Friday, December 11, 2009

Beefing up the Bad Guy

Susan R. Mills at A Walk In My Shoes did a series of posts a while back based on what she learned from Donald Maass's The Fire in Fiction. I have since purchased the book and learned a lot from it, but the topic that had the most impact on me was discussed in this post on Susan's blog. It's all about the bad guys.

In my novel, Embrol, the antagonist is super evil, and I know why he's evil, but his true motivation never comes up to give the reader some insight into his character. As a result, I think he's coming across as very one-dimensional. Plus, he isn't even mentioned until page 120, almost half way through the story, and we don't meet him until page 178. It's not that there isn't any tension before this--my hero and heroine have some serious issues to work through--but since reading Susan's post, his role in the story has been screaming for my attention, despite my best efforts to ignore it. He deserves a stronger presence, and I think the story will be better overall with some idea of why he is the way he is.

So, what does this mean? Well, rewrites of course. Seems like that's what it always means.

I've figured out a way to work the antagonist into the first ten pages, but his presence that early in the story changes pretty much everything. Sure, it would probably be easier to just shove this one in a drawer and work on something different, and I can't say I'm super excited about starting over from scratch, but I love these characters too much and I'm determined to make this story the best is can be. I want to see it on the bookstore shelf someday.

The worst part--I still have three queries out. Is it totally messed up that I'm hoping for rejections? Or maybe my query will just get lost in their slush piles for a few months until the new version is ready? Argh.


How evil are your antagonists? Do you give them the same depth as your other characters, some motivation for their badness? Or are they just bad because the bad guys are supposed to be bad?


  1. I have two antagonists, one who is just a pain and one who has an evil streak. I've worked really hard to make them 3D, to keep them from being cardboard cut-outs of Cruella Deville. We'll see what my second round of betas think!

  2. This is a tough one. Sometimes the antagonist isn't even a material thing but something within a character or society. I don't know if you need to move your bad guy up in the story or not--sometimes the troubles he is causing are enough if the protag is reacting to that. One thing I did to give my antagonist more depth was to interview him; have him answer questions about his life in first person. A lot of that isn't in the book but it helped me to understand his motivations.

  3. The antagonist in my wip-- a murder mystery-- isn't revealed as the antagonist until late in the game, so I have the opposite problem.

    I can't make the actual culprit too obvious, but I can't throw out too many red herrings without making it obvious who the murderer is by default-- the only one with no "red herring".

    So of course, I have only the conflict to explain his motivation, etc., and I'm worried it isn't believable. *sigh*

  4. Stephanie: Good luck! Now I have that Cruella De Vil song running through my head. :)

    Tricia: You're right. It probably isn't absolutely necessary, but by moving him up in the story, I can introduce an element of the plot that I hadn't planned on bringing out until the second book. It will add a whole other dimension to this story and a lot more insight into my mc's ultimate destiny. That's the main reason I decided to do it.

    Tere: We shall see. ;)

  5. My bad guy - the real bad guy - isn't introduced for quite a while. He's mentioned, but you don't actually meet him. I've kind of structured the plot like a Hitchcock movie, where the heroes don't quite know what's going on until they're in too deep to turn back. The tension slowly builds, and there are several layers of deception to get through.

    At least, that's the way I've envisioned it. I hope I can actually pull it off.

    So what I guess I'm saying is, if you have a good reason to delay, it's not necessarily a bad thing, IMO. But then you said that it might actually help the first book move along.

    I'm so impressed with the number of people I've met (online) who are writing multiple book stories. I'm barely able to figure out one!

  6. Oh my gosh, Abby! I feel your pain :(. You totally know this is exactly what I figured out and then had to do re-writes myself! Best of luck!

    Your book is going to be so shiny when you're done, it will hurt to look at it :). I'm so proud of you for sticking it out!

    Great points, too!

  7. Good point Abby. I am so going to get that book for myself and read through it.

  8. the first time mine shows up is in a dream near the beginning of the story. i don't know how 3-D he is. i'll have to look.

  9. I'm in the same boat. My antag doesn't really show up until late in the game either. I'll have to look at the same things when the time for revisions come out.

  10. Great thoughts to ponder. My WIP has something in common with yours, in that the readers meet my protagonists, and a female antagonist, in Part 1, but they don't meet the real "villain," if you will, 'til Part II. It's too early in my writing process to know whether this structure is going to work or not ... I'll check back with you on this one in a few months!

  11. The antagonist in my current work could be a good guy under different circumstances. I like to make it really hard to hate them. :D Great post!

  12. I think your antagonist is almost as important as your hero. He's basically the hero from another point of view. Well, that's my take anyhow. =]

  13. My antagonist is nuts - cracks under some stress. He's also a mystery - we don't know which character he is until near the end. I hope he's 3D and not flat!

  14. I also read FIRE IN FICTION after Susan's posts and I've gotten so much out of it. Good for you for tackling another rewrite! I think any time you can add more depth to your story, you're doing it a favor.

  15. Christine: Sometimes, I wish I could cram the whole story into one book, but it would be very long. :)

    Becca: Thanks!

    Tabitha: Definitely worth it.

    Stephanie: Good luck on your revisions!

    Cammie: Good luck!

    B.J.: I've contemplated doing that too, but I don't know if it would work for my story.

    L.T.: Good point. That's part of my reasoning for getting him in there earlier.

    Jemi: Crazy is always good. :)

    MG: Thanks! I'm hoping it adds more depth without detracting from the other main storyline. It'll be tricky.