Something major happened to me recently. Life-changing major. I lost a parent by choice, not by death. There was a tremendous amount of drama leading up to the culmination, much like Act II leading up to the black moment in our novels. After the “incident” which took almost six months to play out, the obsessive thinking began. “They should never have… Why did they… I’m so upset about…” etc. Since this event coincided with the outlining of book 4 in my Distant Edge Series I couldn’t keep it from crossing into my thoughts. Before I knew it, a big part of the book’s drama revolved around my character’s issue with her parent. I added similar lines spoken by my family members because quite frankly – they sound crazy, I couldn’t make this $#it up and they make convincing characters.
Looking back on my first three novels in the series, which are already written and will be published starting in May 2017 – I found that my antagonist was completely based on the family member attached to the parent I lost. The character uses modified phrases that this person has spoken to me. Her personality in my books mirrors that of the personality she has shown me for the past thirty years.
Why do this? First of all – sometimes it can’t be helped. Things that are going on in our subconscious comes out in our writing. Secondly – it’s cathartic. It helps us make sense of events, personalities and confusion in our own worlds. Thirdly – and most importantly – it makes for great well-rounded antagonists or protagonists, depending on how people in our lives have treated us.
I received book 2 back from my editor a couple of weeks ago and her comments elicited so much emotion I started to cry (with happiness). She found conflict and motivation within my protagonist that I didn’t even know I had written. This is where our true-life events come out. We can completely fictionalize them and keep the gist or we can use actual events and what people have said to us, changing their names of course.
Everyone’s heard “you write what you know” which is true but we also write “who we know”. Therefore I encourage you to turn all of those wrongs in your past into rights. If you can’t change what happened or the hurt someone has caused you, use it in your book. Turn those meanies into antagonists. Turn their insanity and self-righteous, thoughtless behavior into the conflict your protagonist must overcome. Take the crazy words they have spoken to you, change them a little, and make it part of your antagonist’s dialogue. Not only will this make you feel so much better, it will lend authenticity to your characters. However it is important for your antagonist to believe that what they are doing (their motivation) is right, no matter how heinous it is. Otherwise they’ll read like a cartoon villain. Think of this as a way to process while staying true to your art form. And, it’s probably best not to tell the people who have wronged you that you’ve made them into bad guys in your books. You don’t want to be sued for liable or defamation of character.
Written by: Chloe Adler
I know there is a lot of information out there about this and the bottom line is that your antagonist needs to believe that what they’re doing is right, for whatever reason. You can’t have an evil character for the sake of evil. Most people don’t think they’re evil although truth be told, I have run across some who prided themselves on it. We call those sociopaths and they don’t usually make interesting characters unless they’re Dexter – and even in his case he believed what he was doing was right. Think about all the antagonists from your own life. If you were to ask them why they are so mean and hurtful they would all have “good” reasons or say they weren’t being mean and hurtful and blame it on your interpretation.
Most likely a person is not born with this behavior, unless it’s pathological. They will have learned it in a variety of ways. Here are six examples/reasons, though I’m sure there are more.
Most authors choose #3 and develop a backstory for the antagonist but any of these options can be flushed out nicely. The antagonist’s motivation should also be connected to their goal, which according to the book Take Off Your Pants, should be the same goal as your main character.
The TV show Daredevil is a great example of a fully realized and well-rounded antagonist. Wilson Fisk is an evil character but as we get to see his childhood, we understand how he developed into what he is today. Sense8 has a great antagonist as well, Silas Kabaka. The character, who is quite cruel to people, has a daughter that he loves more than anything else in the world and would sacrifice everything for.
“Per the book Take Off Your Pants an antagonist offers a different way of seeing. As the “photo negative” of your main character, he could have been your main character if his path through life had been just a little bit different. The antagonist has to want the goal as badly as your main character does. Show the reader why he wants it.”
Take the time to flush him or her out. Make them authentic and believable with motivations we can accept. Then take your character, the one that everyone loves to hate and escalate him to a new level.
By Chloe Adler