The Antagonist Part One–Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker

Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Conflict in any novel can have many faces and often you will hear this referred to as the antagonist. The antagonist is absolutely essential for fiction. He/she/it is the engine of your story. No engine, and no forward momentum. Like cars, plots need momentum or they are dead. The antagonist provides the energy to move the story forward. Yet, the antagonist has many, many faces and that is what trips up most new writers.

Think of your antagonist like ice cream–infinite colors, flavors, and complexities. The antagonist is not always evil. Villains are only a flavor of antagonist, much like chocolate is only one flavor of ice cream. And, even in chocolate, there are still limitless varieties. Guess what? Same with villains. We’ll talk about them later.

This series is to explore the many facets of the most important element in fiction. Today, we are going to begin with what I call the BBT–or Big Boss Troublemaker. Why? Because the term antagonist confused the hell out of me for years, so I simplified things. Hey, I’m blonde. I need small words preferably with pictures, please.

For long-time followers of this blog, we have talked about the BBT before. So this will be a refresher.

Every scene in your book should have an antagonist, but I am getting ahead of myself. Today we are going to start with the Big Boss Troublemaker. No BBT and you have no story. Your opposition is the most important ingredient for a great story readers will love.

The Big Boss Troublemaker is whoever or whatever causes the protagonist’s world to turn upside down. This is also who or what must be present at the Big Boss Battle. In Star Wars, the BBT was the Emperor. It is his agenda that causes the inciting incident and it is he who must be faced in the final battle or the movie ain’t over.

In the beginning of The Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick is running from bounty hunters. Due to the nature of the story, it begins right in the action. Who is the antagonist? In that scene it is the bounty hunter.

Riddick’s goal—remain free

Bounty Hunter’s goal—capture wanted criminal Riddick

Their goals are in conflict. The bounty hunter is the antagonist in the scene, but he isn’t the Big Boss Troublemaker.

Lord Marshal actually was the party responsible for bounty on Riddick’s head (via the Elementals). The Lord Marshal was also responsible for the extinction of Riddick’s home world in an effort to kill the Furyan male who was prophesied to bring his end. Who is fighting in the Big Boss Battle?

Riddick and the BBT, Lord Marshal.

The stronger your BBT, the better. In the beginning, your protagonist should be weak. If pitted against the BBT, your protag would be toast…or actually more like jelly that you smear across the toast.

The Big Boss Troublemaker doesn’t have to be a person. It can be a storm, like in The Perfect Storm or disease, like in Steel Magnolias.

Remember high school literature?

Man against man.

Man against nature.

Man against himself.

The first one is pretty simple, but the next two? This is where things get tricky when the BBT is not corporeal. Humans don’t do so great with existentialism. Thus, your story likely will lend itself more to a character battle. What is it about your protagonist that will change when pitted against nature or the worst parts of himself?

In The Perfect Storm, was the storm really the BBT? Or was it merely a catalyst that brought forth the real BBT…pride. In the end, the men lose. They believe that their skill will be able to triumph over the storm, and they are wrong, which is probably why I really didn’t care for the book or the movie, but that is just me.

In Steel Magnolias the BBT is diabetes/death, manifested in the proxy of the daughter Shelby. Shelby’s decision to get pregnant despite having life-threatening diabetes (Inciting Incident) is what changes the mother M’Lynn forever. What must change about M’Lynn? She is a control freak who must learn to embrace life for all its ugliness. She cannot beat death, or can she?

We see M’Lynn in the beginning of the movie fluttering over her daughter’s wedding, controlling everything and tending to the flowers and the broken glasses (symbol). When Shelby dies, M’Lynn is once again trying to control everything, tending the flowers and the broken things—her husband and sons. She falls apart after the funeral. M’Lynn has let go of control and the arc is complete.

In the Big Boss Battle, the BBT is defeated. How? Shelby is dead. Shelby is the proxy of the BBT–diabetes/death. The BBT is defeated in that there is resurrection. Diabetes and death have been defeated. Shelby lives on in the son she left behind, a grandson that M’Lynn would never have had if she’d gotten her way in the beginning and been permitted to control Shelby’s life. (Note that this entire movie is bookended by Easter).

She looks awfully sweet for an antagonist, doesn’t she?

