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Friday, August 5

I'm Not Evil: Writing From the Antagonist's Point of View

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

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 "who" actually "done it." No matter who (or what) the antagonist is, they're in the way of your protagonist's happiness.

I've talked about fleshing out your bad guys and plotting from their perspective before, but let's give them a little attention this week.

Let's talk about writing from their perspective.

Writing as the antagonist can be a tricky point of view to do, because a much of novel's tension comes from readers wondering what's going to happen next. Being inside the mind of your antagonist shows that, which can reveal too much too soon. Readers know what's going to happen because the bad guy told them. Keeping things interesting takes a little more work to achieve. Such as:

Finding ways to keep the mystery in the story even though the reader knows both sides.

Aim for revealing information that will change the outcome of a scene, but in ways readers can't predict. The antagonist's point of view could focus more on teasing what might happen to create worry or anticipation. Or, you might hint at things that have been building in the background, but readers haven't picked up on yet, laying the critical groundwork for events that will shock them later.

(Here's a fun way to create unpredictable plots) 

Developing the antagonist the same as you would your protagonist

If the antagonist is important enough to get his own point of view, he ought to have goals and motives driving him--same as any other character. He'll likely have reasons for acting that have nothing to do with the protagonist; the protagonist just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the antagonist's action are personal, you might show why he's against the protagonist or why he's trying to achieve his goal.

One trick to writing a solid bad guy is to make him the hero of his own story. Few people actually consider themselves evil or bad, so even if there's a bit of conscience bugging him, he'll rationalize it same as your hero would. To him, the protagonist is the one getting in the way and messing things up. The protagonist is his villain.

He becomes a real person with real problems and readers are much more likely to find him fascinating. And a bonus--since both sides (protagonist and antagonist) are fully developed characters driven by real motives, you craft better plots. All bets are off and anything can happen.

(Here's more on crafting a compelling and relatable villain)

Letting the antagonist's narrative and internalization reflect who he is. 

It's easy to let your views about the antagonist color his scenes, because he's the bad guy, so you think of (and write) him in all his badness. But instead of showing what makes him tick and letting readers understand him, you show him "being evil" and turn him into a cardboard villain with no depth.

(Here are 10 traits of a great antagonist)

If a character is important enough to warrant a point of view in the novel, her or she is important enough to be a well-developed person with goals and motives.

Have you ever written from the bad guy's perspective? What did you like the most about it? What did you like least?

Looking for tips on writing your novel? Check out my book 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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