Oh, the antagonist.
There are people who say the hero (or protagonist) defines the book. It’s certainly the hero that people remember. Frodo will not be forgotten. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were role models for a generation. Harry Potter? He was such a famous protagonist they didn’t even need to put a title on his last movie poster. Everyone knew about The Boy Who Loved.
But what are these protagonists without an antagonist?
Frodo without the dark lord’s ring is just a hobbit who stayed home. Han Solo would have had a quiet smuggling career, no wife, and no best friend if it weren’t for Darth Vader. Harry Potter would have grown up in a normal wizarding household, gone to Hogwarts, and had an uneventful seven years (possibly being a bully) if it weren’t for Voldemort.
Without an antagonist, you don’t have a plot.
Without an antagonist, you don’t have a book.
Day 3: Creating The Perfect Antagonist
I subscribe to the Three Villains Theory of writing. It’s entirely possible I made the theory up (or renamed it – I’m not sure), but it works! With the right three villains you can write any novel with confidence and ease.
Exercise 1: The Immediate Villain
– Who is the bad guy on page one? A teacher assigning homework over the holidays? A bullying uncle or aunt? A boss who won’t let you leave work early? Who is the bad guy causing trouble on the first page?
– This person may or may not be important to the overall book.
– This person may die before the end of chapter one (possibly in a way that frames the hero for murder).
– This person could become the love interest if you’re using an Enemies-To-Lovers trope.
– Describe this character in detail. What do they want? Why are they bad? What are their goals?
Exercise 2: The Intermediate Villain
– This is the one who takes up the bulk of the narrative for your book. In the first Harry Potter this would be Snape: obnoxious, rude, bullying, but as it turns out, not such a bad guy in the end.
– The intermediate villain can also be a series of thugs sent by the Big Bad to cause trouble. Especially in a quest story. In The Hobbit movies Azog is the Intermediate Villain, always nipping at Thorin’s heels but not doing a bulk of the damage.
– Define this character. What do they want? Why do they do what they do? How do they interact with the hero?
– Give the Intermediate Villain a win. While the hero can defeat (or avoid) the first villain succesfully the Intermediate Villain should give the hero trouble. Round about the middle of your novel the villain should have a definite win. They get the magic thing first, they kill someone the hero tried to save, they get the girl, they win the big game. Whatever. Plan on giving your villain a win. It adds complexity to the narrative and raises the stakes. Also? It’s usually an easy scene to write because you can beat your hero up as much as you want.
Exercise 3: The Big Bad
– This is the villain that’s secretly controlling things from behind the scenes, the betrayer who has been secretly working against the hero the whole time. Dark Vader. Voldemort. Sauron.
– In a series, you may not see this person until the end of the series (think Kate’s dad in the MAGIC BITES series by Ilona Andrews). The best part about this kind of antagonist is it invites readers to reread so they can catch the earlier clues. You really can save this villain for the very end, or at least the last 1/3 of the book.
– They usually appear around the hero’s Moment Of Despair, when the hero has lost all hope, friends, support, and belief in themself.
– This is the villain that defines the hero. Because the hero looks up from the mud and blood and despair and say, “I cannot let you do this. I cannot let you win even if I lose everything.” The decision to fight this villain when all hope is lost, at great personal sacrifice, is what makes an ordinary person a hero. And because the hero is coming from such a low point, beaten and fragile, their victory is all the more sweet in the end.
– Describe this character? When will they appear? What are they like? What do they do? Why are they the villain?
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 1: Establish a Baseline
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 2: Finding a Plot
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 3: The Antagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 4: The Protagonist
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
NaNoWriMo Boot Camp Day 6: Set The Stage