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Showing posts from July, 2016

Not Just Whodunnit...?

In mysteries/crime fiction, the obvious antagonists are the villain and the sleuth. But that’s only the beginning. Until the villain is discovered, every suspect is an antagonist. Those who apparently cooperate may be lying. Those who lie may do so to protect themselves or to protect others. In the latter case, the liar may be acting on knowledge or on fears and suspicions—guesswork—and the basis of the lies may have nothing to do with the crime in question. For instance a murder investigation may turn up blackmail, as in my Styx and Stones and A Mourning Wedding , with several characters trying to conceal the reasons they are vulnerable to blackmail. Those who don’t cooperate are obstructive. Again, this behaviour may be self- or other-protective, with the same caveats, or may be sheer bloodymindedness. All these, for their many and various reasons, are antagonistic to the investigator, whether amateur or professional (though one advantage of an amateur sleuth is that peopl

I'm the Bad Guy?

Scene from Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), starring James Stewart & Lionel Barrymore I’ve been writing half of my new novel from the antagonist’s point of view, and two uncomfortable but important thoughts crouch in the back of my mind as I write his part of the story: 1) He doesn’t know he’s the bad guy. 2) I don’t always know when I’m the bad guy. In real life, nobody knows when they’re Mr. Potter, because everybody wants to believe they’re George Bailey . (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please find the classic Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life and watch it.) My antagonist knows he makes mistakes, but he believes that’s because he’s only human. In many ways that’s true, although this guy does such bad stuff that massive rationalizations are required for him to chalk it all up to being “only human.” Rationalizing our behavior is what we all do when we make choices we’re sure will benefit us but either aren’t sure, or hav

Humor From Slim Randles

Slim Randles is back again this month with an update on how Dud is doing with his book - or not doing. Dud seems to be having trouble with his protagonists and antagonists, and keeping them straight. Maybe he needs to subscribe to this blog for some help. Poor guy has been slaving away for too long on one book. Dud rounded the corner on his block and headed for the edge of town at an easy jog. Well, easy for an Olympic miler, he thought. It was making him breathe hard and he wasn’t even a block from the house. But this is the price. Oh yes, the price I must pay for my goal, as Doc had reminded him a few weeks ago. “Dud,” said Doc, “I worry about you spending so much time agonizing over that book of yours.” “I have to do it, Doc,” Dud said. “There are still so many things to plan in the book. Things like the duchess’s daughter and her relationship with the truck driver on special assignment …” “I know that, Dudley,” Doc said, giving Dud a friendly arm squeeze, “but what you

Antagonists Aren’t Just Bad Guys

In literature, an antagonist is a character or a group of characters which stand in opposition to the protagonist or the main character. The term antagonist comes from Greek word “ antagonistēs ” that means opponent, competitor or rival. We commonly think of antagonists as villains, the evil people (bad guys) who try to thwart our heroes at every turn. But that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes the hero is his own worst enemy. Maybe he or she has an addiction or a dark phobia or some character flaw that keeps tripping him/her up and prevents success in reaching the goal. A pilot with a drinking problem might create a whole lot of problems for himself and his passengers. A young woman with self-esteem issues and no father-figure might look for love in all the wrong places. An antagonist doesn’t even need to be a person. It can be an animal, a la Moby Dick . Or it can be the weather. In Ray Bradbury’s story “The Long Rain”, the four characters are driven insane by the inc

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 vic

Antagonists, Villains, and Antiheroes

Antagonists are usually thought of as villains, but that’s not always the case. In fact, antagonist, by definition, means opponent, and our opponents aren’t always evil. Villains, on the other hand, are always evil. Then we have the antihero, who for the most part is a good guy fighting bad guys by maybe questionable means. (Please note that I’m using “guy,” for gender simplicity. All references apply to females as well.) So let’s dissect these definitions and put faces to them. I was just involved in a Facebook event for Kindle Scout winners, and one of the questions posed by the moderator asked who our favorite villain was. My answer, without hesitation, was Hannibal Lecter, from Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs . I read the books and always ask myself what it is about Lecter that draws readers and viewers. Part of the visual is Anthony Hopkins, the charismatic actor who plays him, part is the excellent suspense woven into the book/movie, but a big part is the way L

Do You Feel Sorry for the Bad Guy?

Yes, it's fun to root for the good guy, but even more intriguing if the bad guy isn't all that bad. How often do you read a book or watch a movie, and feel sorry for the bad guy? The answer could be more often than not. Evil happens for a reason. Sometimes the why is apparent, sometimes you need to dig for a motive. One reason might be how a person is brought up by parents or lack of parents. An early in life tragedy, a recent one, or a combination of factors might play a part in changing a person's character. Even ultra-sensitivity to a perceived slight might be all it takes. Whatever the case, a writer needs to weave the motive(s) into the story line, so the reader will understand why a crime is committed. In Two Wrongs , my perma-free book for kindle and other ereaders, being accused and sentenced for a murder he didn't commit is powerful enough motive for my antagonist, Kevin, to cross over to the dark side once he's freed from prison. If I wove the

Choosing Your Antagonist

If you have an antagonist, it should be someone the reader loves to hate. It will be more interesting if he has some redeeming feature or at least feels he has just cause for his behavior. Amoral monsters, used frequently in horror, are less interesting. Personal stakes, even for the antagonist, make the tension higher. In most genres, this character or entity has a goal that is the opposite of the protagonist’s goal. If the protagonist wants to uncover a mystery, the antagonist must be dead set on keeping the mystery unsolved. If the protagonist wants to win the girl, the antagonist must want her for himself or be so opposed to the protagonist’s pursuit that he will do anything to stop the couple from getting together. The antagonist should also have something deep within that drives him toward his goal. The emotion or underlying belief system must be as strong as the protagonist’s for the stakes to be high. He endorses the flip side of the thematic argument. The antagonist ca