Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Loving the Bad Guy...or Girl

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to rethink my characters. I want my characters to have “attitude” and “spunk.” I want my protagonist to demonstrate a strength she didn’t even know she had in her.

"A strong antagonist makes a strong protagonist"
Janice Hardy
Today I want to address the antagonist. I like the idea of my antagonist having some sort of past that will explain his actions. I don’t want to excuse bad behavior but I do want to understand why the character who seemingly stands in the way of my protagonist does what he does. The antagonist has some purpose in mind, right? I know an antagonist could be inherently mean or selfish. In my current work, however, I think the antagonist honestly thinks what he is doing is in the best interest of the protagonist.  It is Dottie’s son.

I began by trying to see his perspective.

We often view the antagonist as evil or at least a very dark character. They are often viewed as the villain. Of course there are authors out there who break that rule on a regular basis and have us love the rogue character.

Let’s face it… two wrongs do not make a right. Therefore, even though the antics of Robin Hood intrigued me as a child and the Sheriff of Nottingham was indeed treating people badly, stealing is stealing. Robin was a thief. In any other law and order story, the Sherriff would have been the protagonist, rightfully capturing and imprisoning the criminal.

I want Dottie’s son to be loveable and intriguing as well. I don't want him to be evil. I want him to be strong-willed. I went online to research the development of the antagonist.  I read at least a dozen posts about antagonists. I found two that stand out above the rest. I’m sharing what I learned here so you have the benefit of my research.

Janice Hardy writes, “A strong antagonist makes a strong protagonist…” So how do you write in a strong antagonist?

First you need to know your antagonist. What is his purpose or goal? My antagonist isn’t so intriguing as Robin Hood. He’s a son trying to look out for his mother.

Award winning author Kathy Steffens suggests we write the story from the antagonist’s point of view even if we never use it in our manuscript, we get to know our antagonist…what make him tick…before we begin writing our story. It would be like interviewing the antagonist. At the very least, the story would be outlined from his perspective. As I did this, I see that much of what Dottie’s son, Ethan does for her in the name of “caring” is perceived by Dottie as him trying to control her life.

I recently read the first two books in The Windy City Series by Dave and Neta Jackson. They wrote them as “parallel” novels so they incorporate some of the same characters and events and conversations. The difference is the plotline and the point of view. In other words, the stories take place at the same time and intersect where the characters intersect.

Anyway, I started thinking about creating a strong antagonist and wonder what parallel novels might look like if we could write one from the protagonist POV and then in the second, tell the story from the antagonist POV. It has probably been done, but I can’t think of where.  Do I have another story where Ethan is the protagonist? Uh…I’m rambling now. Back to building a strong antagonist. An opponent worthy of my main character. A person who will indeed challenge her to change and become the strong woman I suspect hides within. As I do so I want to also take care of Ethan. I want him to come out of this as a better person as well. Is that asking too much?

In reading Janice Hardy’s post and Kathy Steffens tips for developing my antagonist in a powerful way, two points grabbed my attention. I wrote these down at the top of the character sheet I created for Ethan.

1. What is he trying to accomplish? What is his goal? That of course leads to a long list of possible ways he tries to do what he wants or perceives as best for his widowed mother. In turn, those surface as roadblocks to Dottie in her quest to reclaim her life.

2. What flaws does my antagonist have? Steffens reminds us that the antagonist needs to be “flawed in some relatable way.” I like Ethan. He’s trying.  He doesn’t always follow through and he often treats his mom as a child, but I need to now look at his other flaws. They should be easy to find. We all have them.

I’m including the links to these articles by Steffens and Hardy. Be sure to read them. You can count this as your “education piece” this week.

One of the best articles out there is a post by award winning author Kathy Steffens. It is called Ten Tips for a Terrific Antagonist and can be found here:

Janice Hardy offers Ten Traits of a Strong Antagonist in her blog Fiction University.

Who is your favorite “bad guy?” Please be sure to post your comments below.

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