Your BBT is the entire reason for your story. No Emperor and there is no Star Wars. No Lord Marshal and Riddick would be off doing what Riddick likes to do when he isn’t killing things. No storm and no Perfect Storm. If Shelby didn’t have diabetes, then there would be no challenge and, thus no story.

So, once you have your Big Boss Troublemaker, you will have emissaries of the BBT. Depending on the type of story, usually the BBT will have a chain of command. Some will be actual characters. The Emperor had Darth and Darth had Storm Troopers that he could send out to cause massive inconvenience to others. They all trace back to the original BBT, though. The BBT is the core of the story and must be defeated by the end of the story. Everything leads to destroying the BBT.

So we have Big Boss Troublemaker.

We have the BBT’s emissaries.

Ah, but EVERY scene has an antagonist. What is the antagonist? The antagonist is whoever is standing in the way of your protagonist achieving her goal. We will go into this in more detail in lessons to come.

Some Pretty Hard and Fast BBT Rules—Break these Rules at Your Own Risk

Rule #1–BBT (or a proxy of the BBT)  MUST be introduced in Act I. No leading us on for 50 pages before we get an introduction. BBT is responsible for Inciting Incident.

Rule #2–The love interest generally is not the BBT. He or she can wear the antagonist’s hat, but he or she is not the best choice for the BBT. Why? Because the BBT must be defeated in the Big Boss Battle, and utter defeat isn’t exactly grounds for a lasting relationship. Yes, of course this rule can be broken, but in order to break the rules, we must first understand the rules.

Rule #3–BBT MUST be defeated in your book. Period.

There has to be a Big Boss Battle in your story or the story problem is not fully resolved. A lot of new writers are “writing a series.” And, oh, but Such-and-Such dies in book 12 of my series. No. Sorry. Try again.

In a series, the protagonist in every book MUST DEFEAT the BBT responsible for the story problem. We must treat that book as a stand-alone. If we were hit by an ice cream truck and never wrote another, the problem of our last book would be resolved.

We will talk more about this on another blog, because series are a whole other ballgame. I will give you a nugget to hold you over, though. Think back to what we talked about earlier. BBTs have emissaries sent to do their evil deeds. Treat each emissary as your BBT in each book (only you have a choice whether or not to tell the reader that this is only an emissary). But at the beginning of the next book, the reader realizes that the BBT defeated in the previous book, really was only a BBT emissary for an even bigger BBT.


In the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, each movie had it’s own BBT. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the movie wasn’t over until the showdown against the Uruk-Hai who is actually a minion of Saruman (The Two Towers) who is a minion of the Big Guy, himself…Sauron (defeated in The Return of the King). Each movie has a Big Boss Battle against that movie’s BBT. If we panned back, each movie would make up one Act of a larger 3 Act whole.

Okay, well that’s enough for today. Need to stop before your brains all explode and then you have to clean up your keyboard. The antagonist is tough, and hopefully this series will break its complex nature down in to bite-size, manageable pieces.

What are some of your all-time favorite BBTs? What made them so awesome? What are your biggest problems with the antagonist? What do you find confusing? What books or resources helped you? Any recommendations?

I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end on March I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

Happy writing!

Until next time…

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.


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  1. Okay, so now you got me thinking…who’s the BBT in my current WIP. Hmmm.

    Thanks for putting clothes on a very abstract concept.

  2. Another great post. I’m with Jessica, I’m now thinking who’s the BBT in my current project. It’s good to know that a love interest is not the BBT. I guess I have to really create some hell for my poor protagonist. :p

  3. The funny thing is is that in the book I’m working on, I had a scene introducing my BBT but then I thought, “Ohhh, we should keep this as a mystery to the readers so I’m going to take this out.” But then at the end, when the BBT reveals all his machinations so that the reader understands what’s going on, I suddenly felt like I had stumbled into a comic book and the Joker was cackling to himself while Batman hung over a tank full of mutated sharks. I knew this was wrong but didn’t know how to fix it. Now I think I need to put that earlier scene back!

    I think my favorite BBT was the Demon King in Green’s BLUE MOON RISING. That whole scene was just great because we see what pride can do to a man and Green is phenomenal in his descriptions.

