The Key Ingredient for Dramatic Tension–Understanding the Antagonist

Today I wanted to take some time to talk about the antagonist. Why? Well, not only is the antagonist THE most important character, but he is the most misunderstood as well. In fact, that is part of the reason I am teaching a class about understanding the antagonist at the DFW Writers Workshop Conference this next month. I hope you guys will sign up ASAP. This conference has a history of selling out. It is a FABULOUS conference and the keynote this year is a dear friend of mine, NYTBSA James Rollins. Not only is Jim an amazing author, but he is probably one of the finest people I’ve ever met.

But back to the antagonist…

Whenever I blog about the antagonist, I generally get one of the following:

“Well, my character is the antagonist. She is her own worst enemy.”

“What if my antagonist is nature?”

“But my antagonist is a belief system.”

Most of the time, comments like these are a red flag to me that the writer doesn’t truly understand the role of the story antagonist, or what I like to call the Big Boss Troublemaker. And this is okay, because I believe the antagonist is not only the most vital role, but it is also the most difficult to understand.

He is His Own Worst Enemy

Just to be clear, virtually all protagonists, at the beginning of the story are their own worst enemies. That is called character arc. If properly plotted, all protagonists would fail if pitted against the story antagonist in Act One.

Luke would never have bested Darth if the showdown would have happened on Tattoine, minutes after his aunt and uncle were murdered. Luke was his own worst enemy. He was angry, grieving, reckless and untrained. If a protag starts out with his act together, then this is called boring fiction. The protagonist needs room to grow into the hero.  It is the growth that makes great stories.

The Engine of the Story

Conflict is the core ingredient to fiction, even literary fiction. Conflict in any novel can have many faces and often you will hear this referred to as the antagonist. The antagonist is absolutely essential for fiction. He/she/it is the engine of your story. No engine, and no forward momentum. Like cars, plots need momentum or they are dead.

The antagonist provides the energy to move the story forward. Antagonists generate genuine drama. No antagonist, and we get the crazy, unpredictable cousin of drama known as melodrama.

Yet, the antagonist has many, many faces and that is what trips up most new writers.

Not All Antagonists are Villains

Think of your antagonist like ice cream–infinite colors, flavors, and complexities. The antagonist is not always evil. Villains are only a flavor of antagonist, much like chocolate is only one flavor of ice cream. And, even in chocolate, there are still limitless varieties. Guess what? Same with villains. We’ll talk about them later.

Today we are going to talk about the two primary types of antagonists. There is the scene antagonist and there is the overall story antagonist, or what I like to call The Big Boss Troublemaker (BBT). Why? Because the term antagonist confused the hell out of me for years, so I decided to make things simple.

The Scene Antagonist

The scene antagonist is fairly simple. In every scene there needs to be a character that offers some form of opposition. Think of your novel as a machine. Each character is a cog that moves the machine and creates momentum. How do cogs move? Another cog must move the opposite direction. A cog with no opposition is a spinning, useless part incapable of providing any forward momentum.

If we are trapped in a theme park that has been overrun by dinosaurs, some member of the party will want to fight and some will want to flee and likely everyone will argue about the precise way to fight or flee.

There will always be a character who wants something different than the protagonist. Whatever this character wants stands in the way of the protagonist’s goal. Each scene goal is like a subgoal to solving the overall story problem. Thus, when the protag is kept from completing subgoals, the overall goal is, by extension, in jeopardy. This jeopardy is what makes readers tense.

Why is this important?

When editing, we must make sure we can look at every scene and say what the goal of that scene is. Then, ask ourselves, “Who is standing in the way?” Characters thinking and pondering does not a scene make. That is called a sequel. To learn more about scene and sequel, I highly recommend Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. 

One bad situation after another is not conflict. It is wash, rinse, repeat. This is the stuff of bad action movies, not great page-turning fiction.

The scene antagonist is vital, but the most important type of antagonist is what I like to call the BBT—-or, Big Boss Troublemaker. For long-time followers of this blog, we have talked about the BBT before. So this will be a refresher. We never get so good that we can’t use a dose of the basics.

As we’d already discussed, every scene in your book should have an antagonist, but no BBT and you have no story. Your opposition is the most important ingredient for a great story readers will love.

