Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Alluring Antag

Okay, so yesterday I said you needed to give your protag some kryptonite. They need weaknesses and shortcomings to go along with their perfectly toned bodies and killer girlfriend-smiles, right? Right.

But in the same little session on characters, Annette Lyon said something about antagonists too. Something I think I had needling around in the back of my mind, but not something I've done purposefully in my writing.

Again, lame-o that I am, I had no tape recorder, but here's what I remember.

The antag has to have redeeming qualities too. They must have something that is alluring about them as well. I suppose you could call it a weakness for them to have something they care about. And that makes us identify with them also.

The best books have both a main character who is flawed, yet fabulous. And an antagonist who is horrible, yet lovable. Or at least flawed to the point where we can see why they're making the choices they make.

For me, it all comes down to Voldemort. He is the ultimate antag for me.

Thoughts? Do you craft your antagonist as carefully as your protagonist? Do they have goals too? What makes them alluring? Does such a thing exist?

66 comments:

Jen said...

I think Voldemort was the perfect example Elana, and I'd agree with you he was the ultimate antag. You hated him, yet empthazied with him that he had no one close.

I think this is very important to remember, and actually came at the perfect timing. Something else to be watchful of in my current WIP.

As always you continue to out-do yourself!

Matthew Rush said...

This is so true. Great point Elana.

I think it all comes down to balance. Like Yin and Yang or Light and Darkness one wouldn't be much of anything without the other.

And so characters with too much leaning to one side not only aren't believable, but aren't very easy to connect to either. It might seem counter intuitive to have to connect to the villain but it really is true.

lbdiamond said...

Great post, Elana!

I'm working on this very topic with my antag. Okay, so he's a domineering overlord type, but he's doing it for the betterment of his peeps. So, to him it's worth it if a few people get hurt along the way. The ends justify the means.

Cheree said...

Ooh, I love crafting antags, they are just so much fun to write. I love working with sympathetic ones. You know the one's that you love to hate and sometimes feel sorry for in the long run.

Amie McCracken said...

The antags are so much more fun than the protags. Maybe I need to start writing bad-ass protags so I like them better...hmmm.

JustineDell said...

I gotta say, I normally step outside of the box when it comes to my characters. I have a vision for them in my head and that's just what they HAVE to be. Sure, they not the normal standard romance characters, but it works for me. And I like being different!

~JD

Scott said...

Let me go all Glee on you: Sue Sylvester! She's mean, she's hateful, she's basically unlikable . . . and then you see her vulnerability with her handicapped sister, her hurt when her anchorman boyfriend turned out to be a louse, her pain when Will called her Florence Henderson, and so on. Yes, she's over the top, but . . . there is a vulnerability to her that is rarely seen, but when it is, her harshness is - somewhat - understood.

Now, back to your question: yes. My protags and antags have flaws. My antags might come across as horrible, hateful people, but . . . the reasons beyond that horrible/hateful person is always revealed.

Great post. You need to get a smartphone with a voice recorder. I'm just saying . . .

S

salarsenッ said...

Ooh, I fully believe it exists. There's nothing more enticing to me than a *bad boy* with a soft side. Even the really horrible monsters who should get the ax at the end of the story. I think it makes us think, not just about the story itself and the character, but about ourselves. Yeah, I'm a soul-seeker.

PJ Hoover said...

in some of my stuff, I definitely have room for antagonist development. But that's why I keep writing...because I hope to keep improving!

Karen Lange said...

My characters need to be real, otherwise I can't see taking the time to read about them. I need to be able to like/relate to/dislike them in a believable way.

Jaydee Morgan said...

Great post and definitely something to remember when writing. Thanks for passing all this information along :)

VR Barkowski said...

I'm so glad you said Voldemort instead of Hannibal Lecter, which is the example I always hear mentioned. One of the advantages of writing mysteries is the reader often doesn't know who the bad guy is until the end. This allows plenty of time to build empathy. My antagonists are psychopaths, though, so that empathy only goes so far.

loislane said...

A good antagonist makes or breaks a story. There are also different levels of antagonists. I find the ones closer to the protagonist have more layers than the overall antagonist. In your case with Voldemort, I think he is pretty clear cut bad. However, Malfoy is truly a conflicted character that we hate yet completely feel sorry for.

