The Villains’ Voices: 4 Main Types of Antagonists

Now that we have covered creating compelling characters using archetypes, let’s take a look at one of the most important characters in any story: the antagonist. Antagonists come in many forms—in fact, they may not always be an explicit character—but they are always in direct conflict with the protagonist as the protagonist strives to get what they want. 

Contrary to popular belief, antagonists do not necessarily have to be evil. Many types of villainous antagonists exist, of course, and they are a popular way to imbue stories with an immediate sense of conflict and strife. But sometimes, the antagonist is simply someone whose actions come into conflict with the protagonist, or they are an inanimate force the protagonist must fight against, or the protagonist is their own antagonist.

Let’s explore these different kinds of antagonists through their own stories and voices. Four different types of antagonists weigh in to provide their own insight as to what makes them work so well. We’ll hear from Lady Macbeth, Mr. Darcy, the laws of space and nature, and Dorian Gray as we dive deep into the role a great antagonist plays. 

Please note that this blog contains some spoilers for Macbeth by Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, “The Cold Equations” by Tom Goodwin, and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. 

The Villain: Lady Macbeth from Macbeth by Shakespeare

Macbeth tells the story of a Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king of Scotland. Encouraged by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth, he murders King Duncan to seize the throne. However, Macbeth’s guilt and paranoia following this lead to further acts of violence and betrayal, ultimately resulting in his downfall. 

Lady Macbeth infamously serves as the major antagonist of the play, inciting Macbeth to his treacherous actions until her guilt consumes her and she descends into madness. In the end, she kills herself. Lady Macbeth is ambitious, manipulative, ruthless, and determined. She will do anything to increase her and her husband’s status and power, even if it means committing heinous acts. In this way, she serves as the traditional villain-type antagonist who works for evil purposes to destroy the protagonist

Here’s what Lady Macbeth has to say for herself from beyond the grave regarding her actions as a villain: 

They call me villain—I assure you I
Am not. Ambitious? Sure, I have been this,
And murderer, and more. But all for him.
If not for me, the story stalls in his
Unmoving, hesitant hands. Always feeble,
Always weak. Unlike me. So I wanted more,
For myself and for him. Is that so wrong? 
Was killing Duncan so deserving of 
This hell? Each night, I wash my hands of blood. 
And yet when I awaken, there it is
Again. The stain I can’t remove, not from 
My skin nor from my clothes. The blood from whose 
Blue veins it ran I do not know. ‘Tis mine? 
Or his? Perhaps, e’en after all this time, 
‘Tis Duncan’s still. The spot that never leaves. 
Oh well, I’d do it all again, for us.

Lady Macbeth puts it best. Without her, Macbeth may never have done the things he did and the story would not have been a story at all. But like any good villain, Lady Macbeth believes she is doing what is best for her husband, herself, and her community. She believes her ambition is just—at least, until her guilt drives her mad. Compelling villains never feel that they are actually villainous or evil, but rather that what they are doing is necessary or even good. In this way, when an antagonist is truly a villain in a story, their evildoing drives the story forward to its conclusion. 

The Conflict-Creator: Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice follows the story of Elizabeth Bennet, the second eldest of the five Bennet sisters, as she navigates the societal expectations and romantic entanglements of early nineteenth century England. When wealthy, eligible bachelor Mr. Charles Bingley moves into the neighborhood, Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth’s mother, tries to secure him as a husband for one of her daughters. Mr. Bingley becomes enamored with Jane, the eldest Bennet sister, while Elizabeth captures the attention of his friend Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. However, Mr. Darcy’s pride and Elizabeth’s prejudice against him cause conflict and initially prevent any romantic feelings from developing between them. 

While there are plenty of antagonistic characters in Pride and Prejudice, including George Wickham, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and Mr. Collins, Mr. Darcy serves as the main conflict-creator throughout the story. He is constantly at odds with the protagonist, Elizabeth, and the story is not resolved until he and Elizabeth become aligned.

But let’s have Mr. Darcy tell us what he thinks through the epistolary style: 

Dear Reader,

Although Elizabeth tells me it is not necessary, I am compelled to defend myself from these accusations of being “antagonistic.” I do not feel I have been antagonistic in the slightest. That is not to say that I do not have faults, but I do not think of our story as one of antagonism… rather, it was a series of grave misunderstandings. 

Elizabeth tells me I am misremembering. The ball, she says, the ball where we first met—you said I was ugly! I did not. I was attracted to Elizabeth the moment I met her, I just could not admit it to myself at the time. I have matured since then. 

The unfortunate circumstances that brought Elizabeth and me together made us stronger, did they not? At the very least, they revealed our inmost strengths and flaws and brought them out into the open. 