Introducing the Big Boss Troublemaker

The Big Boss Troublemaker is whoever or whatever causes the protagonist’s world to turn upside down. The BBT creates the overall story problem that must be solved by the end of Act III. This is also who or what must be present at the Big Boss Battle. 

In Finding Nemo, the Big Boss Troublemaker was Darla the Fish-Killer. Though we only see Darla a few minutes out of the entire movie, it is her agenda that creates the problem. If Darla wanted a kitten for her birthday, little Nemo would have been safe at home. It is also Darla’s propensity to kill her fish that creates the ticking clock in the race to save Nemo.

The Stronger Your BBT, the Better

In the beginning, your protagonist should be weak. If pitted against the BBT, your protag would be toast…or actually more like jelly that you smear across the toast.

One of the biggest problems I have with new writers is they shy away from conflict. New writers tend to water down the opposition. This is natural. As humans, we really don’t like a lot of conflict…unless you happen to be a regular on the Jerry Springer Show.

It is natural to not like conflict, but good fiction is the path of greatest resistance. The bigger the problem, the better the challenge and thus the greater the hero. When we begin our story, the best stories are when we look at the opposition and ask, “How can the protag ever defeat this thing?’

A fantastic example of this. Go watch the movie, The Darkest Hour. I spent over 2/3 of the movie wondering how on earth humans would survive, let alone have a fighting chance. This movie was terrifying, not because of a lot of blood and gore, but rather because the opposition was so overwhelming it seemed there was no hope of winning. I’ll warn you that the movie is frightening, so those who dare can check out the trailer here. The trailer alone is enough to show what I’m talking about.

The BBT doesn’t have to be terrifying, but he/she/it must be powerful. Think of Rocky. If his big fight was against the band nerd from three flats down, it would make for a lousy story/movie.

What About When the BBT is Not a Person? 

The Big Boss Troublemaker doesn’t have to be a person. It can be a storm, like in The Perfect Storm or alcoholism, like in 28 Days or an ideology (religious fundamentalism) like in Footloose.

Remember high school literature?

Man against man.

Man against nature.

Man against himself.

Ah, but this is where writers can get into trouble. Just because the BBT is not a person, does not mean the BBT will not work through a person. Humans don’t do so great with existentialism, which is why proxies are often so helpful.

For instance, in the 1984 movie Footloose, religious fundamentalism that forbids dancing is the BBT but religious fundamentalism that forbids dancing is represented by the town’s Bible-thumping minister (who also happens to be the father of the love-interest). Talk about conflict!

We will talk more about this next week.

Okay, well that’s enough for today. Need to stop before your brains all explode and then you have to clean up your keyboard. The antagonist is tough, and hopefully this series will break its complex nature down in to bite-size, manageable pieces.

What are some of your all-time favorite BBTs? What made them so awesome? What are your biggest problems with the antagonist? What do you find confusing? What books or resources helped you? Any recommendations?

I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of April, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of April I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note–I’ve been having technical problems lately and am in the middle of rebuilding my web site. Also, my toddler has had an allergic reaction to something and he is home sick, which is slowing me down.

Thus, I am a tad behind and there were so many comments last week I need a bit more time, so I will announce on Wednesday. Thanks for your patience!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.

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  1. #1 by Alison DeLuca (@AlisonDeLuca) on April 23, 2012 - 11:57 am

    Amazing column! This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit lately – the courage to keep sustained conflict and resisting the urge to resolve it right away. Bravo!

  2. #2 by corajramos on April 23, 2012 - 12:10 pm

    Love your phrase, “the crazy, unpredictable cousin of drama known as melodrama”. I guess I hadn’t really thought about a scene antagonist before. Wonderful help.

  3. #3 by introvertedknitter on April 23, 2012 - 12:12 pm

    After struggling with the antagonist some, the break down you give above is incredibly helpful. It is all too easy to shy away from a compelling conflict, thanks for sharing and the book recommendations. I look forward to future discussions on the subject.

  4. #4 by tomwisk on April 23, 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Thanks. The BBT is the key to the story. I need to remember that. Maybe have it tattooed on the back of my hand so I see it as I type.

