Writing Tips & Tools

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Lesson 32: Theme - Antagonist

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 THREE: Theme.

This is the final exercise in this section. It's called Making the Antagonist's Case.

Step 1: What does your antagonist believe in? Why do they feel justified and right? How would the world be better, through their eyes, if things ran the way they would like them to run?

Step 2: Make the antagonist's case stronger. Assume that the antagonist is actually correct: What support for their case can be found in philosophy or religion? On a practical level, how would things really be better? Explain in writing.

Step 3: Choose a character who supports your antagonist, and make the antagonist's case from that character's point of view.

Note: In many manuscripts the antagonists are cardboard. They are bluntly evil or wrong. One dimensional villains do not frighten me...or most readers. Far scarier are villains who have a good reason for doing what they do, and who can justify their intents and actions as working for the good.

The more sincere your antagonist, the more effective they will be, and the more powerfully you will be forcing your reader to decide what constitutes right and wrong. (Which, of course is more effective than telling your reader your own opinion outright, don't you agree?)

Follow-up: find the moment in your story when your protagonist realizes that you antagonist is right, and why.

Conclusion: Certainly you want your hero to doubt himself at times, don't you? Why not push that all the way and let your hero doubt him/her self in the extreme? What would be the circumstances? How close to failure does your protagonist come? In that moment, you will be very close to your core values and theme.


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