isn’t until the first task when Ron comes around to accept that Harry didn’t.

Fear is another good reason for not cooperating when a protagonist really needs them to do so. Poor Neville in the first book nearly gets Harry and friends in trouble when he knocks over a suit of armour. Fear is emotion that an audience can understand better than being stubborn. While we all have our stubborn moments, we are all familiar with the instinct to survive. Being unwilling to participate because of fear is understandable, and overcoming it can make for great character development. I can honestly say I would never be as developed as Ron Weasley; there is no way on this good earth I would have entered the Forbidden Forest looking for spiders

Another type of redeemable antagonist is those characters who are simply doing their jobs. They might be an authority figure whose job it is to keep order. The protagonist might not be able to forgive their actions, but in the reader’s mind if the character is simply doing their job, then they might be able to forgive them their actions, unless they are extreme, by the end of the story. If their actions in doing their job are extreme then they don’t fall into the category of redeemable protagonists.

Professor Mcgonagall’s punishment of her own students and House, in the first Harry Potter book when they are caught out of bed might seem quite harsh, but in all fairness Harry and Hermione were breaking the rules (sneaking out a dragon is high up on that list of rules I would suspect). Rules do exist for a reason, and being out of the dormitories at night is not an unreasonable rule to have in place. Both the reader and Harry understand and agree with her actions.

Sometimes characters though set out to be an antagonist but end up redeemable in the end. Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter come to an understanding, but Draco in my eyes while redeemable is a different type of antagonist. He is what I call a Puppet Antagonist, but that is a topic for another post.

So sometimes in your writing any of your characters can become a redeemable antagonist for a while. You just have to make sure that the reasons why they have found themselves in this characters category are both understandable to the audience. They might be doing their jobs or they just might need to find some courage, but either way they can still be characters that the audience love, they just might be a bit irritated with them for a while. To me, that makes your writing and your story more real.

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5 responses »

    • Oh yes, they aren’t easy to write. There have been many times when I have been experimenting with my plot and characters, and I have taken things too far; so far that they weren’t redeemable any more. When it comes to moulding them I always believe that less is more realistic.
      If you add layers slowly into a scene as you rewrite it a few times, you can test the waters and make sure that you don’t push it too far. It’s all in the body language, the speech, the feelings behind the words, and how the various characters react. If they react as you would expect the characters to react, then it is very realistic for the audience.

  1. Pingback: The Key to a Great Story – Puppet and Puppeteer Antagonists | A Young Writer's Notebook

  2. Pingback: The Key to a Great Story – Combining Characters and Plot | A Young Writer's Notebook

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