  5. #5 by annerallen on April 23, 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Nobody explains the antagonist better than you, Kristen. I wish I’d had this post to show people when I was working as an editor. This is great.

  6. #6 by heathermcamp on April 23, 2012 - 12:38 pm

    This is a great post. I struggled for many years with flat antagonists – I’ve finally got it (I think) but I wish I’d had this advice way back then!

  7. #7 by Jane Sadek on April 23, 2012 - 12:40 pm

    Great blog. Remember Gone with the Wind? Scarlett’s biggest problem was Melanie – the nicest person in the story. She was so sweet you wanted to like her, but you couldn’t if you were going to stay true to your heroine. Scarlett’s real problem was herself, but everywhere you turned Melanie was standing in the way of Scarlett getting what she wanted and needed.

  8. #8 by tracylaneisnotavirgin on April 23, 2012 - 1:08 pm

    love it!!! Thanks for this and for writing “are you there blog? it’s me, writer”. your expert advice helped me attract over 250 visitors on my first post!! you be awesome woman.

  9. #9 by Linda M Au on April 23, 2012 - 1:09 pm

    Great post! Am rereading it now because I have to punch up the various levels of antagonist in my current WIP. The link to the movie trailer for The Darkest Hour, though, seems to keep taking me to Amazon.com for a WD book called Elements of Fiction, though…

  10. #10 by Linda M Au on April 23, 2012 - 1:10 pm

    Slight correction: The link in the EMAILED version of your post links to Amazon. The link seems right in the actual on-site post….

  11. #11 by Lanette on April 23, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    I’ll be in your class, front and center. (If I don’t run in late to the back of the class.) Look for the middle-aged redhead.

    My favorite antagonist is Elim Garak of DS9. He’s not a BBT, but I love him because he’s so interesting with so many buried secrets, and I love the constant tangles he got into with Commander Sisko. One of my favorite episodes is when Garak tricked Sisko into murdering a group of Romulans and pinning it on the shape-shifters in order to get the support of the Romulans in a war that was impossible for the Federation to win. When Sisko pummeled Garak because of the deceit, Garak wiped the blood from his face and told the commander that he needed him (Garak) to do what he (Commander Sisko) could never have.

  12. #12 by Jarm Del Boccio on April 23, 2012 - 2:16 pm

    So much to think about, Kristen…I like your comment ‘the protagonist needs to grow into the hero”. Good thoughts!

    MakingTheWriteConnections

  13. #13 by Diane Hiller on April 23, 2012 - 2:16 pm

    Thanks Kristen, your blog is very informative and helpful.

  14. #14 by freshstart2014 on April 23, 2012 - 2:36 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your post please check out mine I am also promoting my affiliate website on there you can check it out as well.

  15. #15 by Dana Leipold (@me_randomchick) on April 23, 2012 - 2:52 pm

    Yes. Yes. YES! I just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy and Susan Collins does a fantastic job of creating the BBT…in the beginning Katniss could NEVER fight President Snow and the Capitol but by the end, she’s learned enough and has lost enough to fight! I LOVE the concepts you presented here and I’m trying to use them right now in my novel. Love, love, love your writing Kristin!!

  16. #16 by Laura Ritchie on April 23, 2012 - 2:57 pm

    Wonderful post! I love the way you state all this, and looking at my own WIP, I think I have it right. I have a mixture of baddies, but I consider my true BBT to be the one that the protagonist must conquer all fear to face, and the one no one else can face for them. Is that a correct way to say it?

  17. #17 by onthewritingtrail on April 23, 2012 - 3:26 pm

    Thanks for reminders about antagonists. Helpful. Also good wishes for solutions for current “holding back” matters at home.

  18. #18 by crubin on April 23, 2012 - 3:42 pm

    What a perfect post for me just as I am going through my novel’s outline and working it scene by scene. I will keep these tips in mind as I plot and plan.

  19. #19 by Janice Lance on April 23, 2012 - 3:45 pm

    Kristin- I am going to the DFW conference and would love to have a cup of coffee with you sometime. I enjoy your blog so much. I’m going to be hoping, hoping, hoping to snag an agent while I”m there!

