Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writer Wednesday: Crafting an Antagonist that People Love to Hate

The work of developing characters is often the most fun part of writing for me. I’m learning who the people are that I’ll “work with” over the next several months. While it’s a lot of work (I often have several notebooks of character history, genealogy charts, and pivotal backstory scenes that never make it to the final work), it’s necessary and enjoyable to see the characters unfold before my eyes.

Generally, the protagonist and her motivation and goals come fairly quickly to me. Protagonist motivations and goals are often easily relatable – even noble.

But the antagonist is usually much more difficult. When creating a bad guy (or girl) character, it is harder than it may seem to craft a believable “baddy” without resorting to stereotypes or having the character seem like a caricature – a “stock” villain.

Additionally, antagonists are – by their nature – antagonistic to the goals of the protagonist. Goals that, as I’ve already mentioned, are usually relatable and even heroic. This push against the noble goal means that by definition the antagonist may be someone that isn’t very likable. The villain may even be downright frightening.

People often ask me if my characters are based on myself or people I know. The truth is that all characters are a combination of personalities and traits of people that I’ve met/known/observed as well as my own personality. It’s me plus all I’ve known in my life – which is another way of saying all the characters are me.

And it can be scary to delve into that part of yourself. To search within for the motivations/traits/goals/ambitions, etc. that are contrary to the noble and heroic person that we strive to be.

Helen Mirren as Commander Lilly Sturgis
When I first conceived of Commander Lillian Sturgis, the antagonist in H.A.L.F.: The Deep Beneath, she was more of a “stock” villain – the ubiquitous evil scientist. But with the help of my editors, I saw that she had the capacity to be so much more. And that the story demanded that she be more.

The problem was that I had not (at that time) worked on Sturgis’ backstory. I hadn’t taken the time to explore Commander Sturgis in the same way I had my main characters. When I went back and worked more on Commander Sturgis, I realized she had a pretty incredible story. She became more fleshed out. And when that happened, she became a larger part of not only The Deep Beneath but of the remaining books in the series.

By knowing who she is – not just what she does to move the plot along – I was able to sprinkle in actions/thoughts here and there to show more of her personality. At times we see Sturgis as a brilliant woman struggling to make her mark in a man’s world. At other times, we see her as downright creepy. Looking through Sturgis’ lens on the world, she certainly sees herself as heroic even if the main character thinks she’s a crazy bitch!

The antagonist is often the most difficult character to get a grip on, but it’s truly rewarding when I’m able to craft a villain that people love to hate. I hope readers love to hate Commander Sturgis as much as I do!

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