I have a powerful antagonist perform important functions within my story. At the midpoint, he just leaves. Several Plot developments depend on this character.

I tried replacing him with other character(s) or causes within my world, but I am getting into extremly convoluted territory with it and I am really uneasy and not satisfied with those solutions.

There is still a main antagonist and another secondary antagonist in the story, so conflict is not the issue.

Do you think letting a major player leave mid-story should be avoided at all costs?

Is there a way to mitigate potential maleffects?

NOTE: We witness his departure by ship mid story from the point of view of another character.

  • 1
    "Leaves" - disappears without any plot explanation?
    – Alexander
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 3:38
  • @Alexander We witness his departure by ship mid story from the point of view of another character.
    – user13402
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 9:18
  • You're the author. If his leaving causes you so much trouble, why can't you tweak the story to have him stick around?
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 16:30
  • @Llewellyn I am trying to find out how much tweaking and how much pain I should invest. I cannot have him stick around though because he is too powerful. He is basically the arc (series) antagonist.
    – user13402
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 18:33

2 Answers 2


The real question is, at the end of the book is the reader going to wonder "But what about …?"?

If the character wasn't especially interesting and didn't leave loose ends, then there is no need for a reappearance. But too often, that isn't the case.

The film "Vertigo", suffers from this problem with the character Midge Wood, who simply disappears from the film as if she had never existed. For me it would be a better film if a few small scenes were simply deleted, such as when she spies on Scottie's apartment entrance, so that she would be less interesting and not missed.

In the novel Crime and Punishment, the character of police Inspector Porfiry Petrovich is even more interesting, perhaps more so than the lead character. He is someone you want to know more about and to see more of, but without explanation he simply disappears from the last half of the novel, a time when his appearance would be most expected. It isn't until a century later that he reappears on television as police detective Lieutenant Columbo.

So, yes, it is acceptable for a character to disappear, but it needs to happen in a way that doesn't leave the reader expecting a reappearance that frustratingly never happens.

  • Thanks Ray! So a recipe would be: Let him do his job, but do not give him a lot of screen-time and do not make him too interesting, right?
    – user13402
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 18:35
  • Or, as in the case of "Psycho", kill off the character without any doubt that they might later return. And remember, the best dishes are often made by not following the recipe. (But so are the worst.) Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 18:59
  • Hi Ray, welcome to writing.se! Check out the tour for the usual badge. Always nice to see first posts from established users on the network.Get answer, thanks for participating and happy writing!
    – linksassin
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 4:20
  • "leave the reader expecting a reappearance that frustratingly never happens." -> Important to note that that reappearance need not be in this book, but can occur in a sequel, or even a later book with him absent in the immediate sequel. Having two antagonists doesn't require the lesser (plot-wise) has to meet justice in the same story, or at all. Sometimes secondary antagonists work as foils and mirrors for the protagonists, but get away freely at the end.
    – Jamin Grey
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 23:34

Your story has to make sense, the plot has to make sense.

It has to seem like the characters are making realistic decisions for their situation, with their goals. What they say and do cannot come out of nowhere, or be left unexplained. How they do it cannot come out of nowhere, or be left unexplained.

When your readers say "WTF, where did that come from?" or "Ohhhhh, reaallllly," or "What a fortunate coincidence!" then you have likely built a Deus Ex Machina, something that is going to take them out of the reverie of reading about your world back into the real world, where they realize a bad author is behind this story, and the characters and setting are just puppets.

An antagonist cannot disappear for no good reason.

The reason has to appear realistic to the reader, make sense to the reader, and cannot look like just "good luck" for the main character(s). You cannot just make up some coincidence that kills the antagonist, or turns him back to the light side, or or makes him leave so he's out of the way. You have robbed the MC of their responsibility to deal with the antagonists.

A story is about the MC confronting adversity, a problem, something wrong with the world, and either prevailing or failing or some combination of both, at the end, prevailing with their wits and skills despite their mistakes and weaknesses, or failing because of their weaknesses despite their wits and skills.

If you just get rid of an antagonist by surprise, that is not the MC either prevailing or failing, it is just nothing. In real life, a girl being bullied in school might find relief when the bully's family relocates to another state. But that isn't a good story, the bullied girl did not solve her problem, she suffered bullying and then it stopped. She did not show any courage or cleverness or fighting back, she did not learn anything, and did not accomplish anything.

Your antagonist can leave, or die, or go to jail, but if your protagonist has nothing to do with that, then you don't have a good story. Even if it is not the main antagonist. You cannot "save" your protagonist by just making the antagonist give up and go elsewhere.

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