Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where Do Antagonists Come from?


Some actors have reportedly said they’d rather play the bad guy than the good guy because it’s more fun. The same might be said about some writers: it can be more fun to write about antagonists than protagonists. While this probably doesn’t hold true for all of us, I have found the creation of antagonists to be an unexpectedly interesting facet of fiction writing. “Fun” may not always be appropriately descriptive, however. Complicated, damaged, mentally or emotionally unbalanced, narcissistic, or even terrifying might better categorize them. No matter how they are described, I like to uncover their issues, figure out what makes them tick. Why do they do what they do?

Antagonists may grow out of personal experience, be composites or people we’ve known or read about, or be products of our imagination. All of us have a dark side, but society doesn’t smile on our displaying that part of our personality. If this is the case, we writers have an advantage if we care to use it: we can vicariously express our negative thoughts, anger, or pain through our characters—perhaps even alleviate repressed resentment over past mistreatment or salve deep wounds from horrific abuse—by letting our antagonist get his just reward. Maybe a historical person such as Jack the Ripper will inspire a character, or the infamous Lizzie Borden or Ted Bundy. Perhaps he/she is simply a troublemaker, a controller, a bully, a heckler, or a sore loser who creates a rough road for our protagonist. From the beginning of recorded history down to the present, the world has been populated by an abundance of less-than-stellar citizens, so we have an almost endless supply of examples from which we can draw.

Do you have fun creating your antagonists? Have you found them to be outlets for releasing past pain? How do you develop them? Do they always get their comeuppance? Because people are neither all good nor all bad, do you make a point to incorporate any redeeming qualities into your stories? Do your antagonists ever see the error of their ways and turn back from a wrong course?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at www.denvereditor.com.

8 comments :

  1. Good post, Linda. Yes, actors love to play antagonists and villains. Some of the biggest names in movies have won Oscars for playing villains, from Anthony Hopkins, Denzel Washington, Daniel Day Lewis, Kevin Spacey, and the list goes on. Much meatier roles. Same in books. It's much easier to write a villain, with all his twisted characteristics, than it is to write a bland good guy. Personally, I love to make my good guys with a little twist too, or else he'd bore me to death. Unfortunately, you're right about something else. Examples of bad guys are all over the place on a daily basis. Great for writers; not so great for life.

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  2. Everybody has imperfections. The degree to which those flaws govern their lives determines whether they qualify as antagonists, protagonists, or something in between. Thank you for your comments, Polly. :-)

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  3. Antagonists come a little too easily to me, Linda ... mmmmmm?

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    1. Me, too, Christopher. I try not to think about that. (Sure hope that doesn't make me a closet villain!)

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  4. In one story I critique, the villain is more interesting and alive than the other characters. It's a bit of a problem.

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    1. As a writer, I can understand how a villain might attain that status. As a reader, it's unacceptable. As an editor, I must ask, "Where was the editor of this book?" Interesting comment, Diana, and a good reminder that we need to infuse all our characters with life.

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  5. The following comment came to me via e-mail because the sender is unable to post it via our site. This is an ongoing problem for her, as well as for some others who have come to me with the same complaint. Any ideas on how to fix the problem?

    Post from S.K. Randolph, author:

    Linda, I love the article on antagonists! One of the most intriguing characters to develop is a good bad guy. What I have found interesting in my own writing is that mine always start out drenched in their badness. But . . . by the end of the book, we discover the layers of life that have turned them into villains. Like humans in general, my protagonists seem to be in recovery from the woundings of their childhoods and their lives.

    Although I like my protagonists, my bad guys draw me into their psyches in a different way.

    Thanks for the article!

    S.K. Randolph

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  6. Thanks for making the extra effort to share you comments through e-mail, S. K. Randolph. They're much appreciated. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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