Monster "lesser" antagonist problems.

Hi! I am attempting to write a fantasy series, but I wanted to have a main villain like Harry Potter's Voldemort, who doesn't exactly show himself until book four, but is still prominent throughout the series. Now, I wanted to do this by giving the main antagonist spot of the first book to one of his minions, a corrupted ancient beast-dragon that inhabits a frozen land inside of a citadel of ice. For more context, this beast used to be the guardian of the Elixir of Life, which obviously grants immortality or completely heals all deathly illnesses from whomever drinks it. The Elixir, unbeknownst to everything alive, was cursed by a long-dead witch, one of the daughters of the Voldemort-type antagonist, to cause really bad things to happen to the world if used as a price to pay for healing or immortality.

Now, while the Elixir is a legend, this beast's existence becomes more and more probable as the journey of my main character goes on, and it is confirmed that the beast had been using its dark magic to influence corruption and dark thoughts within the kingdoms of the world, launching them into war against each other. The goal of the heroine is to somehow kill the beast so that she can stop all the corruption that is settling in everyone's, including her own, hearts, at the behest of an old mentor of hers. What's actually going on is that the beast has been hard at work trying to weaken the world so that its master, the Demon King (my Voldemort), can conquer all the the land very easily, but now that that goal has been achieved it has been, more recently, trying to lure in brave heroes to make use of the Elixir, whose curse that I mentioned earlier would break the holy barriers that are blocking the Demon King's entrance into the world.

Okay, so here's my problem: while there's a good connection between my lesser antagonist and my main antagonist, and the lesser antagonist has a good presence in my first book, how do I make it so that there's also a prominent connection between the main character and the main antagonist? In many cases I've seen stories where there's an awesome rival to the main character and it's built up and up until it dies to make way for the main antagonist that... NO ONE's ever heard about before, or only heard about him briefly then he kinda disappeared and then showed up 4 books later. On the other hand, sometimes the main antagonist is so prominent throughout the story that when it comes time to reveal himself he doesn't seem that impressive. So to reiterate my question, how do I find a good balance so that my minor antagonist doesn't outstage my main antagonist, but keeps my main antagonist subtle?


Answer: There may not be a perfect solution to your dilemma, but you might consider a gradual revealing of your main antagonist.

To take the popular example of the first Star Wars trilogy, consider how Emperor Palpatine is revealed.

In Episode IV, the Emperor is mentioned as the head of government and boss of Governor Tarkin and Darth Vader. He is clearly having an influence on the story world (dissolving the Senate, for example), but he is not actually seen.

In Episode V, the Emperor is partially revealed. We see a hologram of his hooded and scarred face only. He has a short conversation with Darth Vader (who has stepped into Tarkin's former role of directing the Imperial fleet). However, this small reveal creates more mystery. The Emperor clearly has power. We have hints that he is a Sith Lord, or at least has clairvoyant abilities. We have a difference of opinion between him and Vader regarding Luke. But we learn next to nothing about the mysterious Emperor.

Only in Episode VI do we see the Emperor in the flesh and discover he has powers which are more awesome than Obi wan Kenobi or Yoda have displayed.

The gradual reveal gives the villain an increasing presence in the story (so he's never forgotten) while building the audience's curiosity and anticipation.

Incidentally, JK Rowling does a similar gradual reveal with Voldemort. In the first Harry Potter book, we see Voldemort in a weakened state -- as a disembodied head. But he only appears in one or two scenes.

In the second book, we see Tom Riddle, the ghost of Voldemort's teenage self. At first, all we see of Riddle is a series of "text messages" via his diary. Then he appears briefly towards the end when he starts to become flesh, but fails. In the the third book, all we get is a prophecy about how Peter Pettigrew will help Voldemort return. Only in the fourth book, after so much anticipation, do we finally see Voldemort in the flesh.

Also, just as Tarkin and Vader stand in for the Emperor in Star Wars, Voldemort has a series of lesser villains stand in for him, sometimes under his control and sometimes acting villainously on their own -- Quirrel, Lucius Malfoy, Ginny, and Peter.

Incidentally, regarding the secondary villain, rather than building up this character and then bumping him off, I think it's more common to present him as quite awesome (as in terrifying) in the beginning and then reveal that he is only second fiddle to the real villain. In other words, it's the real villain who you want to build anticipation regarding. Darth, for example is presented as quite villainous and powerful from the start. When we see him later bowing to the Emperor, it makes the Emperor appear even more powerful.

Hope that helps.

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