When you think of ‘a really powerful bad guy’, how do you imagine them? Someone with a lot of money? Status? Pawns?
Power can be a lot more than someone with a lot of resources… Let’s look at some of the different types of power:
- Physical power. Someone with great physical strength. Their power is best demonstrated in a physical fight. They use total dominance and aggressive, scare-tactics to maintain their position. If they lose a fight, they lose their influence of fear…
- Intellectual power. Someone with a vast quantity of knowledge. Their power is in the information they have, and how they decide to use or apply it.
- Coercive Power. This is power attained through the punishment of those who don’t comply. The power accumulates when others actively try to avoid bringing a punishment upon themselves.
- Informational Power. This person knows things the other characters want or need to know. They can exercise their power by purposely withholding information, or only giving it in the way they specifically choose.
- Legitimate Power. Someone in a high position, whether it be in government, the military or any standard work place. Their power is in their rank - without their title, they lose everything that comes with it.
- Generational Power. This person comes from a long-line of powerful people. All of their power is in their reputation, so they must uphold it if they wish to be respected as their ancestors were. This power can also manifest as a bloodline power or ability.
- Expert Power. The best of the best, this person is hailed as the most knowledgeable in a specific field. Therefore, they hold onto power not only through intrigue and recommendation, but by consistently proving they are better than any of the competition.
- Ownership Power. This person only has power because they have claimed ownership of everything they command.
- Reward Power. Someone who can offer special treatment or material items as a reward for desired behaviour from their subordinates. If they have something that is heavily sought-after, then their power grows all the more.
- Referent Power. This person may have very little that entitles them to power, but the way they are received by others demands respect and reverence. In essence, they are worthy of power only if those who ‘worship’ them continue to believe they deserve their admiration.
When you imagine a ‘tyrannical despot’ character, you’re automatically taking from this list more than one form of power. That’s not to say a character can’t possess more than one type… but the despot character is a very specific one, along with the kinds of power they can exercise.
A despot maintains legitimate power - more often than not - by forcing their way into the seat (otherwise they wouldn’t be despotic). Since they fear their title cannot retain their power alone, they begin to exercise other types of power to keep their status. So, for example, reward power to those they want to keep close, coercive power to those who look like they may not be loyal to the cause, etc.
When you find yourself thinking up an antagonist, try to think about what other kind of powers might be in their reach.
Ultimately, in a story, there is The Big Bad. So, in Shaman King, although Yoh and his friends go through the tournament facing-off against a lot of different Shamans in one-on-one/group battles (arguably, mini-antagonists with different extents of power), the ultimate bad guy is Hao, who plots to win and use the legitimate power that comes with that to reform the world into a Shaman-only place.
Hao isn’t the Shaman world’s equivalent of a CEO or national leader; all he has from the list above is generational power and great physical power based on the fact that his spirit ally is nails as hell. He isn’t already the Shaman King… it’s something he is shown to work his way towards becoming.
You don’t always have to create the character to be at their peak from the very beginning. Even those without great legitimate power can hold something over the heads of your main cast in order to antagonise them throughout the story.
Power comes in all forms, and it’s not always, ‘the most powerful and influential person in the world’. Alongside Hao, there are other great and powerful shamans in Shaman King that hold power over Yoh and the other characters in some way. Just look at Lyserg, who becomes completely taken over by the X-Laws even though they’re not in a leadership role; they win him over by claiming expert power and using Iron Maiden Jeanne’s referent power as a poster for their ‘worthiness’.
Additionally, the shaman world coexists with the real world and even though the humans still have powerful representatives, those people have no influence on the story’s events.
I think all you really need to do here is think about new ways of creating your ‘really powerful bad guy’ by re-establishing the types of power they will need in order to do their job as your bad guy. When you start to think about making the biggest, baddest of the lot, scale the character down a little and think about other ways they could influence the lives of your other cast members. Basically, take away all of their resources and re-imagine what they would have to use and/or do to exert the power you want to give them.
Nobody is saying this character can’t become the biggest and the baddest… but they don’t always have to start out that way.
I hope this helps… Followers, any additional thoughts?