The Antagonist Is not the Villain

The title might have you a little bit confused right now. You may be asking yourself, “The antagonist is the bad guy of a story, and the villain is the bad guy, so aren’t they the same thing?”

The answer: Most of the time, yes.

But the antagonist is not always the villain. It isn’t a required part of the job description. The antagonist and the villain are different things, although they are typically lumped together in character.

So how are they different? I’m going to show you how the antagonist and villain are different roles by using a movie classic: Disney’s Frozen. I’m guessing that most of you are familiar with the film, and it provides a good example of what I would like to show you.

First off, let’s start by assigning characters roles to everyone:

  • Protagonist (Hero): Anna
  • Sidekick: Kristoph
  • Comic Relief: Olaf
  • Disney’s Trademark Animal Friend: Sven
  • Antagonist: Elsa
  • Villain: Hans

Now, the first thing you might be thinking now is, “How is Elsa the antagonist!?”

Well, what does the antagonist do?

The antagonist stands in the way of the hero fulfilling their goal. And what is Anna’s goal? To be reunited to Elsa, for the sisters to return to the friendship they had as little girls. And who is standing in the way of Elsa and Anna being BFFs?

Elsa herself.

Of course, she has some valid reasons for wanting to stay away from Anna and is scarred by a certain incident in which she froze Anna, but the fact remains that Elsa is the one keeping Anna from fulfilling her goal of being reunited with Elsa.

Elsa is the antagonist.

Now, Hans is the villain. This one is a little less tricky to figure out. After all, he tries to kill Elsa, leaves Anna to die, and tries to usurp the throne. That pretty much spells out villain.

And Hans is not the antagonist, because he is not the main person standing in the way of fulfilling the story goal.

Now, you might raise one objection to all of this that is something along the lines of, “You keep saying the story goal is Anna and Elsa being friends again. But what about bringing back summer?”

To which I say, there are two goals. Yes, Anna wants to restore summer. And yes, she wants her sister back again.

Elsa is still the antagonist for both goals. After all, who caused winter in the first place, and who is keeping the winter going? Elsa.

So tell me friends, who are some of your favorite villains and antagonists? If you are writing a story, are your villain and antagonist the same or different?

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