  20. #20 by Amelia Loken on April 23, 2012 - 4:25 pm

    So I have a question…I read once that in romance novels sometimes the romantic interest can be the antagonist, especially if there is personality/goal conflict. This can create some of the sparks and build up the opposition of the hoped for outcome: that they will fall in love and live happily ever after.

    I have an adventure story that has romantic elements and I’m thinking that often times the hero gets in the way of the heroine and vice versa. Add in the attraction and there’s natural tension and conflict.

    What’s your take?

    • #21 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 24, 2012 - 7:16 am

      The romantic interest will be the scene antagonist but NOT the BBT. In “Romancing the Stone” Jack very often is the scene antagonist. Joan Wilder wants him to lead her to Cartejena. Jack wants her to leave him alone. Joan wants to trade the map for her sister, but Jack says they should go after the stone instead.

      The BBT, however, is the crooked inspector and the murderous thieves who killed Joan’s brother-in-law and who have now captured Joan’s sister. THEY created the story problem that drew Joan out of her safe apartment in NYC and into the jungles of South America.

      Joan and Jack do a lot of bickering (scene antagonist) but in the final push—Act III—they come together as a united couple to defeat the BBT.

  21. #22 by MegansBeadedDesigns on April 23, 2012 - 4:26 pm

    Thanks for the amazing tips. I think it’s great to keep in mind the over antagonist (an idealogy, an over-controlling government structure, an evil empire) and the person/persons in charge that usually represent an embodyment of that antagonist. E.G. The sith/Darth Vadar, The Capital/President Snow, etc…

    • #23 by Lanette on April 24, 2012 - 8:55 am

      But Darth Vadar wasn’t the BBT. Senator Palpatine/Sith Lord was.

      • #24 by MegansBeadedDesigns on April 24, 2012 - 9:08 am

        True. He was considered a focused enemy though, is all I’m saying. The representation isn’t always the actual leader of the antagonistic philosophy, sometimes it’s just an officer that takes things to far and becomes the hero’s personal enemy.

  22. #25 by sandraharrisauthor on April 23, 2012 - 5:22 pm

    Thank you, Kristen, for providing an easy to understand insight into the antagonist. I’m afraid I shan’t be attending your class as I live on the other side of the world. Poor excuse, but there you go, that’s me: ‘preshus writer’.🙂

    At our RWAus conference this year, Romantic Suspense author Helene Young is presenting a session called ‘Relentless Conflict’. That was the first session I signed up for. I mean, who doesn’t like torturing their characters?

    Have ordered your ‘Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer’ from Amazon – it should be here any day now. I see one of the other ladies has it and is using your advice to good effect.

    OK, the Big, Bad-A, er,Boss Troublemaker. I think betrayal is an excellent antagonist. Especially betrayal by someone close. This is well portrayed in the movie, ‘The General’s Daughter’ where a prominent general’s daughter is murdered. The investigation by a lower ranking officer eventually brings to light the betrayal of the father of his daughter.

  23. #26 by CC MacKenzie on April 23, 2012 - 7:06 pm

    Great post, Kristen,

    Want to second Jack Bickham’s Scene & Structure – I’ve got post-its on my wall above my screen with Stimulus/Internalisation/Response for dialogue and Goal/Conflict/Disaster for scene structure and Emotion/Thought/Decision/Action for sequel structure. Helps keep me in the zone during creating.

    And can I take a moment to publicly thank you so very much for stopping by my blog and commenting. Absolutely thrilled – it felt like a visit from The Queen. Does this mean I’ve passed the WANA test?

  24. #27 by Yvette Carol on April 23, 2012 - 8:38 pm

    To my mind Voldemort was the picture perfect BBT because, just as you say Kristen, I was saying ‘how on earth can he beat this thing?’ the whole way through! In my WIP (which you may or may not have critiqued a tiny bit of?) my antagonist is a big bad old villian. Yet I had wondered whether he didn’t feature a bit too much in my books…until now, that is! Thanks for the post as it answered some of my questions!
    Yvette Carol

  25. #28 by lolosofocused on April 23, 2012 - 9:23 pm

    Lord knows I needed this ’cause yeah I’m struggling. I don’t shy away from conflict when the antagonist is a person but when its something like someone elses past for example. Yeah it’s hard not to come out sounding bland! At least for my current WIP. Thanks for the advice!

