Day 5 of writing my novel in public
I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.
If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.
If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.
Day 5 — Antagonist
So far, I have used the two guidebooks I identified, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Gangsta Granny, to determine the genre, the mission, and the main character for the book I am writing. Today I’m going to focus on the character that opposes the main character in achieving their mission, the antagonist.
I’m going to start by looking at the antagonist in the two guidebooks, and then look at my antagonist. In searching for the antagonists, I’m going to look for the person who:
- invests as much in the mission’s success or failure as the main character,
- has the most to lose in the mission’s outcome,
- wields power over the protagonist,
- is fun or compelling,
- and actively works against the main character.
I’ll set a timer for 5 minutes so that I am going with my gut, and not overthinking my response. There may be multiple possibilities, but I am looking for one candidate that fits the bill.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
There is one obvious candidate here, the White Witch. As the mission is to kill her, she works to prevent Edmund from succeeding and will lose her life if he does. She exerts her power over Edmund and is a compelling leader. Throughout the book, she tries to capture and kill the children.
The antagonist in this story is less obvious to me.
Granny commits to stealing the crown jewels along with Ben, and will lose her freedom if the plan goes wrong. She is a fun character, but she doesn’t really wield power over Ben. In fact, he has to persuade her to take part.
Looking at the other characters, it is Ben’s parents who wield power over him. They force him to visit Granny at the beginning, and he lies to them so they won’t prevent him from trying to steal the crown jewels. Ben and Granny could get arrested if the plan fails, so they have the most to lose. Their obsession with ballroom dancing makes them fun characters. But they don’t actively work against Ben.
Mr Parker acts to stop Ben and Granny from stealing the jewels. He wants their mission to fail, so that he can have them arrested and become a hero. He has some limited power over them as head of the neighbourhood watch, and backs that up by calling the police. In doing so, he has his reputation to lose if Ben and Granny get away with their heist. His enormous nose and silly hat make him a fun character. He actively works to foil their plan to steal the crown jewels.
Weighing everything up, I think Mr Parker is probably the best candidate for an antagonist in Gangsta Granny.
Antagonists are the heroes of their story
In order to make sure that the antagonist is not merely a puppet of the story used to make sure that the main character doesn’t get everything their own way, it is important that they have their own agenda. The main character has a mission, and the antagonist will also have a mission, which may relate to but differ from the main character’s. It is useful to compare and contrast the main character and the antagonist. Often they have some characteristics in common, but also some key difference.
I’ll spend another 5 minutes looking at the antagonists in the guidebooks, their mission and how they are both similar to and different from the main character.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The White Witch wants to be rid of the threat of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. She is selfish and traitorous like Edmund. Unlike Edmund, she doesn’t have any empathy or possibility of redemption.
Mr Parker tries to catch Ben and Granny committing the crime. Like Ben, Mr Parker is curious and suspicious and spies on Granny. Unlike Ben, he has a very black and white view of justice and is only interested in his own gain as a hero.
Meet my antagonist
The mission in my book I determined on Day 3 would be to defeat a villain who uses smells as a weapon, so now I want to flesh out a little who this villain is. I already have that they are like my main character in that they are interested in smells, but whereas my main character uses smells in his creative pursuit as a baker, the antagonist will use smell as a weapon.
I’m going to give myself 5 minutes on the timer to consider the following questions about my antagonist:
- How is the antagonist similar to my main character?
- How does the antagonist differ from my main character?
- What is the antagonists mission?
- How does my antagonist wield power over the protagonist?
- How is my antagonist fun or compelling?
- How does my antagonist actively work against the main character?
My antagonist is like the main character in that he uses smells. He likes bad smells, though, and eats things that make him smell atrocious, like rotten onions and garlic. To disguise his true nature, he wears a powerful perfume that has a hypnotic effect on people. He differs from the main character in that he wants to use smell to have power over people, not help them. His mission is to create worse smells, trying to find the ultimate weapon, a stink bomb, that will force everyone to bow down to him. The main character discovers the antagonist’s plot and works against him, trying to stop him from creating the bomb, whilst the antagonist tries to lock the main character in his smell tower.
The Dark Tetrad
I wrote here about how to make sure your villain has complexity by considering the Dark Tetrad. Based on psychological research, the Dark Tetrad are four characteristics that are shared by antagonistic people. My introduction to them was through the book The Science of Writing Characters by Kira-Anne Pelican.
The four characteristics are Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy and Sadism. First, I’m going to consider the two antagonists that I’ve identified from my guidebooks, and how they score on these measures. Unlike when I looked at the Light Triad for the main character, I’m not expecting the antagonist to change over the book, so I’m looking at single points on the charts.
First, the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
Now Mr Parker from Gangsta Granny:
My antagonist Dark Tetrad
I’m going to have a go at characterising my antagonist on the Dark Tetrad based on my gut feel of who he is. I have an inkling that his back story is that foul smells have always interested him and he loved eating things he shouldn’t that smelt bad. As a result, people shunned him and now he is out to get his revenge on them.
I’ll give myself 5 minutes to fill in his chart.
End of Day 5 and I have met my antagonist. He loves to eat things that smell bad and so he smells foul. He covers this up with a hypnotic perfume that disguises his true nature. Because of being shunned as a child, he is out for revenge on the people who rejected him. I have also plotted him on the Dark Tetrad.
Tomorrow I will write my first scene, where the main character and antagonist meet, in order to discover their voices.
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If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.