08:00:17 am on June 21, 2012 |
Antagonists & Conflict
Guest blog by Kimberly Gould
Since I first read Kristin Lamb’s wonderful blog about building a stronger novel, I’ve put finishing touches on one novel and completed a first and second draft on two others; I’ve also shelved a manuscript. I found the problem I had was in identifying and using my antagonists to produce a work with conflict, with drive, and with resonance. Let me go through them to give you an idea.
Thickness of Blood will be my second published novel. It is not a sequel of my first, we’ll get to that later. It is difficult to describe because it has so many protagonist characters, but they all have one thing in common, the antagonist. There isn’t anyone in the book, and therefore anyone reading the book, that isn’t going to want to break this guy’s head by the end. There is no mercy, no redemption, just black and white, good and evil. Granted the good people do some evil or stupid things, but they are good people, and each of them has their chance at redemption, their moment of grace. Not the antagonist. He is a rotten from start to finish. Is that simplistic? Yes. Does it make for a bad story? No!
Think about fairy tales. Can you get more simplistic than the Big Bad Wolf or the Evil Stepmother? But those are wonderful stories. Can you be less simplistic? Of course, but make sure you, if not your audience, can concretely identify your antagonist. I didn’t do this in either my first novel or its sequel, which is makes that sequel difficult to write.
There are many antagonists in Cargon: Louis, the society structure, the Fall of the ancient civilization, the Game. Each of these put obstacles in the way of our heroine and add their part to drive the story along. However, it isn’t clear which of these is the Big Bad. In the end, it was Louis for the first book, knowing full well that I was planning on redeeming him in the second. So, who is the antagonist for the sequel you ask? Good question. And now you know why I’m having so much trouble writing it. Again, there are several to choose from: the Commoner Council, Louis (again), the elite of Augustia, the Fall of the ancient civilization (again), the society structure (again). So, which is the Big Bad? The elite of Augustia, I think. Not all of them, but well, I don’t want to spoil the story. The sequel leaves room for a third to make a trilogy, but unless I nail down some antagonists up front, I don’t think I’ll convince myself to write it. It really is true that these antagonists make or break your story!
Want to walk with me through another one? Thank you all for helping me properly catalogue my failure, by the way. I appreciate it! The shelved manuscript is my High School Ghost Story, Ruthless. Quick premise: Jared’s parents were killed in the same accident that took Ruthie’s life. Jared is adopted by her parents and doesn’t realize her spirit is haunting her until moving to a new home, and puberty, make it obvious to Ruth that isn’t the little boy she thought she was. She begins appearing to Jared, and eventually interacts with him and his new friends until they can find a place for her rest her soul. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea for a book does it? So, who’s the Big Bad? Ruth, right? Well, that’s what I thought, but because we are also helping Ruth, she isn’t the thing that’s looming over to ruin us. I think perhaps I need something threatening to take Ruth’s spirit if she doesn’t find a new home. Something above and outside my characters. If you have an idea PLEASE comment below! I finished this MS over a year ago and have shelved it twice. It has awesome characters that I hate leaving in a drawer, but I can’t seem to make it work. Probably an antagonist issue.
Here’s a Big Bad that isn’t a person: a virus. In my zombie time loop story, Cassandra keeps jumping back from the moment of her death to July 10th, days before a deadly virus begins to melt the minds of every adult on the planet. Her ultimate battle is too figure out how to stop the virus before it spreads, but when she fails, she must fight the small battles, which are no less dire, against the zombies the majority of the population have turned into. Like my upcoming novel, the definite lines to what is causing the problem and how to solve it, make this story not simplistic, but easy to grasp and easy to fall into. You are quickly running alongside the protagonist against the clock.
As I mentioned with Fairy Tales, most blockbuster movies and other mainstream media use obvious and easily identified Antagonists. It’s an easy way to bring a reader to your protagonist’s side and make them care. Don’t feel you can’t have less concrete or obvious antagonists, just be sure you know who and what they are and you are going to use them.
Kimberly Gould is the author of Cargon: Honour and Privilege published by Martin Sisters Publishing. She a mother, wife and environmental consultant in addition to her writing. http://kimmydonn.com/ Twitter: @KimmydonnAdvertisements