It is true, however, that I insulted Elizabeth and her family. This I much regret, though it is true that meeting with Elizabeth’s mother can be rather taxing. (Elizabeth agrees.) At the time, I was too prideful to see that although I may have disapproved of her family, Elizabeth was the only one for me. I should not have let myself be influenced by slander of her and her family. 

She’s smiling now, even as she says that it was she who was too prideful and too prejudiced to see past her initial impression of me. I suppose we both were blind. 

Despite my initial impression of her, I could not help but be drawn to Elizabeth. My actions did not always reflect my true heart. Sometimes it felt that everything we did worked against each other. She was influenced by others whispering falsehoods into her ears about me, and I was held back by my own close-minded thinking. 

Looking back on it, I cannot help but scoff at myself—what a presumptuous proposal I made. Yet somehow I do not regret it, for it led us to where we are today. Even after all this time, I find it easier to communicate my true feelings to her, and to myself, through writing letters. Everything is more clear when put out on the page. 

This is all to say, dear reader, that when you encounter conflict in your life—conflict you, yourself may have caused, do not shy away from it. You must struggle and overcome the conflict in order to reap its rewards. I have found the rewards to be most worth reaping! 

Elizabeth is laughing at me now. I must go. 


Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy

Conflict-creators in fiction are never outright “bad guys,” but they tend to make things complicated for the protagonist. They often represent a status quo that the protagonist actively resists or are a counterpoint to the protagonist’s worldview. No matter what, the conflicts they create press the protagonist to change—for the better or for the worse. When approaching writing them, think about their motivations: why would they want to create this conflict, either advertently or inadvertently? What character traits put them so at-odds with the protagonist? 

Inanimate Force: The Laws of Nature from “The Cold Equations” by Tom Goodwin

This short story explores the consequences of and the rigidness of natural laws. In it, a young girl, Marilyn Cross, stows away on an Emergency Dispatch Ship (EDS) from the larger ship the Stardust to visit her brother on another planet after ten years apart. What she doesn’t know is that any excess weight will cause the EDS to go into freefall, killing the pilot and ultimately the ailing people on the planet it is heading with a serum for a disease. Thus, the pilot must jettison any stowaways into space once discovered. However, upon realizing that the stowaway in question is an 18-year-old girl who is completely unaware of the dire consequences of her actions, the pilot is horrified and reluctant to follow through. He attempts to see if he can save her, but in order to save the lives of many—including his own—Marilyn must be ejected into space. 

“The Cold Equations” features a unique, non-character antagonist. It is a tragic story about the consequences of action and inaction and the laws of nature. Their oppressive existence throughout the story serves as a reminder of what’s at stake as well as Marilyn’s inevitable death. 

Since space and nature cannot speak for themselves, the pilot weighs in with a recording of the post-mission report: 

Mission Report for Commander Delhart EDS 34GII
Reporter: Pilot Barton; Number A8479-Y50
Mission Date: December 9, 2178


Context: On December 6, 2178, the Stardust received a request from one of the exploration parties stationed on Woden. Six men were stricken with fever carried by green kala midges and their supply of serum had been destroyed. Stardust went through the usual procedure, dropping into normal space to launch the EDS with the fever serum, then vanishing again in hyperspace. Barton was the sole accompanier of the EDS per Interstellar Regulations. 

Mission dates: December 8 and 9, 2178

Mission expected outcomes: Safe delivery of the green gala midges fever serum to Group One stationed on Woden. 

Team members: Pilot Neil Barton; Number A8479-Y50


  • Safe delivery of the green gala midges fever serum to Group One stationed on Woden.
  • Stowaway jettisoned from EDS at 1900 en route. 


  • At 1700 hours, EDS 34GII launched from the Stardust. Ran a metrics check; no reported abnormalities. 
  • At 1800 hours, noticed the supply closet temperature gauge had risen above normal and determined a stowaway had come on board. Per Paragraph L, Section 8 of Interstellar regulations, made way to the supply closet to apprehend the stowaway. Stowaway identified as young girl. 
  • At 1805 hours, returned with the stowaway to the main cabin. After questioning, cut deceleration to 0.001 m/s2. Signaled the Stardust and contacted Commander Delhart. 
  • At 1808 hours, stowaway identified as Number T8374-Y54. Name: Marilyn Lee Cross. Sex: Female. Born: July 6, 2160. Height: 5’3”. Weight: 110 lbs.
  • Ordered to resume deceleration at 1910 hours and complete mission report. 
  • At 1830 hours, requested contact with Lieutenant Gerry Cross, number: T8946-Y52.
  • At 1850 hours, Lt. Cross returned the signal and spoke with Marilyn Cross. 
  • At 1900 hours, stowaway jettisoned from EDS en route to Woden. 
  • At 1910 hours, resumed normal deceleration and submitted primary mission report. 
  • At 2000 hours, arrived on Woden with serum and delivered to Group One Captain Blysmithe. 

