Who Lurks There? Friend or Foe?
In another article, Getting to Know You, I covered the main character, your protagonist. Today I’m covering the bad guy. He or she is your antagonist. This person is responsible for making life difficult for your main character and the supporting characters.
As you did with your main character, do a write up for the antagonist. Perhaps something in the his background made him what he is today. You need to know this character as well as your main character. Why does he/she hate your main character? Did they have some sort of encounter years before, leaving the antagonist angry or embarrassed? Does the main character have something the antagonist wants? Maybe there was an accident causing the antagonist to go from good to bad. Write a back story, explaining in detail what happened. This doesn’t need to go in the book, but it will help you get inside the mind of the antagonist. The antagonist doesn’t live in a vacuum, they do not spend all their time plotting and planning against the main character. Of course the main character may disagree on this point. Let the reader see some of the villain’s personal side.
Writing a dossier for the antagonist will help you to round them out for the story. Don’t make him or her someone that lurks in the background. They have a life too, and their own concerns. Perhaps they have a child they try to shield from what they do. What happens if the offspring realizes what their parent is doing is wrong? Maybe they try to get word to the protagonist. If the villain is married, he or she may or may not bring them in on their plans. If the spouse finds out and doesn’t approve, the villain has a new problem to worry about.
The antagonist can move against the protagonist in a number of ways. They can send subtle threats, such as a note, email, or phone call. Perhaps they send a body part, or dump a dead body on the main character’s property. The antagonist does everything possible to keep the main character off-balance, maybe sending them to the brink of insanity.
How the main character responds to the actions of the antagonist drives the story, providing conflict, tension, and uncertainty.
It’s possible the antagonist is a group of people the main character has to keep at bay. Say the main character was once a member of the group, but left. Now the group is afraid she will tell all. All groups have a leader, and it’s the leader’s plans they follow, but other members of the group may have a bone to pick with your protagonist. This can add new twists and turns to the plot. Groups can be a religion, a cult, power brokers, sororities, etc. If a group is the antagonist, write out the history of it. Who founded it, why did they, what are their goals, how do they go about achieving those goals. Again, not all of this will end up in the story, but serves as a good reference for you as you write.
In my current work, I have the main antagonist as a group. The leader of this group makes the plans to keep the main character off balance. Within the group is a new member; he has a personal grudge against the main character and is doing his part to get back at her. Another group member has a grudge against a close friend of the main character, causing further difficulties for the main character as well as her wife and friends. Writing dossiers and backgrounds for the various villains allows me to keep track of what is going on and what will happen down the line.
The villainous secondary characters all tie back to the main antagonist in one way or another. They also leave openings for a few short stories I’ve been tinkering with. All based on the dossiers I made for them. Keep track of all the characters in your story, set aside a folder or notebook specifically for the characters in your writing. You can go even further and have a notebook for each character. Villains can be fun to write about, as much fun as your main character.
Every day I learn something new about the craft of writing a novel and am trying to put what I learn to good use.
May the words ever flow!