Saturday, April 17, 2010

Antagonists – Identifying and Strengthening

I believe that biggest weakness in both Fantasy and Romance novels today is the Antagonist, or Villain. Poor character development in this area may not be the 'kiss of death,' but it is the 'kiss of mediocracy.'

Which may be a 'fate worse than death.'

Hannibal Lecter, without his Chianti, is just another Leather Face.

I think it is important to acknowledge the genius of Thomas Harris in creating the character of Hannibal. Though I often disparage one-dimensional villains as the type that 'eat babies for breakfast' I do so with a nod to the man who created Hannibal Lecter, because in many respects, Hannibal is so deliciously scary because he's NOT just another Jason or Leather Face.

So, having credited Harris for one of the greatest villains in modern film, we must also credit Anthony Hopkins for bringing this incredible, frightening man to life on the screen. Take your bows gentlemen; I salute your genius, even as I seek to learn from it.

Your Villain may be your best character.

Wouldn't you LOVE to have a villain who stands in a shining spotlight of his/her own; the Master Mind behind it all, who brings your readers back, book after book? I've given it my best shot creating Van Man Go for 'Swallow the Moon.'

I'm not too shy to admit that I had help. Nor am I afraid to admit that I'm going back to the same place to work on my villain for 'Tempest'. Which brings me back to Donald Maas and his 'Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.'

Maas has an outline specifically for Antagonists. He breaks it down to six steps. (I quote the following word for word.)

Step One: What is your Antagonist's main problem or goal?

Step Two: What does your antagonist most want?

Step Three: What is the second plot layer for your antagonist?

Step Four: What are the five most important steps toward your antagonist's goal, or toward solving her central problem or conflict? A different way to ask this is: What are the five events, actions or high points, with respect to your antagonist, that you could not possibly leave out?

Step Five: What are the three most important steps toward, or away from, your antagonist's greatest need?

Step Six: Using the material from the above steps, outline the novel from the antagonist's point of view.

Mind you, I won't pretend that I follow all of Maas' suggestions. (This is far beyond my abilities at present.) What brings me back to this workbook, time after time, is that he suggests things that I've never considered. These suggestions always challenge me to add more to the story.

I shall close this post with another quote from Maas:

"Conclusion: We are not accustomed to thinking of villains as being on an inner journey, but what human being is not? Humanize your villain. Motivate his actions with kindness. Let her be heroic, helpful, and principled. Hannah Ardent wrote of the "banality of evil." For fiction writers, that means creating, not passionless cruelty but evil that wears a compassionate face."

One day, I will 'break out.' I hope you do as well.

1 comment:

Jean Davis said...

Yes, we must remember that villains are people too. They deserve just as much time and effort as our beloved protags. One becomes a reflection of the other within the plot. If the antagonist is one dimensional, the protag doesn't look all that brilliant or victorious, and that makes for a weak and unfullfilling plot.