  26. #29 by ~RLBK on April 23, 2012 - 9:47 pm

    I’m so happy I came across your blog today!
    Where have you been all my (writing) life?
    Yay! That’s all. Yay! I love your writing advice, I feel like I’m now student again when I needed a great literary teacher. Thank you.~R

  27. #30 by Brett on April 24, 2012 - 12:31 am

    One of my all time favorite BBT’s is Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty in Blade Runner. I love this character because of the depth of emotions depicted by Rutger. Roy isn’t evil, he is just a desperate man making one big desperate attempt to extend his own existence.

  28. #31 by Ink and Papyrus on April 24, 2012 - 1:11 am

    May I just say that I always find your blog enlightening and helpful.🙂 Your explanation of the antagonists role has helped me to see my own WIP in a new light. I was never quite sure whether there was a set antagonist or not as mine turns out to be a concept and a set of ideals rather than one personified character.

    • #32 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 24, 2012 - 7:06 am

      Be careful. You do need one personified character as a proxy for your ideals that your protag must defeat. In Footloose, the movie ain’t over until Ren wins over the preacher and a dance is held. That is how we know Ren won. In 28 Days, the BBT was alcoholism, but the wild, power-drinking boyfriend was the proxy. The protag had to cut her relationship for good with the boyfriend and embrace sobriety to escape the jail sentence.

      In Steel Magnolias, the BBT was disease and death, but manifested in the daughter Shelby. If Shelby hadn’t made the decision to have a baby despite life-threatening diabetes, M’Lynn (mom) would never have been challenged to let go of being a control freak. All the conflict of the movie revolves around M’Lynn trying to control Shelby.

      When Shelby dies, death and diabetes are defeated (BBT MUST be defeated in the final battle). Death and disease are defeated by Shelby’s healthy son Jackson. The grave is defeated by new life. Note the entire movie is bookended by Easter—a holiday where a Savior died then defeated death with resurrection (new/restored/perfected life). M’Lynn’s daughter Shelby will live on through the grandson that would have never happened had M’Lynn gotten her way and forced Shelby to adopt.

      When we don’t have a clear proxy for our BBT, it dilutes the power of our story and confuses the reader. Readers need a clear rally point.

  29. #33 by mliddle on April 24, 2012 - 3:01 am

    Thanks Kristen for this great post reminding me that the antagonist is extremely important to a novel. I love these posts on key ingredients of writing a novel, which also contain highly relevant resources (both print and web). Fantastic!

    My favorite antagonist would have to be the alien(s) is the Alien trilogy movies. Talk about suspense! For most of the first movie, the audience doesn’t see this thing or whatever is taking and killing peole and leaving an acidic goo behind. Then, when we met her, her screen prescence is amazing. And as the protagonist, Ripley is .ideal! The audience

    • #34 by mliddle on April 24, 2012 - 3:27 am

      Kristen, can you delete the above first comment post? Because I wrote this on my phone, it uploaded the post before I was ready. My phone is being a momentary antagonist in my life!?
      Thanks,
      Monique

  30. #35 by mliddle on April 24, 2012 - 3:18 am

    This is a great post, to remind us new writers, especially, the importance of the antagonist is keeping the story moving forward. Thanks so much for doing this post!

    My favorite antagonist without a question is the (are the) alien(s) in the Alien movie trilogy. For most of the first movie we don’t really get glimpse of this thing taking and killing people and leaving acidic goo in their place. Also, the relationship between the alien mother and Ripley make the second movie amazing! In the second movie, we also have a major cast member become a frequent scene antagonist by trying to capture on of the aliens at whatever cost (including someone’s life). I could go on and on about this antagonist, but knowing the young aliens and their mother are intelligent and hard to kill make them one of the best adversaries.

  31. #36 by tracikenworth on April 24, 2012 - 9:17 am

    Informative post!!

  32. #37 by Jane Bailey Bain on April 24, 2012 - 11:43 am

    You’ve put this really well. In stories, as in life, every character needs a contrasting figure – its archetypal opposite – in order to fully express themselves. We put characters in our stories, and draw people into our lives, whose oppositional qualities help us to define ourselves.