Olivia Carter said...

Yes I think its really important to understand the antag's modivations. The cardboard stand in evil guy is no fun.

And I agree about Voldemort. YOu especially start to sympathize/understand him when we see flashbacks to his life. He was always a little off and had mental problems in his family but you see that he truly believed what he was fighting for.

Christina Lee said...

YES!! And I think it's just a matter of showing a little about your antag's life nd how they came to be!

Krista said...

I think Hrathen in B. Sanderson's Elantris is a fascinating example of an antagonist. You want to hate him, distrust him, hope he gives up, but he has so much faith in what he's doing. It just occurred to me there is a very Snape-ish quality to that character. Yeah, I was a team Snape.
I do have one Antag who is actually a great guy, but his presence and actions continually place stumbling blocks in front of my protag. You want to slap him and shake his shoulders.
One of my most feared villains as a child was Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. But I loved it when she sighed with exasperation, her head in her hand. Those troll minions were driving me nuts, too.

Michelle McLean said...

great point - look at Darth Vader. After the three new movies came out, I'll never see him as the epitome of evil again. He turned evil to save someone he loved after losing someone else he loved after growing up as a slave and a whole lot of other crap. Doesn't excuse the evil, of course, but it certainly makes it harder to hate him.

I also like those antagonists that really don't have any redeeming qualities, but that started out playing nice - so you get nice and attached to them, thinking they are a good guy and then WHAM they are really the meanest, vilest villain on the planet but you still can't really bring yourself to hate them even if they are evil to the core, because there is that residual part of you that loves them from before.

Good stuff :D

Slamdunk said...

Good insight. I think it is easy to overlook all other characters outside of the protagonist, and only use the development time of what amounts to what is left over.

For me, I like seeing that a anatagnist had potential, but took a wrong turn somewhere on the way.

Robert Guthrie said...

Crit partners keep falling in love w/my antag & asking if they need therapy. It's love triangle, he's a schmuck, but bad boy lovable. I'm psyched it's working out that way.

Gina Leigh Maxwell said...

Elena, this is really helpful information. It also makes me say, "Damn it! I've got work to do."

Thanks for sharing your insight (which will probably cause me to pull my hair out initially, but will benefit my bad guy in the end)!

Kelly said...

Professor Snape was another amazing antag in sheep's clothing!

Mary Campbell said...

I've put tons of thought into my antagonists - they are going to steal the story I'm afraid, but I think people will really enjoy them. Hopefully I can make my MC as enjoyable - I do want them to root for her.

Paul C said...

I've got to think of Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, the ultimate study of a character where the line between antagonist and protagonist is fine.

Abby Stevens said...

Ha ha, before I even saw Voldy's name he's who popped to mind - the thing about him is, by the end of the Potter series, we can COMPLETELY understand why he is the way he is. We don't agree with it (at least I hope not) but we can see why.

Same with Snape. Oh man, Snape was one of the best written characters in the entire series.

Really, when you get down to it, even Petunia and Dudley showed 'weakness' in caring about Harry more than they wanted/expected to.

I think that characters should be well-rounded, regardless of their purpose or leanings, so bad people are going to have redeeming qualities and good people are going to have faults. Otherwise it's going to feel like a Dudley Do-Right cartoon.

Abby Stevens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine Fonseca said...

Absolutely - all characters, protag and antag, need to be well rounded - neither all bad nor all good. And in my mind, this is an artform.

Now, with truly evil characters, I think the "good" comes in the perspective THEY have about what they are doing - They think they are doing something noble, even if they are just freakin' EVIL.

Carolyn V. said...

I think my antags are sometimes more thought out. I even had one that was so funny, I had to change his character (but I liked him a lot)! =)

Taryn Tyler said...

sometimes I think I try too hard not to villainize my antagonists. I like to think of them not as evil but as people who want something that happens to contradict what the protagonist wants. Sure, they might not always choose the nicest way to get it and in the end I want (or at least I hope my reader wants) them to go down but to them the decision makes sense and are a necessary sacrifice for something they see as more important.

Bish Denham said...

