I read this post yesterday from writer and social media maven Kristen Lamb on plot bunnies (“Run away! Run away!”) and understanding antagonists.
She made the valid point that many books get rejected and we often lose focus (hence the rabid bunnies) because we don’t have a solid core problem in our story. We haven’t fleshed out our antagonist(s). (FYI, she’s also offering a class on this topic. See her site for deets.)
It got me to thinking that the antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person, does it? We all know that characters, especially main ones, need to live and breathe. There are thousands of sample character profiles on the Internet to help you accomplish that. Some are vague, some get ridiculously detailed. (What brand of toilet paper does your antagonist use to wipe his … never mind.) Most are in between.
But some stories have a different kind of main antagonist. In Orwell’s 1984, there’s no one person, just Big Brother, a vague government organization. In Gone With the Wind, the Civil War and its after-effects are the main antagonist.
One could also argue that Scarlett’s immaturity is an internal antagonist. A character’s main flaw might be their downfall.
With the recent rise of apocalyptic books, and in some classics, the environment is absolutely the main antagonist. I’m thinking of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, The Call of the Wild by Jack London, and the Dust Lands series by Moira Young. Heck, the earliest example I can think of is the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I’m thinking it’s easier to fix a human antagonist. My current MS, Shelf Life, mostly has environmental and inner flaw antagonists. There’s someone who acts as a bit of one, but he’s not the main focus.
Writers: How do you make your antagonists (whatever the form) solid? Readers: Do you prefer human (or human-like in the case of paranormals) antagonists, or do you also enjoy environmental and character weaknesses as antagonists?
I really enjoyed this post. It made me think. In most cases it’s easier to write a story with a human antagonist. I try to remember the antagonist doesn’t know they are the antagonist. In their eyes they are the hero.
Hmm, that’s interesting — that the antagonist doesn’t know he/she is the antagonist. I’ll have to remember that! Thanks, Amaleen!
C.M. Walker (@CMWalkerAuthor) said:
This is what I struggle with too. I don’t know if it’s because I write contemp romance or just an issue with the way I plot stories, but it seems like my antagonist is always the main character himself, and that he just has to overcome some inner conflict in order to reach his goal. It makes it more difficult for me to think of the story in terms of achieving a goal, since sometimes my M/C isn’t fully aware of that goal until closer to the end of the story when he realizes what he needs to do to succeed…. if that makes any sense.
With the story I’m plotting right now, I’m trying to inject a human antagonist but it just feels, I don’t know, tacked on. *sigh*
You make a good point – contemp does seem to focus more on inner struggles rather than some creature causing havoc. Even if there is another human causing trouble, it’s just the nature of people to have to learn to deal with these people — which is another internal struggle. Unfortunately, you can’t just “off” your enemy, unless you’re writing contemporary mafia stories … 😉