Thursday, August 4, 2011

Antagonists and Why We Love Them

I finished the first two drafts of ABSINTHE AND LEPRECHAUNS, so now it's time to ramp that baby up and make it zing.

Forgive me while I plug an awesome workbook for writers titled WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass, but it's worth it to share what this book has done for me. The first few chapters had me doing a bit of tweaking. Nothing major but little things that help characters and scenes to pop a bit more. Then we got to the chapter on antagonists. The first exercise, after naming the antagonist, was to write down his defining quality. Whoa! It's the same defining quality I wrote down for my protagonist. Is this saying something about me that I didn't realize? Maybe, but this isn't about me. What it does say is something about my main character. What a delicious, little psychological twist.

Is it something that the readers will likely catch onto? I think some astute readers will, and I'm sure those who don't will enjoy the fun little cat and mouse game. I know I enjoyed writing it.

However, Maass's exercise was not intended for us to have a Luke-Skywalker-in-the-cave moment but for us to develop the antagonist and have fun with it. After all, the purpose of antagonists is to give our protagonist a conflict; otherwise, the book would be boring. So why make the bad guy boring? In some ways it's more fun to develop the antagonist than any other character. This is where you get to let your inner bad girl out and let her loose on the pages of your novel. Think back to some of your favorite books or movies. What stands out to you? If it's the hero, didn't he have a larger than life antagonist who thwarted the hero's goals at every turn?

"Deep Space Nine" is my favorite sci-fi show. The characters were richly drawn, and I love every one of them -- even the not so lovable characters. I love the heroics, spirituality, and the inner struggles of rebellion within Sisko. Who can forget Major Kira? She was a tough former revolutionary fighter whose planet had been recently freed after generations of enslavement by the Cardassians, but past that hard exterior was a beautiful, loving woman with a pure heart. However, my favorite character in the series was a relatively minor one. Wise-cracking, former Cardassian operative Garak stole my heart and every scene of the 37 episodes he was in(100 less than the major characters). He was pithy, arrogant, a chronic liar, and there was concern that he was planted on the space station as a spy. What's so great about someone like him? He said things we all wish we could only dream of saying. He didn't conform to the Federation rules and broke them whenever it suited him or suited Captain Sisko. Garak was also broken, and it was this broken spirit hidden behind his facade which caused me to fall in love. He was richly woven with beautiful layers, and as the seasons wore on, we saw more and more of the anti-hero he really was.

Who stands out to you as your favorite antagonist? What qualities made him or her great in your mind?

1 comment:

  1. I think the antagonist that stands out in my generation is Lord Voldemort, of Harry Potter fame. The thing is, if you distill him to his most basic essence, his single driving quality is fear-- not the fear he instills in others, but the terror he feels for himself. It's even better because it takes the washerwoman's tale of the insecure bully, and the scary creature that's "more scared of you than you are of it"-- and then draws it out into its fully realized form. Even better is the lesson that the only way to stop a terrified bully is to reject his fatal flaw and take up courage of your own.