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
“Write about what you know and care deeply about. When one puts one’s self on paper — that is what is called good writing.” ~Joel Chandler Harris
I’m no expert but I do know that when you write a book and/or character, a lot of research has to go into it to make it believable. For example, one author I spoke to recently used firearms in her book so she took shooting lessons. This is what we, as responsible writers, do – strive for authenticity. More so, this is what we wake in the morning itching to do…
Researching is one of my favorite aspects of writing, it makes me giddy inside.
For my first novel - which now lives under the bed - my main character was a thief named Lizzy.
When Lizzy learned how to lock pick I learned how to lock pick. I watched youtube videos for hours and hours and because I didn’t have a lock picking set (yet) I made my first picks out of paper clips. I then proceeded to pick every lock in my house. Within a week I could pick the deadbolt on my front door with a paper clip (actually 2 paper clips as one is used as the tension wrench) in under 30 seconds. No, this did not make me feel safe but it did make me feel quite accomplished. That’s when I realized I’ve always been a lock picker. It started when I was a wee tot and would pick the bathroom locks with broken off Q-tips, the cardboard ones, not the plastic ones. I didn’t understand the mechanism of a lock (tumblers and the shear line) then but I still had the innate ability to do it. Maybe it’s because I spent many hours locked in my room, true story. Or maybe it’s because when I set my mind to do something I do it. Persistence-are-us. Who knows why? It doesn’t really matter.
What matters is throwing yourself headlong into that research. Almost as if you’re an actor and you’re method acting. You become your character. Lock picking can even be a metaphor for whatever it is you need to learn in order for your character to be believable and well rounded. You could go into your story and character development giving them a skill you have already mastered, one you’ve always wanted to learn or one you knew as a child but forgot somewhere along the way.
What I’ve learned from writing thus far is that a majority of it crawls up from the deepest, darkest hidden parts of ourselves, clawing and scratching its way to the surface, staining the blank pages of our lives.
By Chloe Adler
I like to hone my eavesdropping skills, in the spirit of work. Really. Each of our fictional characters speak in a different voice. Therefore, listening to others is a great way to see how people talk outside of your immediate community for um… character development.
Whereas one character may sound like a grumbly religious naysayer, another may have the vocal inflections and vocabulary of a “valley girl”. Each character not only uses different verbiage, most don’t speak alike in inflection or tone. I pondered this fact of good character development for some time before I decided the best way for me personally to get the “hang” of that was to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations in order to keep all of my characters from sounding exactly like me.
It began innocently enough. I was renting a room in a young girls house (via airbnb.com). I've used airbnb.com exclusively for traveling since 2011 and have had some amazing experiences as well as meeting lifelong friends. I was renting a room from a very sweet 20-year-old college girl. At about 8:30 or 9pm she asked if it would be okay with me if she invited some girl friends over to talk quietly in the living room. I agreed without realizing what that really meant. By 10pm there was a ruckus of loud, giggling girls talking about boys, sex, frat parties, make-up, other girls and more. I couldn’t focus on my own writing so I started writing down what they were saying instead. I also started texting tidbits to my friends because some of what I heard was not only difficult to believe, it was priceless. I learned more in that hour about 20 year old girls than I thought possible. And although I too was once 20, things have changed and more importantly, you forget. I won’t repeat most of what they said since it was personal and not for an under 18 audience but I will spill my two of my favorite lines, spoken by my host.
1.“I prefer to date 25 year old guys because they… well, they just know everything!
2. "And not just about sex, they actually know everything!”
I had to sit on the bed in the room I was renting with my hands firmly clamped over my mouth for much of their conversations.
I have a weekly writer’s group at a local café and last time I was there I ended up sitting next to two very loud 39 year olds who were upset and vocal about coming up on 40. Their conversation was not only extremely loud, so loud I couldn’t get any writing of my own done, it was informative. I had to open up an entirely new document. I use evernote for all my notes because it synchs to every computer, handheld and laptop you own, even the free version. I started typing, word for word, everything they were saying. Exciting personal tidbits aside I learned about orthorexia, an eating disorder where the person develops an unhealthy obsession about eating only healthy foods. I also learned about one woman’s struggle with her child’s video game obsession and how grateful she is to have her child engaged with the family again after completely cutting video gaming out of his life. “It’s an addiction,” she said, “like anything else and he went through a period of withdrawal and depression.”
As you can see eavesdropping provides:
What have you learned this week from listening in on other people’s conversations?
By Chloe Adler