While your writing does not rely on an antagonist, the protagonist in your narrative needs something to challenge them. As many people say, we are only as good as our biggest challenge, and this proves true with some of our favourite origin stories. While we love and cherish the main character, we appreciate them more when we are able to identify them as a hero.
Take, for example, Harry Potter. We enjoy reading about Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts, and we become hooked when Voldemort and Harry engage in battles. As Harry consistently chooses the selfless way of doing things, we come to admire and appreciate his character more.
Many other novels include our favourite villains, like Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Sauron in Lord of The Rings. These villains give the reader more characters to understand and learn about, and often they even help us to better understand the protagonist by way of their interactions.
That being said, some stories do not necessarily need villains to function. In almost any Jane Austen novel, the lead character does not always concur with a villain. Yet her work still provides entertainment and manages to hook us until the end. If or when you include a villain in your work, a good starting point is to look at their origin story. By projecting the wrongs of society into one character, we go on a journey with the protagonist and look forward to the villain’s defeat. Showing why a character is a villain gives the reader more reason to consider them an antagonist.
What is a villain?
A villain is someone who actively enhances the plot of a story by bringing a challenge to some part of the narrative, whereas an antagonist is someone who actively shows hostility to someone or something. Although both share the similarities of having negative connotations, note that they differ in definition. Having both or either an antagonist or villain in your work provides entertainment and a more exciting narrative.
The concept of a ‘villain’ does not necessarily have to be a singular character, either. It may be a group of people, an army of some kind, the climate of the story or a character’s dark past. Each scenario infers completely different versions of a villain, yet all work to hook their readers. As readers, we want our heroes to have bold survival strategies to take down the villain’s dangerous plans.
At the end of the day, your literature needs aspects of challenge to make the writing entertaining and keep readers hooked. By giving the main character something to win against, you are making them heroic and idealising them, showing that the character who we have been on the journey with is truly courageous. A good villain can ultimately leave the reader feeling fulfilled and satisfied with the protagonist's ending!