Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Antagonists: same rules apply

One of my betas said: "I'm not seeing the crazy, ruthless evil empress we've been building up to" and pointed out some tell-tale signs of ruthfulness.

Now that I've spent some time away from Disciple, Part VI, I'm less wrapped up in wrestling every single plotline that needed resolution. I can more clearly focus on individual problems. That just goes to show that the old advice of putting your story aside for a while is perfectly valid -- but I want to focus on bad guys for a moment. Antagonists.

Bringing their A game
A story isn't so much about how a character managed to do something, but how they worked so hard to reach their goal and almost didn't succeed.

The obstacles between the characters and their goals need to be realistic, well explained, and daunting. If these take the form of antagonists, those also need to be realistic, explained, and daunting. By "explained," I mean that the readers need to know what the antagonist wants and what s/he is capable of doing to get it. We have all seen those "Meet the Bad Guy" scenes where he rants and raves and does something horrible to one of his own flunkies so that we know how bad, bad, bad he is. We should try to be more elegant than that, but it gets the job done.

Whatever's going on in your story, your antagonist is in it to win it. Real antagonists act accordingly, and since they're real they should also stay in character.

So when my beta asked why my empress was suddenly sneaking around when she'd previously done some fairly ballsy things... well, guilty as charged. Time to fix it.

Same rules of character apply
Like protagonists, antagonists need to be fully developed characters. They don't necessarily have a character arc in which they grow and change -- though that makes for an excellent story if you can do it -- but they need to obey all the rules of consistency and realism.

I had laid out a pattern for the empress, and she needed to stick to it. With my 20/20 hindsight, I see the arrogance that I had ascribed her later actions to was not part of the pattern I had set. Or, rather, her arrogance had previously taken the form of ballsy, effective action. Therefore, more of that was needed -- in spite of the measures my protagonists were now taking against her tactics. Because the empress is kick-ass scary like that. She didn't get this job on her looks.

A craftsman should enjoy his work. 
Unfortunately for my characters, a little brainstorming has yielded some interesting ways to make the end of Disciple more difficult for them. About 2.5 chapters at about the two-thirds mark are going to be chainsawed accordingly, and then we'll spackle over the the reattachment scars. Paging Dr. Dexter...

4 comments:

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

Oh my goodness...you are ruthless. That picture of Dexter just drives the point home. I feel sorry for your characters. I hope some of them survive.

Bluestocking said...

Umm... guilty?

Seriously, though, as this series has evolved and you've had to make adjustments, whenever you've run into a hurdle like this, you took the necessary steps to rethink things through and come up with something that's almost always stronger than the original. I have no doubt you'll be able to do that here as well. Good luck!

Crystal Collier said...

Oh my. That sounds dastardly. =)

I ADORE villains that are as complex--if not more than the protagonist. I think if your bad guy doesn't have a solid history, he/she/it doesn't have a place in the novel.

Liz said...

Agreed. I've been rethinking some antagonists of my own lately.

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