    • Tamara LeBlanc on March 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm
    • Reply

    My all time favorite BBT is definitely Darth. He’s the antagonist I love to hate.
    I think that helps too, creating a BBT that is so evil, so complex and layered, that you can’t get enough of them.
    I’m glad to say that I know exactly who my BBT is in my current WIP. What I have to make sure of though is that there is an antagonist in every scene, working against my hero/heroine, and pushing them toward a final battle and resolution.
    LOVED this post!!! I’ve always had trouble with antagonist, protagonist, and breaking it down to BBT helps immensely:)
    Thanks so much, and have a fantastic week!!

  4. My favourite BBT is The Emperor because it’s obvious you’re supposed to hate him and it’s ok. All normal and good people would hate him.

    The problem I have in my novel is that the BBT depends upon your point of view. On one hand the BBT organisation governing the human race is meddling with people but on the other hand they have mathematical proof that the end justifies the means. As each chapter is taken from the POV of each side (not mixing in a single scene, I read your blog!) the reader has to decide whether they believe in social mathematics or human free will.

    I’m only 80% of the way through and have performed little or no editing so far, so no doubt the BBT will have to come out in the edit.

  5. Favorite BBT of all time… The shark in Jaws! ‘Nuff said!

  6. This is so cool. I’m starting book 2 of my series, and now I wonder how my BBT gets bigger than book 1, esp. since I didn’t know ANY of this before – gack! On the bright side, now I understand one more WWBC acronym, LOL.

    I’m bookmarking this one – thanks for putting it in such concrete terms (I think I’m a closet blonde) 😉

    • writerwellness on March 14, 2011 at 3:34 pm
    • Reply

    I just love the way you see things, Kristen. Favorite BBT: The Wicked Witch of the West. When I asked why she melted after Dorothy threw the bucket of water on her, my mother told me because witches are made of brown sugar. They’re so sweet they are bitter. How’s that for conflict?

    • Tiffany White on March 14, 2011 at 3:40 pm
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    Question, if your antag is introduced early by proxy, is 3/4ths of the way through your book too late to clearly identify them? I wrote with the intention of the antag being one of four people, all four people with active characters throughout the book however obviously only one is the BBT. Speaking of, one of my favorite BBTs is Kyle Craig from James Patterson’s Alex Cross series.

    1. Are you writing a mystery? That’s the genre I’m writing, and BBT’s really can’t be identified clearly until near the climax.

        • Tiffany White on March 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm
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        Yes, and thank you!

      1. In a mystery a proxy of your BBT is introduced in the form of a dead body. It is the BBT’s handiwork. Also many mysteries do have the person responsible for the murder in an innocuos or helpful position at the beginning to throw off suspicion. Answer your question?

  7. So, if you’ve got a Man vs. Self situation, you need a corporeal proxy of the BBT for the Big Boss Battle, yes? Because no ninja clones of yourself are allowed…

      • Tiffany White on March 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm
      • Reply

      Yes, thank you! It appears I’m on the right track.

    • Suzan on March 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm
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    Why is it every time you post about BBTs and antagonists I think you’re talking to me??

    *shifty eyes* *paranoid*

  8. I like abstract BBTs – because my favourite novel is The Picture of Dorian Gray, and who is the BBT there? to me, it is time, though in a way, you can view Lord Henry, who is the one who “taints” Dorian, as the antagonist. Maybe this is the reason, my own novel doesn’t have a typical BBT either.

    Fave BBT or perhaps, she is considered an antagonist: Claudia from Interview with a Vampire. Hate her, and at the same time, you pity her.

    1. I would say the BBT is Lestat. If he had not made Louis into a vampire, there would be no story, thus no interview. Although he is an awesome BBT as well. You can see his POV and it is highly sympatheitc. Claudia would be an ally-antagonist and a minion of the BBT, since she is an extension of Lestat’s influence.

      1. That was a brilliant explanation Kristen, thank you and yes, you’re right. Think my affection towards Lestat, made me completely forget he is the BBT in Interview.

  9. Working on a new WIP, and I’ve already got the BBT covered. I know who he is, what his goals are, and how he interacts with the three potential protagonists (Haven’t settled on which one has the most interesting story arc yet.) in a high logic sort of way.

    He also needs to be killed to resolve the story problem.

  10. You wrote this just for me, didn’t you? As you’ve seen, this is something I’m struggling with at the moment in the WWBC, but this post has given me a clearer perspective on it. Hopefully when you read the next BBT bio, you won’t have to waste several pens worth of red ink telling me it sucked!

