Friday, January 22, 2010
I'm Not Evil: Writing From the Antagonist's Point of View
You most likely know who your antagonist is when you start your novel, even if it's as vague as "the killer." A mystery writer friend of mine often has multiple suspects in mind as she writes, and it isn't until the end that she discovers which one actually "done it." Vague or specific, someone or something is standing in the way of your protagonist's happiness. I've done fleshing out your bad guys and plotting from their perspective before, but let's get a little closer to them this week.
Writing from their perspective.
This can be a tricky point of view to do, because often the tension in a novel is wondering what's going to happen next and what bad things are going to occur. Being inside the mind of your antagonist can steal some of that tension because the mystery is all gone. Readers know what's going to happen because the bad guy told them.
The challenge is finding ways to keep the wonder and mystery there even though the reader knows both sides. Revealing information that will change the outcome, but in a way that the reader can't predict. Or hint at things that have been building in the background, but readers haven't yet picked up on, that will shock them and they'll smack themselves for not seeing it coming.
Another challenge, is developing the bad guy the same as you would your protagonist. They'll have goals and motives driving them. They'll be in it for reasons that frequently have nothing to do with the protagonist. The protagonist just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or of they're not, and it is personal and directed, then you'll have new layers to play with and crafting a solid bad guy becomes even more important.
One thing that's help me when writing from the bad guy's POV, is to make them the hero of their own story. Few people actually consider themselves evil or bad, so even if there's a bit of conscience bugging them, they'll rationalize it same as your hero would. To them, the protagonist is the one getting in the way and messing things up. The protagonist is their villain.
Let your narrative and internalization reflect this while in the bad guy's POV. It's easy to let your views on the bad guy color their scenes, because they're the bad guy, but this will have the opposite effect of what you probably want to accomplish by being in their head. You'll show them being evil, maybe put the hero's attitude on them even though they'd never think of themselves or their actions that way.
I've found I get the best bad guys this way. (and it's fun to write them). They become real people with real problems and readers are much more likely to find them fascinating. And a bonus--since both sides are fully developed characters, you usually craft better plots because both sides are being driven by real motives. And that means all bets are off and anything can happen.
Have you ever written from the bad guy's perspective? What did you like the most about it? The least?