How do I fit an antagonist's backstory into my novel?

by Ashley

Question: I have an antagonist that my protagonist doesn't meet until a few chapters in. He has his own backstory, that I feel is important to tell, but I don't know where to put it and I don't want him to tell other characters because it is embarrassing to him. So I have about 3 pages of backstory that I need to somehow fit in before they meet. Is it ok to switch to him for just a little bit? Even if my protagonist isn't involved in this part?

I've also considered the protagonist finding out about the backstory somehow, but it would paint the antagonist as a liar before I want my protagonist to know his true nature. Basically, I want the audience to know, but no other characters. Thanks for any advice.

Answer: It's all a question of what you want your reader to know and when, isn't it? Here's a little food for thought...

Dramatic irony is what we call it when the reader knows something the main character does not. You use it when you want to create suspense -- a situation where the reader knows something is going to happen, but the main character doesn't. So the reader is on the edge of their seat waiting for the moment when it happens and wondering how the character will react.

For example, in the Suspense genre, you may get a glimpse of the villain's thoughts and actions, a scene or two in his point of view, but these scenes will not reveal the villain's name and identity. So the reader knows there's a threat to the main character that is coming, but doesn't know what direction it is coming from or when it will arise.

In the case of your story, you certainly can switch to the villain's point of view for a chapter to reveal his backstory, but it might create more suspense if the reader is uncertain who this character is in the present. Maybe it could be the backstory of two or more characters, but only at the crisis will it be revealed who that flashback belonged to. You can use misdirection to make the reader think the villain is one character when it is actually someone else.

Another way this is sometimes done is for the main character to learn the backstory of the villain (through newspaper articles, records, etc.), but the villain has changed their name and identity since. So the main character doesn't know who they are in the present... until the crisis, of course, when it is revealed. (If you know the Agatha Christie novel A Murder is Announced, that is a story that uses this device.

Hope that helps.

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