    1. Peter cracked me up, here. 🙂

  11. Ooohhh, this is a wonderful, wonderful post. <3
    One of my biggest struggles is with antagonists. I like world building and character building so much that my initial story layouts always manage to just overlook a concrete antagonist…
    There's the makings of conflict. But no physical manifestation. Heh.
    That's being rectified.

    But yeah. Definitely Sauron for the win for best BBT ever.

  12. @Gigi Salem Why aren’t ninja clones allowed? *pouts* But I wanted….never-mind.

    @Kristen Where were you when I first started writing? Hmm, yeah, I need to pull that ms out one day and do a complete rewrite.

    Favorite BBT? This is hard, I have so many. Maybe Freddy in Nightmare on Elm street. He gets defeated in every movie but he’s such a bad*** he keeps coming back for more.

  13. Confused about Riddick, because he could win in the beginning of the story and the end. His character was just as tough, he only got softer to help the other survivors out. But in the end he didn’t have to save any of them. Would the BBT be the monsters on the planet? He kills the merc who tried to take him in early in the story.

    Also in Lord of the RIngs, there never was a Big Boss Battle. So what’s up with that? Surely the BBT was Sauron, but he never made an appearance in the entire story. The characters in the story only ever defeat his minions. And then the ring is thrown into the fire, that’s it.

    Can you help me clear this up?

    1. My opinion….

      When it comes to Riddick, he can only defeat Lord Marshal if he can get close. The trouble is, at the beginning, Riddick only cares about himself. He has to care about the others in order to join the fight. If he never joins the fight, no Big Boss Battle. Riddick’s arc is that he has to care for a cause other than himself. He is a classic anti-hero.

      Sauron could be considered a non-corporeal BBT–like a storm or a mountain, only Sauron is now EVIL. When he was defeated in the olden days, he lost his corporeal form. We know this because the prologue tells us this. Thus, the ONLY way Sauron can fight is through manipulation of others.

      There was a Big Boss Battle–the fight at the lip of the volcano. Sauron had always been able to influence those nearest the Ring to keep the Ring and not destroy it. He very nearly succeeds at the end when Frodo decides to keep the Ring. The only thing Sauron does not count on is the innocence of the Hobbits. They have been underestimated from the beginning, and that is Sauron’s fatal flaw. He is unable to control Samwise, and love between friends is what brings Sauron’s defeat. In the past, Sauron had always been able to divide teams with the evil of the Ring. He nearly did it in the first movie when they all started fighting over the fate of the Ring and who should carry it to Mt. Doom.

      Sauron is unable to break the bonds of Hobbit friendship/love and that brings his end.

      Does this help?

    • Suzanne Lucero on March 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you explained LOTR so well. I think Sauron is my favorite BBT, simply because he WASN’T corporeal and nothing was cut-and-dried. The whole story was heroic myth, but there were many types of heroes, those who fought Sauron’s minions as well as those who fought Sauron’s evil influence in themselves.

    My WIP doesn’t have a corporeal BBT either, only a person confronted with a huge life or death decision. I’m assuming you’ll be enlightening us all on this subject in further posts.

    • ellieswords on March 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm
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    Kristen! You didn’t stop soon enough and my brain exploded all over my keyboard!! Darn you and your good information!!

  14. I’ve been thinking, ok worrying, about this recently. I’ve got my BBT straight, but I probably don’t introduce him soon enough, except that technically I do in the prologue which I was thinking of cutting out, so maybe I shouldn’t.

    Oof. This is hard.

    Hmmm, just had an idea… Thank you!

    • Patti Mallett on March 14, 2011 at 9:57 pm
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    Thanks, Kristen. Getting the antagonist “just right” is such a challenge. This information is going to be very helpful as I continue tweeking my guy. Now I want to rent the “Lord of the Rings” DVD’s, and watch with this post close at hand. : D

  15. Your comments about Fellowship of the Ring are interesting. My first acquaintance with the Uruk-hai in question was when I saw him as a Burger King toy before the movie came out. He even had a name, “Lurtz”. In Tolkien-esque fashion, I dubbed him “Lurtz the Non Canonical” (since he doesn’t appear in the books). I figured at the time that the reason for adding him at all was to have someone represent “The Face of the Enemy for the big climax, since the Nazgul are out of the way early, and the only other baddies that actually appear in the book are in Moria.

