Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to Write a Book Prelims: The Antagonist

On Tuesday we discussed the features and attributes of three types of protagonists. It was a lengthy drawn out process, but that is important. Protagonists define the direction of the story, but so do the villains. Luckily I will not go into as much depth today because writing villains is actually a little easier to understand when you have built your protagonist at the ready. Villains generally aren't just special because they are evil or working against the grain of society but it's because they posses certain characteristics that integrate them with the purpose of the Protagonist. Therefore you shouldn't write a villain to be evil for the sake of being evil. but they should have a link to the protagonist that makes them closely related. Once taking this into account we can write a villain through these possible angles.

The Hidden Villain:

In many a "who-done-it" detective fictions or even a scooby doo episode here or there, we are often enticed by the intrigue that comes from the plot, and the people involved, because the villain/sinister mastermind behind it all is hiding in plain sight behind the manifestations of his/her scheme. There are many mature ways to tackle this kind of villain, but I would have to say that my favorite outworking of this style of villain is Ozymandias from The Watchmen. A good villain of this category should have nothing to hide, and therefore commit the acts openly that are transgressive to the story. This is because the villain possess the audaciousness to believe his plan might work. Throughout the main plot, from killing the comedian to researching the genetic manipulation to create the space invader, Ozymandias was never openly hiding what he did. The trick was slight of hand. Every good villain of this class should be able to weave a vast maze of events that culminate in their victory. We will discuss how to do this once we get to the plot section of the series. The slight of hand maze that distracts the hero from the villain's true nature should cater to the intrigue of the hero until it's too late and the hero ultimately sees through the facade. Keeping up appearances here is the main key.

The Philosophical Villain:

A good protagonist will always produce a good villain. I think in many works of fiction, or even historical non-fiction, the villain can sometime steal the show, but that bothers me tremendously. Why is that the case? can goodness be only contextualized in the face of evil? As stories grow more post-modern and less conventional this seems to be the case. But the stories that last and persevere are the ones where the protagonist is truly loved, and the antagonist is truly conniving. That's why I like Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty is an amazing villain, because he is the philosophical opposite of Sherlock Holmes. Even further, what makes Moriarty so interesting is that he is the future of Holmes, the endgame when Holmes snaps or becomes what he loves to solve. They touched on this in the new Sherlock Holmes series pretty well. When Sherlock runs out of crimes to solve he begins to solve his own. This is an example of how plot can build both the villain and the protagonist. So this lack of boundaries makes the villain all the more compelling. Without barriers the villain potential get's maximized.

Antithetical Villain

You are probably wondering why I didn't include the Joker in the Philosophical villain category. Many think that the Joker would be a philosophical villain, but he actually isn't. I would say he's an antithetical villain. You see antithetical villains are more reactionary. They strike at whatever opposes the protagonist, and often exist in spite of the protagonist. The Joker would never exist if it wasn't for Batman. The chaotic villains that roam the streets of Gotham are there to strike against the physical manifestations of Justice, which would be the Batman. Moriarty, is a villain that exists independent of Sherlock Holmes. He is a looming threat that doesn't work in spite of Holmes but is intrigued, and acts as an evaluator for Holmes. The subtle distinction makes all the difference. The Joker operates out of a different motivation, that ultimately ends with the Batman's death. I think if Batman died the Joker would have nothing to do, whereas if Holmes died Moriarty would keep on doing what he does because he simply can. I think that is the primary difference.

Though the latter two are very similar  I think if you grasp the subtle difference between them, it can only improve your writing. You must remember that the villain is always secondary to a story. They will always work in tandem with the protagonist's development. If you become fixated on the villain and who he is, then your story will no longer be centered on the main protagonist, and therefore minimize the worth of the protagonist's actions. taking this into account is absolutely critical.

Next week we will talking about choosing a setting for your book. I'm looking forward to sharing my thought with you! See you then,

Happy writing!

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