The Art of the Antagonist

Who doesn’t love a good villain? The entire plot of a story can be made or broken with something as simple as how the nemesis across the table from the hero is written. Whether the direct embodiment of malevolence or cunning or just enough of an unhinged edge that leaves us scared, they are the force driving against the main character we are supposed to be rooting for. A good villain is more than just a nefarious character; they are the cornerstone of a captivating narrative and an essential element that keeps readers engrossed from beginning to end. Let's delve into the captivating world of antagonists and explore the significance of an antagonist.  

A story without conflict is like a sandwich that is only made of bread: it lacks depth and fails to ignite imagination. It's just . . . plain. Enter the villain (the best filling of a sandwich) — a character designed to create tension, opposition and obstacles for our hero. Their own plots and often ill-inspired dreams push the plot forward, allowing the hero to evolve and grow and find new ways to demonstrate who they want to be or who they are becoming. The clash between good and evil not only keeps the audience engaged but also presents an opportunity for profound character development, which is arguably just as important.  

In addition to being the driving force that pushes our main character to learn and grow, a compelling villain usually serves as somewhat of a mirror to the protagonist, reflecting their flaws, fears and vulnerabilities. Even embodying them in some ways. As the two opposing forces face off, the hero is often forced to confront those specific inner demons, guiding them on a path of self-discovery and growth. The villain's actions and beliefs challenge the hero's worldview, giving rise to a dynamic interplay of ideologies, emotions and even sometimes mortality. In this dichotomy, the protagonist finds the strength to overcome their weaknesses, ultimately making their victory more satisfying.  

My personal favorite concept of a villain is one that can inspire sympathy. When a villain can evoke empathy from the readers/watchers, it’s a moment of self-reflection for the audience as well. You can find yourself battling the same conflicts as the protagonist. A well-crafted antagonist is not one-dimensional but rather a complex character with motives, histories and emotional depth. Understanding their perspective can evoke sympathy for the choices they made, even if they are going about it in a morally gray way. This emotional connection adds layers to the narrative, making it more emotionally resonant and thought-provoking. Making it a better story.  

That's not to say that all villains need to be understood or sympathized with. Sometimes an antagonist is even more plot driving when we can't understand why they are doing the things they are. When they are evil without a cause, if you will. A story's tension and excitement often revolve around the stakes set by the villain's ideologies or plans. The greater the threat posed by the antagonist, the more invested the audience becomes in the protagonist's success. The villain's grand plans, whether it's conquering the world or seeking personal revenge, elevate the story's intensity and provide a sense of urgency that compels readers to keep turning the pages. To find out who wins in the end.   

Although we usually know who wins in the end, memorable villains have the power to etch themselves into our minds long after the story ends. Iconic antagonists like Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter or the Joker have become cultural symbols, sparking endless discussions and inspiring new works. Or like Thanos who actually ends up coming out on top at first, a plot twist that many people find hard to swallow. A well-crafted villain not only makes the story unforgettable but also becomes a symbol of the timeless struggle between good and evil.  

All this to say, a good villain is not just a mere obstacle for the protagonist but a fundamental element that enriches the entire storytelling experience. Their presence is pivotal in shaping the narrative, creating conflict and driving character growth. A well-crafted antagonist challenges the hero's beliefs and values, making them question their identity and strive for personal growth.  

As people who intake stories, we should cherish these antagonists, for they are the catalysts that breathe life into the story, making it an enthralling journey of self-discovery, resilience and triumph. So, the next time you encounter an unforgettable villain in a tale, take a moment to appreciate the craft behind their creation, for without them, the hero's journey would lack the fire that keeps us engaged and there until the very end.   

Villains are often immortalized through their distinctive theme songs, melodies that mirror the essence of their malevolence. These musical compositions become auditory signatures, weaving together the intricate tapestry of their sinister intentions. A villain's theme song captures their treacherous charisma, invoking both fear and fascination in the hearts of those who hear it. The haunting chords, ominous crescendos and eerie harmonies synchronize with the villain's every step, echoing their calculated cruelty. Think of Darth Vader or the Shark in Jaws and you know exactly what songs would play if you were near enough to them. On this thought, I have compiled a list of what theme songs I would assign to some of my favorite book villains.   

To give us some villains to examine, here are some books that feature iconic villains and the theme songs I would pair with them! 

Seven Nation Army” - The White Stripes (“Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk)  

Castle” - Halsey (“The Catherine de Medici Trilogy” by Jean Plaidy)   

Everybody Wants to Rule the World” – Lorde (A Game of Thrones Series by George R. R. Martin)  

"you should see me in a crown” - billie eilish  (“Queen of Hearts” by Colleen Oakes)  

Smoke on the Water” - Deep Purple (“The Talented Mr. Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith)  

Natural” - Imagine Dragons (“You” by Caroline Kepnes)   

Monster” - Skillet (“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley)  

You Don't Own Me” - Lesley Gore (“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn)  

Feeling Good” – Michael Bublé (“Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan)   

Believer” - Imagine Dragons (“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins)  

Bang!” - AJR (“The Joker” by James Tynion IV)  

You can check out these books and songs using your Anythink library account in person or via our online apps! Drop me a line in the comments and let us know who your favorite villain is and what song you would assign as their theme music!  


I love Alex Krycek from X-Files. His theme song would definitely have a lot of cello. Maybe some unexpected trumpets, too.