    But still, calling him a BBT requires a bit of stretching. You say the movie isn’t over until the BBT is defeated, but Lurtz the non-Canonical is essentially a flunky. (albeit a BBF [Big Bad Flunky]). Defeating him is a feather in the proverbial cap, to be sure, but looking at your definition of “BBT” earlier, he is not the entire reason for the story. “No Emperor and there is no Star Wars”, you say, but there is a Lord of the Rings without Lurtz the Non-Canonical (literally, since that’s the way Tolkien wrote it). Lurtz is bumped off, but he’s easily replaced, and Merry and Pippin are kidnapped just the same. In fact, the result is exactly the same as if he weren’t defeated at all. I guess you’re right, and that he is the BBT, if only by default. But he’s a pretty mediocre one.

    Speaking of that, the book climaxes very differently than the movie. There is no confrontation with the Orcs. The Fellowship runs off into the woods in complete confusion, as in the movie, and Frodo and Sam bugger off across the river. No BBT is defeated, the book ends in defeat, as it were, rather than in victory. But oddly enough, the Synopsis of Fellowship of the Ring at the beginning of Two Towers, matches the movie, rather than the book, in saying that the book had ended with the Fellowship being scattered by an attack of Orcs, even though this does not in fact happen.

    About your contest. I have a blog, though I haven’t used it in a while. I do have a website in which I’m in the process of launching one of the most unusual literary projects of all time. I’ve almost abandoned hope of marketing it, and am about to release it as a free weekly web serial. I’d love to get a professional opinion on it, and wonder if mentioning your name, and/or plugging the book on my homepage would be equivalent to a blog mention for the purpose of getting more slips in the hat.

    1. When it comes to LOTR, the movies had to have a different structure. There had to be a Big Boss Battle…ergo the Uruk-hai serves as an extension of Saruman who is an extension of Sauron. When it comes to this trilogy, we know that the defeat of Sauron has to be the main goal, so each act needs it’s turning point. If you pull back the camera, and look at each movie as a smaller act in a larger whole, these battles serve as doorways (turning points) to the next “Act.”

      Yes, if you mention me on your site, I will toss in your name a couple more times :D.

  16. Thanks for sharing! It’s good to know that the Antagonist doesn’t have to be a person but can be the forces of nature or Man against himself. I recently finished a book were the Antagonist fits these two descriptions and your article only confirmed that I’m on the right track. I’m so glad I stopped by. More power to you and your blog!

    1. You have to be careful. They will often have a proxy. In Steele Magnolias, the proxy for diabetes/death was Shelby. In “the Perfect Storm” the proxy was the captain who insisted they could beat the storm (pride). Sauron was not corporeal, but he acted through a series of proxies and minions.

  17. Helpful advice as I’m in the middle of my rewrite. Thanks again Kristen!

  18. Hi Kristen,
    Thanks for the great articles. Like many others, this one made me think. I’m worried now that my WiP doesn’t have a clear BBT… although I have to give some thought to the question of whether my character’s flaws act in that capacity. Definitely a good thing to think about! Thanks again.

  19. Great article, and funny enough… I’m writing a fantasy series, but if anyone who has read my first book can attest, I am not one to follow the rules and make my BBT a cliche enemy.

    There is nothing worse than a predictable BBT / end battle. How many books have you read where it’s the following formula:

    1) The goodie
    2) The baddie
    3) The BBT

    Story follows 1 dealing with or growing to deal with 2, and ultimately destroying 3.

    Don’t get me wrong, it may just work and the book may be amazing, but I prefer a story and a BBT that blends the lines between good and evil.

    BBT rules are interesting, but the BBT can have their own love interest as well, and can be defeated in battle, but not completely defeated.

    My favorite protagonists are the ones that I can relate to and understand, and sometimes even feel sorry for. I agree that each book in a series needs to be able to be read in their own right, but also be able to be continued in the following series of books.

    As I write my first sequel, I am facing these challenges continually. How to make the reader more excited in my second book? How to make the BBT more feared/powerful, etc.

    I don’t see it as a struggle, but it is definitely something that needs to be handled with care.

  20. Hey – no blonde jokes please!!!

  21. I agree — it’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of a good (as in really bad) antagonist. They’re so important, once I’ve got a really strong one, I can hardly stand to kill him!

