Villains are the backbone of most stories’ conflicts. But antagonists tend to be the characters I use in my own stories in lieu of a traditional villain. It’s important to understand that the antagonist is not always a villain, but an antagonist can be a villain. In simple terms, the antagonist is a character who opposes the protagonist. Which is an important distinction. In my own novels, I tend to make use of parallelism and mirror technique between the protagonists and antagonists. Which means that they often are very sympathetic in design, and they even have justified points in regards to the setting. But this does not mean they are good people. Somewhere along the line, something cracked in them, something festered, and that’s the difference between them and the protagonist.
They gave in. The protagonist didn’t.
The following are a series of potential archetypes I’ve devised myself. They’re not useful for every story but they can help enhance a story, too.
To begin with, what’s the worst thing that can happen to the Chessmaster, the villain who’s planned out every angle, has three backup plans, a list of potential factors that can go wrong, and it’s all “just according to plan”?
The unexplained factor. The one thing they don’t see coming.
The Lone Gunman.
The Lone Gunman generally has a vested interest/connection to the overall plot and characters. They aren’t a random person who lack the resources to pull off what I call the “third party swerve”. The third party swerves in when in a traditional two sided conflict, an unknown third party intercedes into the conflict with their own agenda. Not all stories needs this sort of conflict or plot direction. In fact, adding multi-sided parties/actors can be difficult in the the untrained hands. And messier/complicated plots don’t always guarantee success.
The Lone Gunman often has a sizable amount of capital, training, connections, but the one thing they all share is their relative obscurity/unknownness. The purpose of this antagonist type is to showcase how the conflicts between the protagonist and the principal antagonists affect people outside its scope. Imagine the survivor of a massive battle between the hero’s army and Lord Spikes in The Clash of Dark Side, Book One of the Briar Blade Chronicles. The Lone Gunman would be a soldier who survived the battle, a mercenary caught in the crossfire, and from there, they enact their revenge against the antagonist, the protagonists, or both, depending on their moral compass.
This antagonist type often works best as a mirror, not a foil. A what could have been. The versatility of this character within the plot cannot be understated. They might become an uneasy ally, a pawn of the primary antagonist/villain, become the main villain, or sacrifice themselves to protect the protagonist, etc.
Life is rarely a case of us vs them. It’s us vs them, vs that guy vs that woman vs that couple and everyone sucked into the roaring storm called conflict.