Wouldn't have much of a story without an antag, whether it's another person, nature, or internal demons.

Theresa Milstein said...

Oooo, I brought up Voldemort in the comments section of your last post! Poor little Tom Riddle spending his life seeking power to be better than his father. Making up for being an orphan. As Voldemort, Everyone thinks they're friends with him, but he's friends with nobody.

I agree, our antagonists need to have all the same motivations and weaknesses as our protagonists. Maybe just a little less empathy for them.

Heather Kelly said...

You know who I loved to hate? The villain in Die Hard. Hans Gruber. So slick and polished--a villain with manners. Alan Rickman is an awesome multifaceted actor (I saw Snape referenced above, and have to agree!) Awesomeness. Nice post, Elana. Depth. Every character needs that kind of depth!

Write Chick said...

The movie 'Crash' is a perfect example of this. Every single character you follow in the that movie has a major flaw, but then you get to see what makes them act the way they do. Depressing show, yet amazing characterization.

I'm think about this right now...I think I need to show a little more vulnerability in my antag. Thanks!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Yes, you are totally right. Everyone does what they do for a reason, not just because they're evil. And they think they are right. It's important to a story to bring this out.

Jessica Nelson said...

You mean I'm supposed to craft my antag??? LOL

Yes, I try to make my antagonist real. You've actually reminded me (again, I know, you're such an inspirational fount of wisdom, heehee) of a post I wanted to do on that move Crash. Love it!!
Thanks. :-)

Janet Johnson said...

Very great point. Looking at my current book . . . wow, I'm split 50/50. I've got 4 antags. 2 redeemable, 2 not so much. Hmmm. Food for thought.

JEM said...

Oh, I love a good bad guy. But I honestly never found Voldemort alluring. He seemed more like a sociopath to me. I found the child version of him even more hateable than the adult version. Draco was more easily understood, especially toward the end of the series.

MissV said...

This is Dracula for me. Growing up I saw a bazillion versions of Dracula. I couldn't understand why he was supposed to be scary. He was handsome, sophisticated, well-mannered (well except for that whole biting thing).

I was always like, "Bite me. Bite MEEEEEE!!!"

Then I read the book.

Oh, yeah. Slightly more creeped out now.

But part of me still wishes he'd bite me. hahahahahaha

Crystal Cook said...

Hail Lord Voldemort!! In a totally 'I don't agree with your evilness' way.

That is something I am working on right now. Redeeming quality for my insufferable antag!

KM said...

I love a good villain! As far as classic lit goes, I think Thomas Hardy came up with some of the best. Of course, his characters kinda bled through and became the protags and the antags. Kinda like Heathcliff. Was he the good guy or not? But I love those kind. People are complicated. Your characters should be too.

Krispy said...

Voldie's a great example. ;)

I think great antagonists are ones that actually share a lot of qualities with the hero, but they just went wrong somewhere. I read this interesting article about Anakin (I know, please indulge my inner geek a moment) before he goes Darth Vader from one of the writers of the Clone Wars series, and she said the thing about Anakin is a lot of qualities that make him heroic (his concern for people he loves, his cockiness, his bravery) contribute to what ultimately makes him fall.

kathrynjankowski said...

I wouldn't call Voldemort "lovable", but I do believe villians need to be multi-faceted to avoid stereotypes and caricature. Guess that's true for all our characters, isn't it?
;-)

Katie Ganshert said...

You mustn't say his name!!!

Crimey said...

Yup, Elana, I'm spending a lot of time trying to craft an antag's who has redeemable characteristics. In my current WIP, I've convinced myself that I must achieve this because I think it's essential to the story.

Stephanie McGee said...

Antags are where I struggle most with creating believable characters. It's something I'm still working on. Someday maybe I'll have a handle on it.

Sara B. Larson said...

So true--characters that are all black or all white aren't real, they don't make you want to engage in the story as much. Voldemort is a great example, and Jo Rowling is a master of character development IMO. A great point to keep in mind!

Laura Marcella said...

Great post, Elana! Sometimes I have to remember to craft my antagonist as well as I craft my protag. You're right that some of the best novels have antags who are as alluring as the hero.

Tina Laurel Lee said...

I love this. And the passionate responses!

