Readers, it has often been said that I like antagonists with Plans. I like antagonists with Plans. I love antagonists with Plans. I love the ones who can tell you every little detail, particularly the parts that you’re going to have to fit right into, but they’ve got it so thoroughly figured out that you have to anyway. I love the ones whose plans don’t even show up until the end or near the end, but as the whole thing is finally revealed, I can look back on them and say “Oh, THAT’S why.” I love the ones who take the plans other antagonists have come up with (usually against them) and co-opt them at the last minute.
All I ask is that their creators not drop the ball. Especially not by giving us Antagonists who may have Plans…. but nobody except the creator has the slightest idea what the Plan is. These are the kinds of characters who will declare that everything is going according to plan when they’ve just been trounced, and neither is this the first time they’ve made this declaration, nor the first time it was in the face of their apparently complete defeat. The kinds who will smugly declare their victory but leave nobody any chance of determining what exactly that victory means.
What makes a plan seem reasonable? First off, in some way it needs to make sense that there is a plan working. That means you’re going to need to give the audience some sort of information about what the plan is. Many people take the simple route and show them the objective, then let them try to put together why such and such a result (particularly if such and such a result is apparently a spectacular failure) might further that particular plan.
At some point, people will need to know the whole thing. That doesn’t mean “lay the entire plan out at the beginning”: even those planners who have things sufficiently thought out that they can get away with telling the protagonists exactly what they’re doing and why said protagonists are going to help them will usually leave a few of the most potentially meddle-able details out until it’s too late to work around them. It also doesn’t necessarily mean having an explaino scene at the end where every little step and the reasons behind it is laid out in full detail by someone who’s Figured It All Out. It does, however mean, that by the end there should be enough information for the audience to have figured out the objective, which events supported that objective (or at least, most of the obvious ones, though it can be fun to leave a few minor events for the extra-observant to either realize the significance or not as suits), and why those events led up to the objective.
If they can’t find any of those, it’s easy to start asking, “WHAT plan?” The antagonists look like they’re lying to themselves (all right, this doesn’t matter too much if they’re supposed to be delusional), or like they’re pulling their victories out of various orifices. Either way, all the fun of an antagonist who has a plan? Gone. Either there’s nothing to foil, or it’s clearly impossible to foil anything, so why bother celebrating victories? You can’t thwart stage (n=x, where x is the stage number in which the main characters are given a shot at plan-thwarting).
Plan, what plan? Make sure you know. Make sure that, one way or another, your audience can find out.