It’s time for your Thursday Quick-Write, so let me introduce your guest author for the day, Sarah Darer Littman.
Sarah is the author of WANT TO GO PRIVATE? – an edgy YA novel that offers a terrifying glimpse into the world of an internet predator – and other terrific books for kids & teens.
No reader likes a boring bad guy, so Sarah’s topic today is a great one…
Creating Interesting Antagonists
Writers tend to focus on the main character. That’s usually who we identify with most. That’s whom we hope our readers will bond with, and whose journey and struggles will keep them turning the pages, captivated and rooting for our MC until both character and reader reach “The End.”
As I tell my creative writing workshop students, the intersection of character and plot is when we force our character to make choices. The consequences resulting from those choices drive the plot forward.
My favorite example of this, ever, is the show Breaking Bad. If you haven’t watched it ( it gets gory, I warn you) get out a notebook and a pen and do so. Here’s the premise. A sad sack high school chemistry teacher (who had formerly contributed to Nobel prize worthy research) is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer just as he finds out his wife is unexpectedly pregnant. He spots a former student while on riding along on a raid with his brother in law, a DEA officer, and decides that fabricating high quality crystal meth is the way to ensure his family’s financial security once he is gone.
His first choice – to do something illegal, but arguably (this is why he is such an endlessly fascinating character) for “good” motives – to ensure his family is financially secure when he is gone.
This choice has consequences, of course. He has to lie to his family about his whereabouts when he is out producing meth in an RV. He steals lab equipment from the school where he works.
And those consequences lead to other choices – which drive the plot forward, over five seasons of incredible writing and acting.
The consequences of our main character’s initial choices will lead them to situations where they have to confront the antagonist – and make more choices, with new consequences.
Having a fully fleshed-out antagonist doesn’t just make your book more interesting –it makes it more realistic. We are all born with the capacity for both good and evil, and it is rare to find a person that is one hundred percent of either. A main character who’s one hundred percent good would be as boring to me as a bad guy who is one hundred percent bad. The books that keep me thinking about them for weeks afterward are the ones that look at the gray areas.
My upcoming book, BACKLASH (Scholastic, April 2015) tells the story of a cyberbullying incident that spins wildly out of control. It’s told from four points of view, and one of the most challenging parts of writing it was to ensure that I’d fully explored those gray areas.
Here’s one of exercises I do with my creative writing kids, to help get started.
TAKE A SCENE WHERE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER CONFRONTS THE ANTAGONIST, AND REWRITE IT FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE ANTAGONIST.
What did you learn about your antagonist from that exercise? How can you expand on that to create more depth in your story?
Note from Kate: If you don’t have a fictional work-in-progress right now, choose a scene from your favorite novel and rewrite it from the antagonist’s point of view. It will give you the same kind of experience!
Feel free to share a snippet of today’s writing in the comments! I know Sarah will be popping in to read, and I will, too, but please remember that we won’t be able to comment on every post every day, so it’s important that you support one another, too. Thanks!