When Working With Non-Traditional Antagonists…


Podcast Audio Link: Click here.

Podcast Transcript: Hi, genuine writers! This is Innovative Editing’s Jeannette DiLouie officially welcoming you to episode #16 of The Genuine Writer Podcast. We keep things short, sweet and to the point here so that you can learn what you need to learn and get back to writing already.

Today’s episode is sponsored by Don’t Dread Dialogue Writing: How to Construct Your Character Lines Convincingly. As usual, I will include the link to this e-booklet below in the description section. It’s got great information about what dialogue is supposed to be, and what it’s not supposed to be. There are so many people who don’t quite or don’t at all grasp either part of that, and you might be one of them. If so, there’s nothing to be ashamed of there. It’s just a matter of recognizing where you’re at on the creative writing spectrum and how much more there is to learn.

That’s also why The Genuine Writer e-letter exists. Unlike the Don’t Dread Dialogue e-booklet – which is a whopping $2.99 – The Genuine Writer e-letter is completely free. It goes out every Tuesday to keep you informed and encouraged about your writing process. You can sign up for it by going to www.InnovativeEditing.com, then scrolling down to The Genuine Writer sign-up box and entering in your email address.

A few weeks ago, for instance, The Genuine Writer covered – among other things – the topic of antagonists. What makes them tick and how to depict them in an engaging manner and all that. Every week, you see, Innovative Editing puts out a podcast, a random blog post and a professional tip for business writers and such, as well as three connected articles about one particular book-writing aspect. All six of them are included in The Genuine Writer, but I specifically pre-plan the connected articles the Sunday before they’re posted. That means they’re rather locked in two, four or five days before they go up.

Normally, that works out perfectly, but when covering antagonists, I realized that I’d shoved something very important off to the wayside. So this podcast episode is my attempt to rectify that situation. For starters, here’s the definition I gave for what an antagonist is:

Antagonist:

You normally know this character as “the bad guy” that comes complete with Jaws or Darth Vader theme music, right along with beasties out for your blood or the iron, force-wielding fists of tyrannical order.

But really, an antagonist is simply anyone or anything that gets in a protagonist’s way of reaching a given goal. Usually, yes, he, she or it will fall somewhere in the unlikable to outright evil range of possibilities. However, there’s no real lid on the “bad guy” box. Think of it more as an open box in a rather spacious room.

And, for the record, yes, I will link to that particular series in the transcript. It delves into a lot of conventional and non-traditional types of antagonists, so it’s got great information to take in. But as for this particular podcast episode, we’re going to bring up those writing situations when the antagonist and the protagonist are pretty much the same exact person. This really can happen. I swear.

There was a reality-based romance novella I recently read that did this, and it did it well. The two main characters were, for a while there, their own worst enemies. They were both attracted to each other, yet they each had their mental, emotional and psychological hang-ups telling them to back off and not pursue the relationship.

Sound familiar? Don’t you dare say no, because I’ll know you’re lying. Maybe you’ve never struggled with this when it comes to romance specifically, but you’ve certainly felt it with something else. We’re talking about the human condition here. Despite our many, many differences, there are a few things that tie us all together into one giant 7.2-billion sized family. And no, it’s not necessarily something as morbid as death and taxes. It’s more the same bottom-line desire – to find where and how we fit in – and then to trip ourselves up repeatedly in reaching that goal.

We humans are kind-of stupid when it comes down to it.

With that said, we’re understandably stupid a lot of the time. We’re afraid of getting physically, emotionally, mentally or psychologically damaged – legitimate concerns since people really do get hurt all the time because of the choices they make. Making it even more complicated, the choices we make might be really simple or subtle, innocent or unsuspecting, yet we still get hurt all the same because someone else is there to take advantage of what we did.

In the case of the novella I mentioned, the male main character had a sibling who died in a car accident, leaving a young, disabled child behind. He is extremely dedicated to his niece, wanting the best for her and trying to protect her at all costs – including his own. There is a way for him to try to do the best for both him and her at the same time, but he’s afraid to try it out and fail. On top of all that, he blames himself for his sibling’s death, and so he uses his guardianship position to punish himself.

He’s essentially a mess. A very hot mess, but a mess all the same.

Then there’s her. The female main character. She grew up in a small town with limited finances and limited possibilities but a desire to roam. And while she took her first opportunity out of there, she never lost the feeling of being subpar. So she’s constantly questioning her worth. Here’s a quality guy who she’s very interested in, but is she enough woman for him? The only character directly telling her that she’s not is herself.

In both cases, these protagonists are fighting through their own psychology, which makes them both the good guys and bad guys. It’s both complicated and not at all.

There are plenty of other ways that a protagonist can also be the antagonist. It doesn’t have to fit into the romance genre either. In some ways, you could argue that my upcoming novel, Proving America, has a protagonist who is also the antagonist. This is a historically-based tale about the War of 1812 told through a soldier’s eyes, and he starts out by flat-out admitting that he’s afraid.

Having never been in battle before, he’s afraid of getting shot. He’s also afraid of running away out of that fear: of being a coward. Both of his parents were active participants during the Revolutionary War, and he doesn’t want to let them down any more than he wants to let himself down.

Now, here’s the thing in Proving America’s case. Being a soldier’s tale and all, there is a more obvious antagonist or set of antagonists involved. The British Army is in direct conflict with the protagonist’s American Army, for one. And there’s an actual historical figure named Rear Admiral George Cockburn, who was seriously the most obnoxious historical figure I’ve ever researched. I can’t stand him. Oh my word, I can’t stand him. I just want to go back in time, purposely trip him and then kick him while he’s down.

It’s not that he was outright evil either, no matter what Americans may have said about him at the time. He was just obnoxious. A smug, self-righteous schmuck.

Regardless, he factors in heavily into the novel. So he could be considered the antagonist as well. But ultimately, the more I think about it, the more I think he’s not the main antagonist. I can’t go into too much detail here without giving everything away, but I genuinely think that the main character might be his own worst enemy: the force he needs to conquer.

My one and only problem with taking a definite stance here and saying that this is a solid case of the protagonist and antagonist being the same person is the fact that, ultimately, isn’t every story about someone trying to overcome himself? It’s like what FDR so famously said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And where does that fear come from? It’s internal, right?

I feel as if I should probably stop here, because my philosophical nature wants to take over and start getting really deep in the weeds with points and counterpoints and points to counter those counterpoints. I know I have a very bad habit of overanalyzing things that don’t need to be overanalyzed. So let’s just end with the examples I’ve given already. If you don’t understand them or want to make your own counterpoint, you can send me an email at JDiLouie@InnovativeEditing.com. And since that’s quite the email address to figure out – and I don’t feel like spelling it –you could also just go to www.InnovativeEditing.com and click on the Contact tab.

Otherwise, that’s it for this week! So thank you for tuning in to The Genuine Writer Podcast and letting me take a second stab at this whole non-traditional antagonists thing. As always, it was awesome to have you here and I’ll catch you all next week. Until then, very happy writing!

#nontraditionalantagonists

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