  33. #38 by jwenger2012 on April 24, 2012 - 12:39 pm

    Thank you for the advice, I am trying to work through my own characters’ personalities. One of them is abused, verbally and physically however maintains a positive, upbeat spirit in a hostile world. My protagonist is conflicted internally, outliving everyone he will ever know, his life is measured not in adventures or centuries but in loss. Your post has helped more than you realize!

  34. #39 by Kristie Jennings Kiessling on April 24, 2012 - 1:36 pm

    *BOOM!* Rats. You didn’t stop soon enough. Thanks a LOT, Kristen. Now my keyboard is a MESS *and* the zombies are coming because of all the tasty gray matter. ;D Clearly, I don’t need my brain to write, only to write coherently.

    • #40 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 24, 2012 - 1:38 pm

      LOL. Well, scrape them back in ur noggin and we can do it again next week😀.

  35. #41 by granbee on April 24, 2012 - 3:08 pm

    Kristen, now THIS post is why I decided to start following your blog: great lessons about protagonist sequel vs. scene, actual character through the antagonist acts, multiple antagonists (not necessarily evil or negative at all!) vs the Big Bad Boss Troublemaker. Terriffic learning here!

  36. #42 by tomburkhalter on April 24, 2012 - 3:32 pm

    Kristen, maybe someday I’ll understand conflict, and this article was a big help. My current WIP is about the early part of the war in the SW Pacific — the Japanese make a pretty good BBT, since my protagonists are USAAF pilots and airmen! So that gives me something to compare with your post. Good job!

  37. #43 by Jill Petro on April 24, 2012 - 6:42 pm

    Hello Kristen- I have been a “stalker” of your blog for a few months after it was recommended by a writer friend. She knows I have a story or two in my head that are waiting to be told. I have been learning so much about the writing industry and how to write a great story. Thanks for all the hard work that goes into helping others improve their skills!

    • #44 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 24, 2012 - 7:59 pm

      Well I am so thrilled you came out from behind the digital drapes! Go YOU! Yeah, I wasted a lot of time doing dumb stuff, so I hope to help shorten the learning curve for you guys. Thanks for the encouragement.

  38. #45 by amandalewisab on April 24, 2012 - 9:43 pm

    Dear Kristen,
    Thank you so very much for this post!🙂 It’s exactly what I needed. I’ve been having trouble with my first chapter (the worst chapter) and have written about a dozen first few pages and discarded them; I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working (flowing). It’s because it was, in all it’s forms melodrama… honestly the bit about sequel hit a nerve for me. So thank you for this much needed dose of the “basics”.
    Much love, Amanda

    • #46 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 25, 2012 - 4:59 pm

      A really neat trick (taught to me by the fabulous NYTBSA Bob Mayer is to write the background for the antagonist FIRST. Who are they? What do they want? Then it is easier to spot a story-worthy problem because we just create a protagonist whose life would be unravelled by the decisions/plans of the antag.

      Say my antag is a widower who wants to buy a plot of land to build a flower shop. My protag can be the young college student who wants to have the owner of the land donate it for a community garden. POOF! Conflict. The antagonist isn’t evil, he just wants to build a nice flower shop, yet we can already spot the trouble ahead when two people want the same thing for different reasons.

  39. #47 by jbw0123 on April 25, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    Ah soo! Scene antagonist AND Big Boss Troublemaker. OK, I think I get it. Back to the grindstone.

    I love the analogy of gears moving in opposite directions.

    Sadly, Texas is a bit of a commute from Oregon, so will not be attending your class, but am looking forward to your book on plot and structure, when you publish it. (When will that be?) You never put me to sleep.

  40. #48 by alastairfk13 on April 25, 2012 - 4:02 pm

    Really thoughtful and well written article. I’ve been struggling with antagonists because I tend to make them too evil with no redeeming features and I keep going back to the ultra villain of history, Adolf Hitler who loved his dogs, it might have been his only redeeming feature but having watched movies with really super evil villains I wonder if we shouldn’t give our villains some redeeming features. Think of Rose’s fiance in Titanic, if he had been a little more human there might have been more conflict and character development. But I’m taking hints from this article in creating my villains.

