Antagonists

I think I may have an opening nailed down, maybe. Or if not nailed down, at least pinned temporarily under a finger. So I’ve been turning my focus to another part of the story that needs a bit of tidying up: the antagonist.

Every story has one, and every good story has a good one. Antagonists come in all forms, from self to environment to another individual, but the latter’s probably the most common and is what I use in my stories. It’s easy to build in an antagonist. What’s harder is building one in who isn’t just a shallow evil-for-the-plot’s-sake character.

As a pantser, I tend to just jump in and write, and the characters and storyline develop as I go along. I’ve gotten better at developing stronger personalities as I’m writing, so I don’t have to try to go back and put it in later, but something that’s hard to do in a pantsed first draft is motivations. I didn’t even really meet the antagonist till two-thirds of the way through the draft, so I didn’t know much (anything) about him to be able to know his motivations. The trouble is, once you get to the end of a first draft you’ve laid out your plot and character personality, and now you have to fit the motivations and character’s backstory in around it all.

So that’s what I’ve been working on sorting out. I have the plot, I have the character’s personality, but I need his backstory. Or rather, I have a backstory, but I need to make sure it’s the right one. Is it going to evoke the sort of sympathies I want in the reader? Do I even want sympathy from the reader? Or am I just looking for understanding? Acknowledgement that he has a reason for doing what he does.

To do this I’ve been thinking about what the antagonists are like in my favourite books, and what moves me as a reader. It’s harder to figure out than you might think. I really like the sympathetic antagonist, the good guy forced into a bad situation/decision. But I don’t think it’ll work in this case. The Harry Potter series has a really great collection of antagonists; motivations and personalities are across the board, from the purely selfish to the good-at-heart to the wrongly accused to the insecure. Lots of good examples to use for shaping my own character; hopefully I’ll be able to come up with something appropriate.

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