Writing Tips & Tools

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lesson 11: Antagonists

by Bonnie Calhoun

Today we continue with Donald Maass' Writing a Breakout Novel.

What I am going to endeavor to do here is present truncated versions of each of the lessons in the workbook. This will by no means suffice as an alternative to reading the book...or the workbook. I hope it piques your appetite to buy the books. They are invaluable reading and reference!

Today's lesson is in Section One: Antagonists.

Antagonists can be fun to write. In fact, villians can wind up being the most memorable character in a novel. Despite that, many times the antagonists are left to be one-dimensional, and with this flaw they do not frighten, surprise, or linger in your memory.

Develop antagonists like you would a protagonist. It demands the same attention to extra dimensions, inner conflict, larger-than-life qualities, and the rest. When developed well, an antagonist is an equal match, or more, for the protagonist.

Villians are best when they are complex. Use these exercises to develop those depths. You may wind up with an antagonist that your readers fear or even adore! Hey, shoot for both.

Step 1: Who is the antagonist in your novel?

Step 2:Create an extra dimension. Write down your antagonist's defining quality. Write down the opposite of that. Now create a paragraph in which your antagonist demonstrates the opposite quality that you have identified.

Step 3: Create an inner conflict. Write down what your antagonist most wants. Write down the opposite of that. How can this character want both of these things simultaneously? How can they be mutually exclusive?

Step 4: Create larger-than-life qualities. Write down things your antagonist would never do, say, or think. Find places where this character can and must do, say and think those things.

Step 5: Define your antagonist's personal stakes. What is his/her main problem, conflict, or goal? Write down what would make this problem matter more, and then matter more than life itself.

Note: A well rounded villian is far more dangerous and interesting that a one-dimensional antagonist.

Follow-up: Give the above qualities to a seconary antagonist who supports the villian.

Conclusion: No one is bad all the time. Villains can act like people too. Build a villian who resembles you...That might be the most chilling adversary of all!


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