Heather Zundel said...

The Phantom of the Opera is another ultimate one for me. Dang is he a horrible bad guy, but how you feel for him! I'm talking about the book version, even more than the musical.

An antagonist makes the story even more than the hero, I daresay. Because he is the driving force behind all of the heroes actions. What he is defines what the hero is going to be, the rock he pushes against.

Now a whole post on the analysis of Snape I could really go for. His evolution, depth, and revelation of him as a character are quite startling. If you decide to do a post on him, you should totally email me about it. I have a great article by Orson Scott Card that describes it in detail. (Speaking of which, did you get my last email? I sent two, in case one was faulty).

Carol Kilgore said...

Oh yes. Antagonists are every bit as important as your protagonist. Someone once said that the antagonist is the hero of his own story. So I try to keep that in mind.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Of the two main characters in my book, one begins as an antagoinist - or at least in the eyes of of the other main character. The reader understands his motivations and reasons for his behavoir, but the other character views him as the enemy. So hopefully I've balanced the two out well enough in the story.

Caledonia Lass said...

Oh yes. Oh, yes indeed. I put as much thought and loving care into my Antag as I do anyone else. I love making my bad boys very bad. ::Grins wickedly::

Palindrome said...

I try to make my antags pretty unredeemable but because they have been burned in some way. So they used to be sorta good but then BLAM, switch to evil.

Liza said...

Voldemort...as bad as anyone could be...but raised alone...an orphan in a home until Dumbledore saves him. I have a hard time finding sympathy for "He Who Must Not be Named"...and yet because of his childhood, I'm open to offering him the littlest bit.

Jenn Johansson said...

Voldemort was perfect. I really try to make sure my antag's are the heroes of their own story. They need to believe in what they're doing as much as the protag.

Liz H. Allen said...

hmmm, the wheels are spinning in my head.

Mary Aalgaard said...

You're right. It's true. When we have at least a bit of sympathy for the Antag, the story is more believable and suspenseful. I suppose with V it's his power we're drawn to, and sympathy for his crummy past. Often the Antag has a difficult past, or shows compassion to another character, or power. Hmmm. makes me wonder.

Allyson Condie said...

Great post, as always. There is so much to think about when writing!

I saw your comment on my blog and am SO BUMMED that I didn't know your husband taught the Praxis review sessions! That would have been so much better--I would have loved to take his class. Rats.

Allyson Condie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joylene said...

Anton Chigurh was a great antagonist. I had to rent the movie "Love in the time of Cholera" just so I could sleep at night. Javier's portrayal was stunning.

Jan Markley said...

I love it when the antag is ambiguous, you're not really clear whether s/he is good or bad. Another trick, think of three positive characteristics of your protage and give one of them to your antag. Then think of three negative characteristics from your antag and give one of them to your protag. Helps create complex characters.

Alissa said...

I love complicated characters. They are always so much interesting, though they do take a little bit more work to create.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Darn. I wish I had been in that class. Annette knows her stuff. But so do you!

Jamie said...

Ah, Voldemort -- I loved the Harry Potter series but didn't think he was an ideal antagonist because he seemed like a stand-in for Evil rather than a person. (Less so in the flashbacks, but that takes a while to see.)

Now, Snape: He was a brilliant antagonist. Rowling gave us enough information from the start to let us see that he had an understandable (if not acceptable) reason for hassling Harry, and she doled more out in little teasing dollops throughout the series. By the end, he had a huge fan following.

I'd be thrilled to come up with an antag three-quarters that good.

Solvang Sherrie said...

A friend of mine gave me a book called "Saving the Cat." It's a book for screenwriters but the premise is the same for book writers. Have your "bad" guy doing something good, like climb a tree and save a cat, then no matter how evil he is, people believe he has some redeeming quality. It's an important point to remember, that antagonists need to be fully rounded people as well.

Nichole Giles said...

Such a thing does exist, and I believe a lovable antag makes for a much deeper, richer story. Because if we were discussing real people rather than fictional ones, we all have ups and downs and flaws and perfections--no matter if we're considered bad or good. Right?

So, yeah. I agree. Cool.

Jennifer Walkup said...

wow, great post. something i need to consider more, for sure.

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