Sunday, January 27, 2013

Love your Enemy

Storytellers must be very good people, for they often love evil antagonists. A good antagonist is "complex, multi-dimensional and fully human," Laurie Hulzer says in her e-book, "How to Evaluate Stories."

They are driven by deeply personal needs and fears. They were wronged in the past. Something they prized was lost or stolen. A beloved parent or teacher left them. Because they nurse an unhealed wound, they are willing to "sacrifice empathy, ethics, honor, integrity, generosity, real relationships, or other human values like justice, mercy, compassion, or forgiveness."

It's not too awfully hard to imagine how an evil person might act. I have to think only of religious terrorists or mass murderers. They have reasons for the heinous things they do. Their justifications may be twisted or warped, but I suspect many of them act out of fear.

A man abandoned as a child may fear there is no one he can ever truly trust. He may fear he is unlovable (why else would he have been abandoned) and protect himself by never loving anyone.

She grew up impoverished, suffering greatly, and vowed never to be poor again. Stealing, murder, assuming another's identity--all means are justifiable to meet the inner need for security.

In my WIP, the antagonist, when he was young, lost the woman he loved to his best friend. He became a prominent doctor, researcher and educator. He has everything a sane man could want, yet he is still crazy with jealousy.

His best friend was entrapped by the events of one horrific night and is incarcerated in a mental hospital. The antagonist is his doctor. He has complete power over his best friend and wields it under a cover of concern and compassion. But his fears have turned him into a shell of a human being. He is incapable of loving his mousy wife. He sleeps with his female students. He lies. He is consumed by the needs of his past and by his fears of being exposed as a loser. He will do everything to bury the truth.

Not every story has--or needs--an evil antagonist. But I often like the ones that do better.


  1. Antagonist, yes, but evil? To me that sounds more like someone in a Victorian melodrama! I don't think I've ever met anyone I would class as 'evil' - unpleasant, maybe, or scheming and manipulative, or jealous or bitter (etc). It's said that no one is totally evil (or totally good either!), and I would agree that antagonists should be multi-dimensional, and not just 'evil'!

  2. Maybe evil is too strong a word. The idea is that a novel's antagonist embodies the force that opposes the hero's want and need. In some cases--like Fairy tales-- (s)he could be described as evil. The Wicked Witch. The Evil Queen. The Cruel Stepmother. Nasty characters.

  3. Wonder why it's the women who are 'evil' in fairy tales?
    To my mind, the antagonist doesn't neceesarily 'oppose' but more often makes things difficult for the hero/heroine, sometimes unwittingly!

  4. Oooh, I have to say, your doctor sounds like he's an excellent antagonist. There to cause all sorts of trouble for your hero.

    It's interesting how readers relate to the antagonist characters we create. In my first book, the heroine's father makes a small appearance...mostly I needed him to serve as part of the black moment. I had a reviewer comment that she hated him with a passion! Although, I guess even though we don't see him, he does contribute quite a lot to the backstory and the conflict between the hero and heroine. But it was still an interesting comment, that she picked that out of the story.

  5. I think that there is a range of antagonism that the antagonist provides. Depending on the type of story and the obstacle that you need to put in the hero/heroine's way, you may need a truly evil antagonist, or just one who is "wrong" for her. Not everything is black or white. Sometimes the most intriguing stories are those that involve shades of gray.