I was recently re-reading Erin Hunter's Warriors and I noticed something new, knowing what I now know; The antagonist is introduced as a hero.

For those unfamiliar with the book, it starts with a battle between two clans, in the middle of the fight, a younger warrior is pinned and Tigerclaw (who is regarded as the strongest, most honorable warrior in the forest) saves them. This goes on with Tigerclaw being repeatedly shown throughout the book as trusted and honored by all, even his enemies show him honor.

So when the protagonist discovers that he has darker motives, they do not know whether they are mistaken or how to go about proving it and when he does prove Tigerclaw guilty, it is an even bigger revelation.

Is this a good writing strategy? How else can I make an antagonist appear to be a good guy to the reader?

4 Answers 4


I think this question is less of a "can I make the antagonist a good guy" question and more of a "is it a good strategy to make the antagonist a good guy turned bad" question. The example you cited with Tigerclaw would follow, since I would argue that he's not a good guy by regular means. (I've read the Warriors books!)

Is this a good writing strategy? Sure, if it fits your plot. I don't see the issue with it.

How could you make the antagonist appear to be a good guy to the reader? Well, by all means, just write them like a good guy. The point is that the reader doesn't know that your antagonist is one of the good guys. So if you write them like a good guy, the reader is unlikely to suspect anything -- unless, of course, you give hints at the antagonist's true nature.

I would say it varies a little. If your antagonist was a bad guy from the start and is only masquerading as a good guy, you might write them differently than a good guy who turned into the antagonist by becoming the bad guy. The "fake good guy" antagonist has evil plans from the beginning; you may consider dropping clues to their real identity, or you might write them as a good guy through and through until you decide to reveal them.

The "good guy turned bad" antagonist is a little trickier, I think. This is because something changed them and made them become the antagonist (unlike the "fake good guy" antagonist, who was just lying the whole time). The "good guy turned bad" antagonist generally goes through something serious, and as a result their character is changed. Maybe they became the antagonist because the main character got together with the person they liked, and they got jealous and plotted to murder the main character. Maybe they became the antagonist because their entire family died in a horrific car accident, and now he's frustrated with everything and goes mad.

Lastly, I'd like to mention that "good guys" and "bad guys" are relative. Every single person that's ever existed is simultaneously a good guy and a bad guy; the same goes to characters. Your antagonist may be a "bad guy" by regular standards, but to someone, they're a good guy. And that, I would argue, is how you should write your antagonist. Because not every antagonist believes they're doing evil. Many do "evil" things with the honest intention of making the world a better place.

Write your antagonist like a good guy, whether or not you're trying to make your reader think they're a good guy. Your antagonist most likely thinks they're a good guy too. ;)

  • Another good example of this would be Dan Brown's Deception Point. Sep 19, 2016 at 21:07
  • I also think the 'good guy turned bad' trope is used with military leader kind of characters quite a lot. I can think of at least two times when that exact trope was used in The Chronicles of Prydain by Alexander Lloyd, and both times with a king who was a great ally before suddenly turning against his fellow good guys, either because he wanted to be number one, or because he knew the good guys were bound to fail and thought the only way to stop wars and unrest for good was to destroy everything and start again. So yeah, good intention (stop wars), bad execution (just destroy EVERYTHING!)
    – s.anne.w
    Nov 29, 2018 at 0:00

An "antagonist" doesn't have to be a bad guy. He could be a very good guy. All he has to do is to stand in the way of your hero, sometime for the noblest of motives.

I'm writing as a "Northerner," but General Robert E. Lee was perhaps the greatest antagonist the United States has ever known. (He and his fellow "Confederates" killed more Americans than the Nazis and Japanese and other "Axis" nations put together in World War II.) This happened because General Lee wanted to defend his home state, Virginia, from encroachment by the "federal" government. In so doing, he and his troops ended up defending the awful institution of slavery. Even if you disagree with me from a historical perspective, I hope you see the literary point I'm making.

Now your antagonist, Tigerclaw, started out good like Lee, and turned bad later on. There could have been a "dark" ending to the Lee story. Specifically, his fellow southern General, Nathan Bedford Forrest, started the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. To his credit, Lee didn't participate in this, but if he had, he would have taken the "Tigerclaw" route.

  • +1 Nice answer. From the perspective of the people of Virginia, General Lee could actually be a great tragic hero.
    – NofP
    Dec 8, 2018 at 8:51

This happens all the time in fiction and in real life because our goals will often align, but our motivations do not. Take the book series Animorphs. The titular human protagonists are allied with an alien race called the Andalites against another alien race of brain controlling parasites called the Yeerks. This is a case of strange bedfellows because the humans are fighting for their own freedom and right to make their own choices. Over the course of the series, we learn that the Andalites are not fighting for other races freedoms but to atone for their own sins (namely giving the Yeerks FTL technology) and their government style is a military junta with a ritulistic honor system and a heavily censored information system and they value success by any means necessary. The Yeerks are much more Democratic in nature, but as with life, Democracies and "Nice Democracies" are not the same thing. Never the less, the Yeerk's Emperor doesn't have any real power... he gets to vote if the representative council is dead locked (if it's 7-5, he doesn't get to cast a ballot) and his secret is hidden from the public in order to avoid a cult of personality... and he is elected by his peers on the council (procreation is fatal to the parents, so no heredity rule is not a concept they ever got). All of these motivations amount to the humans basically having to halt the Yeerk Invasion before the Andalites do something about it (basically, genocide without care for the humans that get caught.).

There's event the case of people having the same motivation and goals and still being antagonistic towards each other. For example, the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh creates a situation where Yugi, Kaiba, and Joey are all forced into a tournament where they have to fight each other. All three are motivate by saving a family member and the tournament means that there can only be one, so when the fights happen, they all three are playing for keeps resulting in some significant problems between them and all three bringing their A game to the front. Now, there are a few details that could resolve this, but they aren't apparent. In essence, Yugi's win could easily solve all three problems, but Kaiba doesn't know about Yugi's stake in the tournament and thinks he's only playing for glory and is too focused on the victory to be talked down. Joey on the other hand, knows from the start that Yugi could achieve his goal, but he also believes that it would be a betrayal of who he is not to give Yugi a fair fight for the win and that there is still some emotional investment in it at this point to not put up a good effort. It's a friendlier fight to be sure, but it does mean that for this segment of the story, he is forced to be an antagonist and the focus is on how this emotionally tests their respect for each other.


'The best anybody can be is good-ish'

Every character must have their own point of view, otherwise they are not a character, there are people who delight in doing nasty things to other beings, but besides them pretty much everybody is somebody's antagonist at some point. It doesn't make them different people.

We might define the goals of two people as exactly the same. "Win the game, be at the top of the leaderboards, defeat all opposition." We might say they use the same means and methodology.. but the readers sees the world through the narrative provided.

Litrpg trope? Protagonist wants to 'win the game' to pay for medical treatment for his poor dying mom and all the crippled children in the world. Every other player is then automatically a bad guy. Either because they're playing just for fun, or because they're also trying to win.

All you need to smash that trope into a wasteful jumble of words is a little sanity and some perspective, that is to say, to see the other guy's point of view.


'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.'

Spiderman is a vigilante, Superman is a vigilante, Batman is a vigilante, Vigilantism is illegal basically everywhere. Idk so much about female 'role models' but pretty much every fictional hero and role model for males ever is a guy who ignores authority whenever he thinks it's wrong...And they're almost always proven right...because that's the story. What happens when they're wrong? Watchmen?

  • The Last Jedi is the first watchable Star Wars since Empire for this reason.
    – wetcircuit
    Nov 28, 2018 at 11:22

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