Yeah, welcome to our world.

You spend many years of your life struggling with confusion.

Not about writing techniques, but those who deliver writing techniques because they use different words for the same thing.

And they don’t apologize for it, they don’t send gift cards, and they don’t mention that others use a different word for the same thing.

So, in my writing techniques Series, I’m going to tackle a simple term.

It’s been called by many names:

  • Villain
  • Bad Guy
  • Shadow
  • Antagonist


Don’t know the origins of this one, either comic books, sci-fi revolution of the 60s, Spy Novels, or some of those great b-rated black and white films.

Villain, this word brings all the connotations of the guy we’re rooting against, the one who’s fighting against the hero, the good guy, the protagonist – my goodness, what do I call him

The only problem with this term is that the villain in some films are not necessarily bad.

For example, in a romantic comedy, the love interest is the villain because he/she is trying to get the other character to realize falling in love is the right thing to do.

Does that make him/her a villain?

Bad Guy

Don’t know the origins, but I’m sure this stems from the western days when the good guy rode in on a horse and as you know, if there’s a good guy, there’s got to be a bad guy!

And then bad guys wear black . . .

Despite the overarching racist terminologies escalating beneath the implications of this term, it’s just another word for. . .

Can’t say yet, we haven’t determined which word is right!

And like villain, this has the wrong connotations tagged along with it.

What if this person is trying to help the protagonist become a better person?


I’m sure the origins of this term stem from Mythology (direct) and Psychology (indirect).

The mythic overtones give its origins, the shadow figure is a powerful term because it actually allows you to view your story in terms of relationships between the characters.

For example, if you have a hero who is full of pride and you give your bonding character selflessness, then the character fighting the hero has to be almost like them.

Ok, we got pride versus selflessness, so we’re dealing with EGO.

So the shadow of pride would be extreme pride, megalomania, etc.

Get the picture?

Remember, even if you don’t use this term, learn its lessons in understanding the character dynamics of your story.


The antithesis of the protagonist, this is the character that opposes the hero (or good guy) and this is an excellent term.

I choose this as the best term because it simply means “someone who opposes,” which is a genuine description of this character.

For example, if a child wants to take drugs because of peer pressure, a parent scolding him/her becomes an antagonist, not a bad guy, not a shadow, and certainly not a villain.


I’ve gone through all these terms and guess what, nobody cares.

People are going to use what word they like and that’s life.

Sorry, but we just have to adapt and move forward.

The good news is that now you understand all these terms mean the same thing denotatively, but their connotative meanings differ.

The reason for clarification is that as you work on developing stories, you begin with characters that are black/white and/or good/bad.

As you delve deeper into character development, this gap will grow smaller and as the gap tightens, your grasp of human nature will explode.

Soon, you’ll realize sometimes the only difference between the hero and the – whoops, there I made the mistake – the protagonist and the antagonist is a small thing:

  • The antagonist lost his job
  • The protagonist got a promotion
  • The antagonist’s wife died
  • The protagonist got married
  • The antagonist’s daughter died in a car accident
  • The protagonist’s family won the lottery

Honestly, the biggest difference is the antagonist was on his last crumb of morality and life pushed him three centimeters too far.

Remember that, sometimes the distance between protagonist and antagonist is three centimeters.

How’s that for measuring morality?

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