  22. Okay, I don’t care how blonde you are because you are wicked smart. Like insanely brilliant. I’m talking scary smart, so scary you might just become a BBT like Magneto and if I’m not careful my brain’s going to expl

  23. BBT is hard for me. I’m not sure if I have an antagonist in my story but somehow, my heroine gets pushed down but she has to stand back up. Can BBT be the hero’s ego?

    1. Interesting…I would think the BBT could be an ego. It would be more difficult than a typical BBT, I’m sure.

      1. Still needs a proxy…a representative of some kind. In “Winter’s Bone” the Protag Ree Dolly is basically up against a hillbilly code of silence. She is fighting against ignorance, but there are representatives who are blocking her way to her goal. Find her father’s body.

        Dad broke the code of silence and it cost him his life. Unfortunately, he put his house and land up for the bond. Unless Ree can prove her father is dead, she and her mother and two little brothers will be homeless. The hillbilly ways are represented by the main old man who rules the families, but he has many minions who stand in the way of Ree getting to the truth. Each of these characters represent the overall “thing” Ree is fighting which is a mentality of crime and ignorance.

    • Gene Lempp on March 15, 2011 at 8:41 am
    • Reply

    Loved this in your series on Structure and thrilled to see that you are going to expand on it here. Thanks for the refresher and looking forward to the coming articles. Hearts.

    • Joanna Aislinn on March 15, 2011 at 11:26 am
    • Reply

    I’m w/Marilag–think that’s among the reasons I’m having trouble fleshing out that next story. Thanks for your insight, Kristen.

  24. Ok, so where were you when I was attempting [operative word] to understand this greek world of writing? I have been painlessly educated and my brain remains neatly intact. Most appreciative!

  25. BBTs and proxies… what a fascinating breakdown! I’m definitely now thinking hard about the introduction of my own BBT – and whether he’s a BBT at all… thanks for the food for thought, Kristen!

  26. Love this fabulous post! Thanks for highlighting minions (messengers of Doom) and proxies– (energies that must be embodied to work in a story).

    Personally, I adore antagonists and BBTs that I can sympathize with.

    I agree with Peter that the most interesting BBTs are those we aren’t totally clear about. Favorites include Lord Asriel and his ex, Mrs. Coulter, from Phillip Pullman’s Golden Compass (His Dark Materials trilogy). Over the three books they “flip” their good/evil polarities, moving from supports for our hero Lyra to Evil adversaries, then back again! Pullman further plays with the enlarging BBT across the series by making God essentially a bad guy (not to offend anyone, I’m just sayin.)

    TV writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse) is another master of this: evil vamp Spike flips into Buffy’s savior/lover; the handler from Dollhouse; Dr. Horrible, etc.

    My website is yet another WIP, but will post your praises when ready!

  27. Wow…I think with all of my characters flying around in my head like that landlady in Kung Fu Hustle, my brain just exploded! Between my BBT, her minions, the Protagonist and those she tries to help–I’m gonna have to start wielding my pen as if I’m on a methamphetamine rage!

    Great post and it clears up a lot! Thank you Kristen!

  28. After reading this I realise I have to spend some quality time with my BBT yup he is pretty scrawny right now.

    I also loved this post a lot because it reminded me of a friend of mine who I just weened off writting soliliques and passing them off as stories. I miht have to show him this but he will be angry.

  29. Just so you know, I included this post in my Saturday blog round-up! 🙂


  30. Another super-helpful post. Thank you!!

  31. >>Yes, if you mention me on your site, I will toss in your name a couple more times

    Okay, done.

    • Aanna on June 9, 2011 at 1:30 am
    • Reply


  32. I really, really like this post. Thanks go to Jami Gold for posting a link on her blog for me to check it out!

    I am a relatively new writer who is writing a series, actually. I laughed when I read that. I wish it weren’t so (it would be so much easier if I were writing a stand-alone novel to try to publish first), but these books truly demand to be written. *shrugs* Such is life.

    I do have a question, though. In the first book, I introduce the BBT’s closest minion (kind-of like Darth Vader) in the first sentence of the novel, but he doesn’t DIE, nor is he completely defeated in that book. But he is defeated in a small way, as his entire goal in that first book is to stop the protagonist from reaching a city of safety, and her entire goal is to survive long enough to make it. When she makes it, he can no longer get to her and can no longer pursue her for some time (he has other work to finish first). So, in a sense, he is defeated, but he’ll be coming back around as a foe many books later.

