It’s that time again. The time where I take a break from my WIP to talk about–you guessed it–my WIP.
In keeping with this week’s theme, I want to talk about my WIP’s antagonists. That’s right, there are more than one.
Since every novel needs an antagonist, I’ve spent a lot of time working on mine. They aren’t the most cooperative characters, let me tell you.
Sometimes it’s difficult to write them for the mere fact that you don’t want your reader to immediately know she’s looking at the antagonist. But other times, you struggle more to give the antagonist motive and a tiny bit of sympathy.
The best antagonists are ones that are slightly sympathetic, or at least have a reason for doing what they do. (And, let’s face it, what they do is make our MC’s life pretty miserable.)
My current WIP has two antagonists, but one doesn’t appear on the page until near the climax of the book. The first is there almost from the beginning, intent on making Adrienne’s life a living hell–but not just because. But character motives are important, and she can’t be making Adrienne miserable just for kicks. An antagonist has to have a reason.
What is that reason? Well, because I want to publish this book and hope that you may one day read it, this won’t be a reveal-all here. But antagonist-1 (a1) has some real reasons for throwing Adrienne under the bus. 1. selfishness; 2. self-preservation; 3. jealousy; 4. Adrienne reminds her of her past mistakes and vulnerabilities.
Okay, I faked you out there–number 4 is the biggie. I don’t know one person who likes being reminded of past failures or how vulnerable they are. Who likes to wallow in failure and vulnerability? But this reason actually works two-fold for my antagonist, as readers connect with a character who has both those traits–vulnerability and failures–and makes a1 more than just a cardboard cut-out villain. In fact, she’s not really a villain at all. She’s a woman, a complex woman who has fought her way up her career and wants to hang on to the top. She’s afraid of falling–just like anyone else might be. But how she reacts to that fear is what makes her an antagonist.
That’s really the thing that has proven to help me the most as a writer: antagonists are people too. Their reactions run the gamut of what a typical person might react as–in fact, an antagonist doesn’t see themselves as an antagonist at all. They are just another character in your story–and they have their own point of view.
One of the things I’ve done this past week is to explore a1’s motivations and her POV. How did I do this? By getting in close with her, by buddying up to her. She’s not particularly likable, and I wouldn’t want to be her friend if I knew her. She’s fake, self-centered, and utterly determined to get ahead of everyone else. But she serves an important purpose in my novel, and because of that, I have to know her as well as I know my MC. So I’ve been writing from her POV lately, stuff that won’t appear in my published novel, but which helps me get in her head.
My antagonist is one of the most important characters in my novel, and I need to treat her with the respect that deserves. So I’ve been hard at work fleshing her out, knowing that doing so will give me more believable conflict.