The online diary of a dreamer creating Contemporary Romantic Fiction - because Every Woman needs Love and Laughter in her Life.

Monday, 28 April 2008

The Opponent

I am currently working on extra character layers for the Antagonist in my thriller novel, brainstorming on how to make this character as compelling as possible.

First. How do you define the Antagonist?

For me, I have to start with a definition of the Protagonist – the character who owns the story, and whose active pursuit of her goal will drive the plot forward.
The Antagonist is the equally fascinating character who by pushing against the protagonist shapes the story and drives the plot by forcing the protagonist to act.

There a number of key aspects I want to keep in mind;

1. The Antagonist is the character who shapes the plot, the most important person in the conflict, the character who makes the reader worry and keeps her turning the page.
If I have worked hard, my reader will have sympathy and empathy for my heroine. The antagonist is now going to start throwing rocks at her.

The antagonist must be strong and active, somebody the reader fears will defeat the protagonist.
My heroine is strong, intelligent and a survivor.
My opponent has to be all of those things and more.

3. Since I am writing a thriller, I want the antagonist to be just as compelling as the protagonist, just as fascinating to read, just as smart, just as funny perhaps, just as good at what he does. In fact, the antagonist should be formidable in every way possible, and stronger than the protagonist – making her work hard and be creative. NOT just REACTIVE but PROACTIVE.
I need to show my antagonist in his ordinary life, doing his job. Even if this is carving the Mona Lisa with a craft knife on the stomach of his victims.

4. But the antagonist is also in need of something. He is pursuing his goal for the same reason that the heroine is pursuing hers: it’s important to his sense of self-worth, his identity. He may not have a character arc as powerful as the protagonist, but he certainly cannot be pulled out of the wings, twirling his moustache, to be the bad guy as in a children’s cartoon. No. He has to have a character profile. His own needs and goals. His own problems.

Why does he love the Mona Lisa? Is he Italian? What is his motivation?

5. The antagonist’s pursuit of his goal must be in direct opposition to the goal of the protagonist – creating ‘ Conflict Lock’ so that the two characters are locked in until one of them wins. It is this key conflict which is going to shape the plot- and shape the action of my hero, since she will be forced to react and act proactively is she intends to be the winner.

What is the Conflict Lock?
This is where the two characters may either both have the same goal – or they have different goals which are in direct opposition.
The best way of seeing this visually is by drawing up a 4 square grid and I tip my hat to Michael Hague and Jennifer Crusie for showing me this technique, which you can use from the Act level right down to individual scenes.

Protagonist GOAL= Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas with Toto.
Protagonist CONFLICT= She has to ask the way home from the Wizard – but the wicked witch of the west is determined to stop her from leaving

Antagonist GOAL = The wicked witch of the west wants her sister’s ruby slippers.
Antagonist CONFLICT = Dorothy is wearing the ruby slippers and cannot take them off. AND she wants to leave town.

The top two boxes of your 2 by 2 square are your protagonist’s goal and conflict (the action that is causing her conflict).The bottom two boxes are your antagonist’s goal and conflict (the action that is causing his conflict).
The idea is that the protagonist’s goal is the one thing that is blocking the Opponent from obtaining HIS goal. And the Opponent’s goal is blocking our Heroine from obtaining HER goal.
You should be able to draw an arrow from Goal Row 1 to Conflict Row 2, and Goal Row 2 to Conflict Row 1.

Result = Conflict Lock.

6. The key turning points of my story should track the building conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. From the start, I want to be able to imagine the Final Fight to the Finish between my hero and the person who has been blocking her all the way. I want to be able to track the fight between these two people all the way from the Inciting Incident – which should be caused directly or indirectly by the Antagonist – to the one to one final fight. Where only one of them wins – and the reader/audience will not know who this until it physically happens.

7. The reader wants to be on the edge of their seat to find out who will win – and it is no contest if the opponent is way superior to our heroine – they should be equally matched. Think of an equally skilled football game.

8. BOTH of these two key characters MUST be actively fighting for their goals – which might be the same goal. Two treasure fighters after the same sacred icon aka Lara Croft or Indiana Jones. Or one corrupt cop trying to keep hold of his million dollars so he can buy his life back, while the less corrupt cop tries to take the money from him as evidence. Or a divorced mother finds that her estranged husband has run off to India with their daughter, vowing never to return. That active fight will force the hero to change, adapt, be smarter, quicker, better.

9. Both of these two key characters will be forced to make decisions and take actions. Leading to character arc for one or both. Or a bullet and a medal.

10. I want to have my protagonist on the page as soon as possible – the first paragraph if possible. And that means I need my antagonist right there – or the result of his actions and decisions, as part of the SCENE ANTAGONIST who is linked to the main antagonist.
Example. Cops going to murder scene- finds the work of the antagonist, with clues.

Now. All I have to do is create this fantastic character. GULP!

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