    And, yes, there is a major battle at the end where he tries to kill her once she makes it, anyway, but she wins and he runs away in defeat.

    I think of it kind of like Darth Vader in the first Star Wars. He isn’t killed in that first movie, but his goal (the Deathstar’s completion and subsequent launch into battle) is sabotaged and he is sent spinning off into space. Thus, he is defeated, but he gets to come back for another round next movie.

    What do you think?

    Anyway, thanks so much for the great post. You have an excellent gift for showing things in such a clear-cut, easy to understand way, that anyone can get it. Anyone, of course, being a blonde like me. Have a great day, and happy writing!

    P.S. Just to let you know, Rule #3 (BBT MUST be defeated in your book. Period.) is a usually, not a must. Perfect Storm is an excellent example of this. The storm isn’t defeated in any sense. Instead, the protagonists are the ones who lose. I hate those types of movies and books, but some people love them. My father is a prime example. Perfect Storm is one of his favorite movies. *shrugs* I don’t get it, either.

  33. I was about to say “but my protagonist and antagonist don’t meet til near the end of the story…I’m doomed!” Then I realised that I introduce the BBT in most likely the third chapter or so. Is this okay? They run two separate paths until they lock horns and battle against each other til the final scene.

  34. Thanks, Kristen, I gained a better understanding of the BBT. Still contemplating organization of my book.

  35. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an incredibly long
    comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  36. Reblogged this on jean's writing and commented:
    One of the best writing tips I’ve read in a long time on the Antagonist for your story by Kristen Lamb. A must read for Writers

  37. Reblogged this on The Tattooed Writer and commented:
    Some great advice!

  38. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!

    1. I was away from the computer for the weekend to let my brain rest. If it is the first time you commented I have to approve and this is the first time I have ben at the computer. I believe your comment should be approved and up.

    2. I’ve had that happen! GGGrrrrr!!! So very frustrating! One thing I’ve learned to start doing is Ctrl A Ctrl C every few minutes. That way, all your hard word is not wasted and you can just Ctrl V and it will show up on a new post. I’ve actually accidentally ERASED entire posts so I understand that agony.

  39. Great post and I have TWO Big Boss Troublemakers!

    One WAS brought down, BIG TIME, at the end of Phantom of the Paradise.
    Swan (possibly an acronism for Sadistic Warped And Nasty) was a music mogul who thought he could do whatever he wanted, just because he had….nether-worldly help. Neither of whom had the sense NOT to mess with Winslow Leach. This kid had NO reputation, NO legal resources and NO proof to back up his claim of authorship. (He gave the body of music to Swan’s right-hand thug) . Foolishly naive? Without a doubt. But he got over that and would go on, after many trials and stumbling blocks) to kick Swan’s butt in a huge way…. in front of a live audience as well as in front of a televised audience of millions!

    The OTHER BBT has yet to be brought down (Brain, as in Pinky and the Brain) . On top of being utterly FULL Of HIMSELF as to want world wide worship, Brain is real-life cruel to poor sweet Pinky and it’s time that megalomaniacal sewer rat got his come-uppance! I would LOVE to be the one to dish it out, even as I rescue poor Pinky and provide him a good home (fan fiction style). It even dawned on me to combine Pinky and the Brain with the Left Behind series, where Brain can be THE bad guy after millions vanish in the rapture. Now THAT would be THE mother of ALL COME-UPPANCES. (If you read the whole Left Behind series, you know how the bad guys get it as well as WHO dishes it out!) TOOO SWEET!

    But I also have my own villains, but I’m working on sorting those out, story style. I’ve got two stories generally mapped out. I can see how it develops as I write.

  40. Reblogged this on Storyhaunts and commented:
    Looking to create an antagonist or a villain? What’s the difference? An antagonist can be a whole society, an addiction, a judicial system, or anything that might thwart a hero from achieving his goal. Without an antagonist, there is no story.
    Kristen Lamb’s post on creating villains,which she calls the Big Boss Troublemaker, can help you master the mind of the bad guy.