Findings and Recommendations

  • Finding: Green gala midges fever more contagious in closed environments than anticipated. 
    • Recommendation: To prevent future incidents of green gala midges fever, supply all ports within 56 parsecs of Earth with vaccination. 
  • Finding: Lack of knowledge regarding consequences of stowage from Earth citizen personnel. 
    • Recommendation: To prevent future stowage incidents, supply Terrans with substantial education on the dangers of stowing away. 
  • Finding: Lack of security around Emergency Deployment Ships leading up to significant launches. 
    • Recommendation: To prevent future stowage or piracy incidents, increase security around EDS launches up to 24 hours in advance of launch whenever possible. 

Barton’s report, particularly his findings and recommendations, help us understand the weight an inanimate force plays as an antagonist. In scenarios where an inanimate force like the laws of nature or societal expectations are the biggest drivers of conflict in a story, often the characters are pitted against it in a way that prevents them from having full control over their fate and the fate of those around them. The antagonists in “The Cold Equations” are faceless and have no motivations of their own, but are nonetheless extraordinarily powerful. Physics serves as one potential antagonist, as science dictates how the ship can land safely. Fate also plays a role as Marilyn faces the consequences of her ignorance and bad luck. The story also features an even more amorphous antagonist: choice. The fact that the pilot and Marilyn must confront a difficult “Trolley Problem” and choose between two bad options is, in itself, an antagonist.

Self: Dorian Gray from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

In this exploration of a person consumed by vanity and hedonism, the young, handsome Dorian Gray is the subject of a portrait painted by his friend and artist Basil Hallward. When Dorian expresses his desire for eternal youth, wishing the portrait would age instead of him, the wish seemingly comes true. Dorian remains young and unblemished while the portrait ages. Dorian then goes on to indulge in a life of debauchery and excess, spurred by his deep insecurities and outside forces such as the hedonistic Lord Henry. As Dorian becomes increasingly reckless and immoral, the portrait grows increasingly grotesque and corrupted. Dorian fears it will reveal his true nature to the world and becomes consumed by paranoia and guilt. Finally, he destroys the portrait, resulting in his own death and restoring the portrait to its original state while his body reflects the soul inside. 

Although outside forces influence Dorian’s thinking and decisions, his ultimate downfall is himself and his vanity. His own insecurities, his inability to establish and live by his own moral code, and his emphasis on appearance over all lead to his corruption and death. 

Let’s hear Dorian’s ghost as it wanders through the halls of his mansion, remembering his life: 

I once grieved the living death of my own soul. Now I grieve the death of myself while my portrait lives on. It has surpassed me in all, in looks, in youth, and in eternity. No longer do people remember me, Dorian Gray, they only remember my portrait. What a terrible thing it is, to be so remembered for someone else’s work. 

I remain blameless. For all, I blame Basil and his damned portrait. Except for the death of the girl I once loved, perhaps… perhaps that was my undoing after all. 

What am I saying? The portrait caused everything and now it sits there, gilded and resplendent while I wander these halls unable to pass. Do I have regrets? I already set them aside, agreed with myself that I had nothing to do with the unfortunate events that unfolded during my life. 

Sometimes… sometimes I think of what happiness I might have had if not for that portrait. If not for that damnable object. The object of so many’s desire: Lord Henry, Basil himself. Perhaps even Sybil Vane had only ever truly wanted the portrait of me: the image that remains perfect even after death. No one wanted me for the person inside. 

Then again, not even I did, that vile fellow. A lord of debauchery. I lived only as I knew to live, only as I should have lived as an immortal. Now my portrait lives on in place of me, a true masterpiece. And I, I remain here, unable to move on. 

When the self is the antagonist in a story, it means that the major conflicts are caused by the protagonist’s main flaws. In Dorian Gray’s case, vanity and insecurity drive him to cause horrible deeds and ultimately to a terrible end. Characters who have an internal struggle above all may come out at the end of it better than Dorian does, but only if they’re able to learn their lesson and overcome their weaknesses. 

Final Thoughts

Conflict is an incredibly important aspect of any story, and driving that conflict will always be an antagonist of some kind. Hint: All of these antagonists come from stories that are part of our Literary Tarot deck, through which you can unlock even more secrets of classic literature. Remember to check out our next blog in this series which will cover crafting compelling conflict in greater detail! For more on the complexities of antagonists and what makes them work, check out our blog analyzing four truly memorable antagonists

Maribel Leddy

Maribel Leddy is a passionate writer, editor, and creative content strategist based in New York, New York. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in Writing Seminars and has been with Brink since 2018. With experience in writing professionally for over five years now, Maribel enjoys crafting engaging, thoughtful, and well-researched content across a variety of topics and industries. For fiction writing, her favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy. She currently lives with her sister and their two cats, Cleo and Chai.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay