The Case for Competent Antagonists

The other day I got a phone call from what must have been the most incompetent scammer ever.

“Uh, hello? Ma’am?”

“Hello.” I’m thinking this is a telemarketer.

“How are you?” (Said very warmly.) You’ve won a prize from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse.” (Said hesitantly, almost like a question.)


“Yes. And we want to make sure we get your prize to you.”

We go back and forth a little, me doubting that he really was from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse. If he was, I must not have won much. Otherwise, I’d be talking to the prize patrol, complete with camera crew, roses and the big oversized check with lots of zeroes on it.

“So just what do I have to do to receive this prize?” I finally ask. In the whole conversation, the scammer never told me what the prize actually is. Had he given me an actual amount, I might have been tempted to believe him.

“You’ve won this prize because you paid your utility bills on time every month for the last year.” Really? How do you know that? And how does the Publisher’s Clearinghouse know that?”

He went on. “All you have to do is send us the processing and handling charges of $325.”

I then informed him that the Publisher’s Clearinghouse does not work that way. “I think you’re a scammer.”

“Uh. Uh.” Long pause. “Uh.” Then he hung up.

Maybe he’d never tried to scam anyone before, but there was so much he could have done better, that I might have fallen for it. He whole approach was so faulty I knew instantly something wasn’t right, and he had no chance for success. A little research into the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, a little thought about how he’d convince me to send him $325, he might have been more successful.

This got me thinking about some of the books I’ve read lately. Some of the writers ran into this problem when creating their antagonists. They love their protagonists, and made them competent and capable in spite of their flaws.

The antagonists, however, didn’t get the same treatment. So they come across as too stupid to live or as a caricature, like Wile E. Coyote, who never could catch the Road Runner. It’s obvious the protagonist will prevail.

So put a little extra thought into your antagonist. Make them worthy foes for your protagonists. Make them cute and adorable like a sleeping cat, but them have them strike—and strike cleverly— so the reader is left wondering who will come out on top.

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