  41. Anne R. Allen told me to come here and read this. She also said literary fiction is different, so I wonder about the BBT who HAS to die…
    (And this is a huge spoiler, if I ever get this thin published.)
    Can we imply this defeat? If the BBT’s last act is to murder someone in cold blood, with witnesses, on her own front porch, with a gun registered to her deceased husband, can we not assume the rest of the story?
    Thanks in advance for your answer. 🙂

    1. The answer is yes the BBT needs to be defeated. That is the entire point of the story. And that doesn’t sound like literary fiction.

        • Adam K. on June 17, 2020 at 8:20 am
        • Reply

        What about Thanos in Infinity War? Another blogger said it was best to give the antagonist what they want by the story’s end? Different medium but interesting idea. Thoughts?

        1. But the antagonist (Thanos) didn’t get what he wanted other than in the antagonist’s false victory (darkest moment for the MC). In the end he was defeated, his plan reversed. When you are dealing with a series (or even the internal structure of a novel) there will be the point where it seems the antagonist has won. That is the darkest moment for the MC (or team of protagonists), then there is a glimmer of hope, rally to the call and eventually the plan is thwarted. Thanos didn’t get what he wanted in the end. Sometimes, depending on the story, the antagonist can evolve as well. They don’t get what they believe they wanted in the beginning, but something that still is satisfactory (e.g. to die a noble death). Good endings should have a win/lose on both sides.

    • Gail Garrett on April 11, 2022 at 12:40 pm
    • Reply

    I like silence of the Lambs ..Red Dragon antagonist types. Bad guys.. who are educated & absolutely hate stupidity, also hating other bad guys similar to themselves.

  1. […] this woman has great advice. You should probably be reading her blog. Today’s post is all about […]

  2. […] The Antagonist Part One–Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker « Kristen Lamb's Blog News   […]

  3. […] The Antagonist Part One – Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker – BBTs, proxies… Kristen Lamb gives a thought-provoking breakdown on what constitutes an antagonist. […]

  4. […] The Antagonist Part One–Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker by Kristen Lamb. Kristen had the seriously dubious pleasure of editing my first manuscript. I’m amazed she didn’t kill herself with a spork. When she told me the things in this blog, I experienced my Helen Keller Water Moment of writing. […]

  5. […] No antagonist, and no story. The main antagonist, I like to call the Big Boss Troublemaker. Read last Monday’s post for more. The BBT Antagonist is who or what upsets the course of the protagonist’s life and sets the story […]

  6. […] The Antagonist Part One–Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker Kristen Lamb’s Blog […]

  7. […] Lamb: The Antagonist Part One: Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker. “Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Conflict in any novel can […]

  8. […] Lamb has been running a fantastic series on antagonists (Part One, Part Two, Villains, Balancing Evil, Inner and Outer Demons).  She shares more gems than I can […]

  9. […] here is the homework I’ve assigned to myself: – Read Kristen Lamb’s blog series on antagonists, which if applied, will do wonders for the conflict in my stories – Read Plot […]

  10. […] not going to do that. If you’d really like to know more about the Antagonist, my friend Kristen Lamb did an entire series on […]

  11. […] dream of ever reaching it (well, until the end, of course). Remember in March we talked about the Big Boss Troublemaker. Generally (in genre novels especially), it is the BBT is who’s agenda will drive the […]

  12. […] to this post for more on the […]

  13. […] a lot of the story tension responsible for turning pages will be generated by things other than the Big Boss Troublemaker (antagonist responsible for the main story problem in need of […]

  14. […] The Antagonist Part One–Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker. […]

  15. […] that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Recently, I was helping a student of my Antag-Gold class plot her novel. She had a good […]

  16. […] that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Recently, I was helping a student of my Antag-Gold class plot her novel. She had a good […]

  17. […] that drive our wants, needs, perceptions, and reactions and so should all our characters (even the Big Boss Troublemaker-Antagonist). Maybe your character is a control-freak. Perhaps he avoids. Maybe she is battling an addiction or […]

  18. […] Incident—This is the moment when the core antagonist a.k.a. Big Boss Troublemaker‘s agenda (Sauron) directly intersects with the life of the protagonist and has […]

  19. […] Kristen Lamb writes some of the best stuff I’ve seen on the subject of the antagonist, which she calls the Big Boss Troublemaker. Here’s one of Kristen’s great posts on the BBT. […]

  20. […] of Big-Boss-Troublemaker, courtesy of another creative soul – Thank you, Kristen Lamb! (Read Kristen’s post on Big-Boss-Troublemaker […]

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