Monday Challenge: Crossing the Rubicon

long way down...

It’s a long way down. (Photo credit: natala007)

I finally did it: I finished the first read-through and notes for The Patchwork King. Not the editing, not by a long shot, but I have a big list of problems that need to be solved. I just need to figure out some way to do so.

I think of this phase as being like taking a 5,000 piece puzzle you bought at a thrift shop and dumping it out on the floor. And then realizing that you only have 4,000 of the pieces. Most of what you need is there, and can be assembled into something coherent. As for the rest, well, it’s time to improvise. You can have a guess based on that shape of the surrounding pieces, but in the end it’s still a guess.

But, hey, the good news is, you might make something better than the picture on the box.

To help with the assembly, I started doing character rankings. Where these people fall of the Scales of Important Things: tenacity, survival instinct, ability to plan, capacity for love, capacity for violence. Like stats cards: So-and-so has an eight out of ten on survival, but only a four on social graces and a two on forward thinking. I don’t know if this helps yet, but it keeps me entertained.

One odd thing: two of my characters ranked almost identically on their caring for other people and their sheer ruthlessness. One is the antagonist. The other is one of the protagonists.

Odd connection, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. They are two people who will do anything for those they care about. There is no line that they will not cross. The only difference is that the antagonist will first sacrifice others in pursuit of this goal, where the protagonist will first sacrifice herself. The same root, but very different outcomes.

It’s something that sets them apart from most of the other characters, including the other protagonist. She has to watch these two fall into darkness and decide: will I follow? Or will I try and find another way, knowing that it means I might fail? It will not be an easy choice for her.

So, give this some thought for your Monday Challenge: Write your main character’s line. What will they not do, for any reason or for any person? What are the depths to which they will not sink? Where is their stopping point?

And what, if anything, could ever make them cross it?

Twisted Mirror: The Bad Guy

Broken mirror

Look with caution. (Photo credit: Anakronfilm)

I may have mentioned before that I like bad guys. No, not in that damn stupid pop-psychology ‘I can change him’ way. But in fiction, a good bad guy can make or break a story.

I was thinking about the idea of antagonists in the shower the other day*, and trying to sort out what I really like about some of them. Both ones I’ve read and ones I’ve written. I’ll spare you the long, meandering route my brain took to reach a conclusion and jump to the point: my favourites are antagonists that in some way mirror the protagonist.

They should have some key aspects in common: background, proclivities, something. The idea is that the antagonist should take some of those good or neutral qualities and twist them somehow. Maybe they go a step further down the road to hell than the protagonist, maybe they do things for fun that the protagonist has to do out of necessity, maybe take a good quality to such an extreme that it becomes something terrifying. But they should have a connection. Because if they don’t, then what the hell is the story about? Why are these two people** at odds? Why do they so desperately want to stop each other from achieving their goals?

I read somewhere once—can’t quite remember where, but I must have liked it—that real hate, the kind that fills you with fire and acid, doesn’t come from differences, but from similarities and differences paired. We can’t really hate someone completely different from us because we don’t know them. They are alien to us. But someone who is enough like us to highlight every flaw, every choice gone wrong, every might-have-been moment…maybe them we can really hate. Because they are, in some way, something we could have been. Or, worse, something we might still become. Which is why it’s so important to fight them.

I have to think in the shower more often.

*See? I follow my own advice.
**I am aware that not all antagonists need to be people, but most of mine are, and it makes the construction of the sentence simpler. If you prefer to be a pedant, read this sentence as, “Why is the protagonist at odds with this person/thing/force, natural or otherwise/social paradigm/whatever the hell else you feel like making the goddamn antagonist now leave me alone.”

Monday Challenge: Change of Heart

Deutsch: Lesbische Zweisamkeit im Bett

Getting laid might solve a lot of your antagonist’s problems. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So it begins.

October is upon us. Aside from being one of my favourite months, this is the last countdown until the beginning of NaNoWriMo. One month left to do all the planning and research you’ve been meaning to. And then it’s time to climb in the ring and go thirty rounds with your story. You’ll both be pretty punch-drunk by the end, but with any luck, someone will be getting their hand raised.

To that end, for this month, all my Monday Challenges will be related to things I’m considering about my own upcoming novel project. These are questions that I’m asking myself, stuff that I think I should know before starting. So, aside from being a writing prompt, this is also a behind-the-scenes look at my creative process. Be warned that it’s pretty fucking messy back here. Mind where you step.

One of the things I like* most about this story is the antagonist. God help me, I do love a good bad guy. And he is bad. He wasn’t born that way, of course, but his life and his choices have brought him to this stage. And now he’s ready to do whatever he has to to achieve his goal.

That’s the thing about bad guys, in my view. That’s the reason I tend to enjoy writing them: they want it. Whatever it is—power, money, prestige, freedom, love, whatever—they want it, and they have reached a point where nothing will stand in their way. The wanting is stronger than anything else. You might hate them, you might want them to die horribly, but, god damn it, they have conviction. It’s mesmerizing, in its own way. It pulls you in.

If you’re writing an antagonist, you’ve got to give them that resolve. Whatever they want is usually opposed to what the protagonist wants. And since that conflict is one of the primary movers of the story, it’s got to be a good one. The antagonist has to really want their outcome. The protagonist must be in serious danger of not achieving their goal because the antagonist wants their goal so badly. It has become their driving force, their reason for existence.

So, my question, for you and for myself, is what would it take it take to make the antagonist turn away from it?

Now, I’m not saying it’ll be easy. I can feel my antagonist giving me a look inside my head, like he’s thinking, The fuck did you just say? But if he’s a person and not an automaton**, then there has to be a sequence of events that would lead to him changing his mind. It doesn’t have to be likely, it doesn’t have to be possible, but it has to exist.

So what would change your antagonist’s mind? A pardon for crimes committed? The death of the person she holds responsible the situation? A boatload of money? Write that sequence, either as a scene or just as character notes. Consider how they could change. It doesn’t have to be for the better; they might create something worse. But what change could there be that would alter their current situation, and therefore their motivation?

In the case of my lad, I already know what would change his mind: love. I hesitate to say it, because it seems trite, but if a very specific person asked him, there’s a chance he’d stop. But she won’t ask.

So it’s probably going to be death. And that is not going to be easy.

*Probably not the right word, since he’s a dyed-in-the-wool bastard, but it’s the best I’ve got.
**If he is an automaton, then you’ve got a whole other set of plot questions.