Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Villainy Part 3: Guts and Innovation

Wanted: A non-clich├ęd antagonist for novel. Must have conviction, guts, and brains. Special skills or knowledge a plus. Motivational, innovative, and charismatic individuals need only apply.

A good antagonist isn't passive, even if they use the illusion of being so. They are active. They are also not active in ways that are easily predictable. And if they do show a predictable route, you can bet it's a red herring meant to throw the protagonist and the reader off.

Innovation: (from Dictionary.com) 1. something new or different introduced 2. the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.

So an innovative villain uses new means to achieve their desired outcome. They have to think outside-the-box and deliver a wow factor (big or small.) Brains come into play here, as does their own special skills and knowledge pools. Connections with others is also a plus if your villain is a good manipulator.

This is one way you can make your story different from others that are similar or in the same genre. Write down the first antagonist plot outline or plan you can think of. Then write a handful of other possibilities. You'll find that the harder you push yourself to come up with a new idea, the better the ideas will get and the unpredictability factor will rise.

Guts: (from Dictionary.com) courage; bravado.

An antagonist must have what it takes to see their plans reach fruition. Even overcoming their own weaknesses or moral codes. If they have a strong motivation for what they want/do they also need to have the guts to carry out the means. In most good villain cases, they have more guts than the protagonist does up until the climactic end. Maybe it won't be an obvious part of your story but does your antagonist's inner journey climax at this point as well? Not worth the effort? You'd be surprised what a difference it makes in tension and plot around the climax and ending of the book if there are signs of a peak in the antag's inner journey.

If you struggle with this aspect of villainy, I recommend reading a few good mysteries. Mystery writers do these kind of villains well, since innovative and gutsy antagonists are a staple in that genre. I wish more speculative fiction writers employed antagonists with this combination.

If you know of some MG,YA, or speculative fiction books that have great examples of innovative and gutsy antags, please share in the comments. Likewise if you read mysteries and can share some great reading recommendations, please do.

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