Creating an Antagonist

In creative writing class, middle school students quickly learn the value of creating an interesting antagonist in their short stories. Good stories have captivating antagonists that create conflict for the protagonist.  To introduce this concept, I begin with a discussion of Disney movies.  We brainstorm a list of movies and the notable antagonists.  Cruella DeVille from One Hundred One Dalmatians is an excellent example. Her name alone signals how awful she is!  After ten minutes the white board is flooded with examples of movies and antagonists. Next, we watch excerpts from the movie and fill out a t-chart that shows what the character says and does to create animosity in the story.

The next day students select one antagonist from the list of Disney movies and they create the back-story that explains why this character is so angry, bitter, and/or mean. They have creative license to make up the story, but it has to be able to work as the prequel to the Disney movie.

On day three students brainstorm a list of as many synonyms as they can for the word bad.  They use an online thesaurus to collect the words. Once they have a full page, I make five columns on the whiteboard.  I label them Level 1 through Level 5.  Now the fun begins!  We discuss each word and decide if the word belongs in level 1 or 2.  Sometimes we give examples or situations.  If someone does something vicious, they will go to prison for a long time, so it must be a level 5. If someone is corrupt and embezzles money, they will go to prison just for a year or two.  Sometimes I ask for a show of hands.  Raise your hand if you think dreadful is level 3.  Raise your hand if it is level 4. These discussions can take the whole class period.  My goal here is for students to appreciate that there are so many words to express the varying degrees of meaning.

The following day we incorporate some of the words from our leveled word choice.  They write enthusiastically for two days.  Next, I challenge them to find all the synonyms for fight. We make a four square chart. The top two boxes contain words that are synonymous with fight – the verb and the bottom two boxes are synonymous with fight – the noun.  With a partner they sort the words into the right categories.

By developing an antagonist these young writers are sure to understand that every story has a conflict that is created by the antagonist.  With so much thought put into developing an antagonist, these students are also becoming better readers.

Students are always eager to share their antagonist back stories on the blog. They find great pics to use as their header and write an inviting title. Classmates love to read these imaginative stories.

About the Author
Pamela Thomas teaches English and creative writing to seventh and eighth graders. During her twenty-eight year career, she has enjoyed watching technology evolve from computer labs to the current 1:1 model. While the methods of writing and publishing have evolved, she never loses sight of the ultimate goal of teaching students how to find their voice in order to express their ideas. When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys quilting, reading, and walking her goldendoodle, Buddy.

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