Say what? Why would I want my antagonist to be likeable??? I mean, he’s the one the protagonist wants to defeat, right?
Yes and no. The antagonist is the character who is trying to stop the protagonist from reaching her goal, but that doesn’t mean he should be all bad. According to Donald Maass, the scariest antagonists are not the ones lurking in the corner, cackling Mwoo-ha-ha. No, the scariest antagonists are the ones that are smart, likeable, and right. Here are some of Maass’s tips for creating a three-dimensional antagonist:
1) Give the antagonist a goal of his own and make it one the protagonist could agree with on some level.
For example, the antagonist wants to steal the Mona Lisa. This is wrong. But make him want to steal it because he needs the money to pay for his mother’s cancer treatment and suddenly, the goal seems justified. The protagonist may not agree with the antagonist, but she will understand him and maybe even sympathize with him.
2) Find one way to make the antagonist’s “way of looking at things” right.
For example, despite being a hardened criminal, the antagonist might believe in universal health care. The protagonist will be able to agree with him on this point, making it harder to hate him full stop.
3) Right before the climax, get the protagonist to agree with the antagonist.
Using the example above, maybe the protagonist is about to stop the antagonist from stealing the painting, but she sees his dying mother in the hospital and can’t do it, at least for a moment. Yes, the protagonist will eventually have a change of heart when she realizes that innocent people may die during the heist. But by making the decision difficult for the protagonist, you will create more tension in the pull.