Most stories have obvious antagonists, some even aren’t afraid to don the black hat or have a plan for world domination. But then there are some stories in which the opposing force for the protagonist is far more subtle. They may be crafty or manipulative rather than out-and-out evil. Personally I think these villains are a lot more fun to write, but the danger in writing a good villain is that you may inadvertently convince your reader to cheer them on. What do you do then? The story is about Luke Skywalker, not Darth Vader.
The solution? Make them a coward.
I believe that deep inside your reader, they will be repelled by the cowardly behavior of your antagonist and then, at least by default, cling to your protagonist.
Here’s how to make your antagonist more cowardly:
1. Have them always take the easy way out.
2. Make them claim that they know more than they really do, or even withhold knowledge that they do. They do this just as a power move.
3. They cut corners and don’t care about the consequences.
4. They allow their impulses to guide them.
5. They’re afraid to make changes, especially those that will improve circumstances.
6. They don’t balance facts and intuition: they rely too heavily on one and ignore the other.
7. They procrastinate because they’re “not ready”.
8. They’re so busy wrapped up in the sentimentality of the past or the plan for the future that they forget to be faithful and diligent today.
9. They only acknowledge and apply information that goes along with their point of view.
10. They blame others and rarely take responsibility for their own actions.
11. Instead of removing obstacles from their team, they just apply more pressure on them to perform.
12. They like the illusion that everything they do is perfect or excellent, so they never own up to faults or mistakes.
13. They’re too harsh with others when they make mistakes.
14. They obsess on unimportant details because they don’t want to handle bigger, more important issues.
15. They over-do it on compliments and making everybody “feel good” about themselves. They do this instead of holding anyone accountable for their actions.
16. They’re a micromanaging, helicopter leader and they do not trust the strengths and abilities of their friends to do their jobs.
17. They solve problems for their friends rather than allowing them to fail and learn from their mistakes.
18. They cling too tightly to emotional clutter. They are so busy obsessing on the unimportant that They forget to take care of their job.
19. They boast about your abilities and competencies, but in reality, they can’t do those things. They may believe that should the time actually come that they’ll rise to the challenge, even without practice. Or that no one will notice.
What I like about developing cowardly antagonists is that it allows the protagonist to do the right thing, be responsible, and fight for the truth. Perhaps with this list, your antagonists’ actions can be even more cowardly and make your story more engaging.
Don’t be afraid, make them more cowardly!