Monday, March 15, 2010

TODAY'S NUGGET: Unlikeable (for Antagonists)

A crackerjack writer, Ann, liked the previous blog on "Unlikeable" protagonists & asked if I had suggestions for antagonists.

It reminds me about a graphic novel I covered a couple months ago. 

This was an "updated" fairy tale with a "twist."  The producers were hopeful the antagonist could be a jumping off point for a script.  In fact, the graphic novel was "out to writers" for ideas.

Between you and me, the writers had their work cut out for them.

GOOD STUFF: The antagonist did everything an antagonist is supposed to do: threatened the protagonist, raised the stakes, caused problems the protagonist had to solve, etc.

BAD STUFF: The antagonist was unlikeable, but not in a good way, and was an unremarkable, unexciting persona.  It's like surveying a Halloween party and seeing a dozen devil look alikes.  No one stands out.

What would I recommend to potential writers?

- Identify why the antagonist needs the protagonist & vice versa. 

ex. Here, I was unconvinced that the antagonist's journey depended on the protagonist.  It could've been any Joe Schmoe.  Why does it have to be THIS protagonist? 

- Create an antagonist with substance. 

ex.  Here, not much thought is given to the antagonist's motives, his flaws, or why he wants to conquer the world.

And no, it's not enough just to baldly state that the antagonist is bad, evil, mean.  You must show WHY he is making these decisions.

- Your antagonist should naturally be "unlikeable" b/c he opposes the protagonist's goal.  (Make sure your protagonist has a goal & it's stated early on.)  But don't stop at the superficial.

What is very intriguing is if you can create an antagonist who deliberately flirts with the grey area and paints your antagonist into a corner.  Let the antagonist make good moral arguments why his viewpoint is valid. 

ex. Here, the antagonist never waffled with doubt or fear.  How realistic is that?

- Your antagonist will also be "unlikeable in a good way" if he violates what people perceive as fair or reasonable. Small touches always help tilt the balance against the bad guy.

ex.  Antagonist feels entitled & always jumps the line at the grocery story, the restaurant, etc.
ex. Antagonist steals coins from a blind man.
ex. Antagonist yells at a child in pain.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Spend more time with your antagonist than you think.

Ironically, if your antagonist is strong, your protagonist (& your script) will be better.

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