A reader asked...
How did you get in the "mindset" of writing from the antagonist perspectives (assuming you wrote in third-person)? If not, what are your thoughts on how to decide between telling a story in first- or third- person?
For this example, I'm going to say antagonist and bad guy mean the same thing, even though your antagonist doesn't have to be a villain. It's just who or what is between your protagonist and what they want. Often that's a bad guy of some type, but not always. There are multiple kinds of conflict.
In The Shifter I didn't write from my antagonist's perspective (it's a first-person story), but I have used antagonists as the POV in the past. One of my favorite characters was the antagonist from my first book, and he was so much fun my critique group actually asked if it was okay to like him, even though he was the bad guy. They were sad when he got his comeuppance, but they all agreed he deserved it wholeheartedly.
That's the sign of a great antagonist.
Give Them Souls
Bad guys can easily become cardboard cliches, because you often focus on what makes them bad and what they want to do to your protag. They're plot devices to cause the protagonist trouble, not fully developed characters in their own right. But bad guys have feelings too, and even villains have some redeeming quality.
When you're developing your antagonist, flesh him out the same as you do your protagonist, even if the antagonist isn't a POV character. Give him both good and bad traits. A history that shaped him to be what he is in the story. Most importantly, give him motivations for being bad that make sense. Let the reader think, "Well, gee, if I were him, I'd probably do that do." Evil for the sake of evil is boring. But evil with purpose is a lot more fun, and it's a whole lot scarier. Evil you can understand, even if you don't agree, stays with you.
Make Them Likable
I had a writing instructor (back when I was working on my first book) who said the reason she enjoyed my antagonist so much was that he was so practical, and that made her understand why he did what he did. That being inside his mind was scarier because he was rational. He was also funny, and had a dry wit and an interesting take on his situation. This was a guy that if he wasn't trying to do what he was doing, you'd probably hang out with him after work.
An antagonist that's likable is unpredictable. They already defy stereotypes by not being pure bad, so the reader isn't sure what they'll do.
Making them real people with real goals also makes it a lot easier to write from their perspective, because it isn't about what they're doing to the protag. It's about what goal they're trying to achieve and what obstacles are in their way--just like your protagonist. So make them the protagonist of their story. The hero in their mind. Treat them the same way you would your protagonist. Except they don't get to win in the end.
Make them more than a plot device that forces your protag to do what you need them to do. Make them a character who happens to cause trouble by trying to get what they want.
What are your favorite bad guys? What made you like them?
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel, and the just-released companion guide, the Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize (2011), and The Truman Award (2011).
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, and the upcoming Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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