  41. #49 by Anne Honzel on April 25, 2012 - 4:32 pm

    Just starting a new short story and needed a good kick in the butt to figure out what it needed to be less lame. You are such a good butt kicker! Thanks Kristen🙂

  42. #50 by Char on April 25, 2012 - 8:23 pm

    I love how you explain the antagonist, how he/she/it must drive each scene forward to advance the plot. It’s a great way to look at it. I heard Cory Doctorow speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago. He spoke about the writing process and said he had several points for plotting: 1) person; 2) place; 3) problem; 4) person tries to solve problem 5) person fails; 6) things get worse & person tries again; 7) the climax; 8) the denouement. So the failure is caused by the antagonist getting in the way! As long as the person’s peril continues to increase, the reader will keep turning the page.

  43. #51 by David Michael Williams on April 25, 2012 - 9:15 pm

    Very well put. It doesn’t matter how strong or brave or great your protagonist is if the antagonist doesn’t measure up. You can’t focus all your effort in the hero and try to get away with a two-dimensional, mustache-twisting bad guy (although I agree that a villain is but one type of antagonist).

    That’s why Batman will always be better than Superman: Despite the former’s lack of superpowers, he has the best opponents in the entire DC Universe.

  44. #52 by everwalker on April 27, 2012 - 3:34 am

    Reblogged this on everwalker and commented:
    Today is going to be a mix of post-event-crazy-busy and last-day-at-the-company-crazy-busy so I’m afraid I don’t have time to put a post together that would be interesting or even necessarily coherent. Since I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to share Kirsten Lamb’s thoughts on antagonists with you for a while, though, it works out quite nicely. Read and enjoy!

  45. #53 by Elle Stephens on April 27, 2012 - 10:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Elle Stephens – Author! and commented:
    EXCELLENT advice from Kristen Lamb’s Blog today. I dare you to try it!

  46. #54 by submeg on April 29, 2012 - 7:33 am

    Ok, this is interesting. In the story I am working on there are three antagonists. One is a mini-protagonist, who throughout the story works against the protagonist and eventually is swayed by the protagonist to join his cause. A second protagonist is born during the story, which creates turmoil for the antagonist.

    Finally, there is the BBT. The one who caused all of the trouble in the first place. Without him, the conflict wouldn’t exist. Life would be simple.

    Is having more than one antagonist possible?

  47. #55 by submeg on April 29, 2012 - 7:41 am

    …”One is a mini-protagonist, who throughout the story works against the protagonist and eventually is swayed by the protagonist to join his cause.”

    “One is a mini-ANTAGONIST.” That makes more sense.

    “A second ANTAGONIST is born…who creates turmoil for the PROTAGONIST”

    Wow I think I need some sleep…

  48. #56 by keripeardon on May 9, 2012 - 4:01 pm

    This gives me some interesting ideas for my second book. The first book of my trilogy has a classic antagonist: evil vampire with secret agenda. (The fact that he’s a blue-eyed Austrian trying to wipe out my pseudo-Jewish vampires was TOTALLY unintentional. Honest.)

    In the third book, we find out who’s been pulling the strings of the evil vampires: a good vampire turned evil and looking for revenge. It becomes a classic fight of good versus evil.

    The second book, though, has no classic antagonist. I kind of envisioned it as a breather between all the murder in the first and third books and time for some character relationship development. The major plot problem is the love triangle which develops between my protagonist, her love interest, and his brother.

    The third wheel, Micah, becomes a problem because he has difficulty controlling his lust and because my protagonist has no idea how to handle the situation. She wants to keep Micah in her life, but have things stay platonic.

    I need to do some heavy editing, and when I do, I think I will try to think of Micah as the antagonist and put a lot more emphasis on the problems he unwillingly creates.

    • #57 by Author Kristen Lamb on May 9, 2012 - 6:47 pm

      Yes, there needs to be a BBT to solidify it for the reader. Sounds amazing, though! Good luck and keep me posted how it goes.

  49. #58 by Finn Jackson on May 19, 2012 - 9:28 pm

    Great post, no one’s ever made the connection between antagonist and conflict so clear to me. Thanks!

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