She already has hers, lucky dog. I’m still working on mine.
Creating the antagonist (that’s the foo-foo writerly word for bad guy…guy being generic) has always been tough for me. Susan and I discussed the fact that so often in science fiction/science fiction romance, the antagonist is less a person/sentient and more often something like, like the Ubiquitous Evil Empire or Corporation. But even empires and corporations need someone to pull the trigger. And that trigger person has to have the same goals and motivations, fears and desires structured in as your protagonists do.
It’s even better when the antagonist is less the Evil Empire and more the crazed, wacko, jealous, bitter but deep down inside nice person craving love and affection kind of character. Who may or may not work for the Evil Empire but certainly has an agenda or his or her own.
Those are the more difficult characters for me to craft. I’m better at the minions—the characters who operate under the direction of the Evil Empire—than at the individual self-motivated, self-contained baddy.
However, in SHADES OF DARK, I learned just how much fun it was to write the self-motivated, self-contained baddy in the character of Captain Del Regarth. And that made me want to do it again.
Trouble is, not every plot line that leaps into my head comes complete with a self-contained baddy. SHADES did. It was likely the exception that proves the rule. So with my current WIP, I’m trying to create a self-contained baddy or two. Because they’re honestly more fun to write.
Del was hugely fun to write. I don’t want to get into spoilers for those of you who’ve not read SHADES OF DARK (and #1, why haven’t you? And #2, do read GABRIEL’S GHOST first). Del actually had some heroic moments. Del actually saves the day a few times. Del actually is sexy and almost endearing in some scenes.
He’s also selfish, manipulative, condescending and spoiled rotten. And very very deadly.
In my current WIP—the follow-on book to HOPE’S FOLLY and one which I, quite uncharacteristically, can NOT seem to come up with a title for—in this current WIP it feels like I’m going to have two rather self-contained antagonists. Oh, there’s still the Evil Empire looming in the background. But I want to have real faces to put on the conflict.
That means creating two characters as in-depth as I do my protagonists.
Don’t you always do that, Linnea? You ask.
Uh, no. I don’t.
See, let me explain something about writing cross-genre romance, and science fiction romance in general.
Every novel anyone writes has a plot (or should have). In a mystery novel, for example, it’s the whodunit. There’s the cop or agent or PI. There’s the mystery (the dead body, the missing necklace, the kidnapped grandmother). There’s the bad guy. The conflict is clearly between the cop and the bad guy over whatever the mystery element is. In a fantasy novel, there’s the prince, the kingdom to be saved, and the fire-breathing dragon who wants to toast the town. Literally.
Okay, I’m being simplistic but I hope you get the drift.
When you write cross-genre and/or science fiction romance, things get more complicated. You have the adventure or mystery plotline (can the destitute starfreighter captain rescue her friend from the evil alien kidnappers?) and the romance plotline (can the destitute starfreighter captain risk having her heart broken by the imperious military officer who’s help she needs to rescue her friend from the evil alien kidnappers?). Falling in love in the midst of the mystery complicates things. You essentially have two parallel plotlines to construct, work with and solve. (And yes, I’m obliquely dealing with my FINDERS KEEPERS plotline here.) You have the adventure plot. You have the romance plot. You have the emotional conflict between the hero and heroine in the romance plot. You have the physical conflict between the hero/heroine and the bad guy in the adventure part of the plot.
For a good part of your book, your hero or heroine may actually also function as antagonist as well as protagonist, in addition to your book’s other antagonist in the form of the bad guy.
(Think that’s bad, you should have seen me struggling with GAMES OF COMMAND in which I had two sets of hero/heroines with romance plots to solve AND both male protagonists had valid issues where they could also be functioning as undercover agents for the over-arcing antagonist of the Evil Empire AND on top of that I had to have some actual “has a face” antagonists…phew! And people wonder why authors drink…)
So the author of any cross-genre romance essentially must do twice the work of any solo-genre author in constructing characters, conflict and plot.
Didn’t realize that, did you? (And—more food for thought—we must do it in the same word count allotted to solo-genre books. So we have to do twice the story in the same amount of space. And you wonder why authors drink…)
What I find happens with me is that after roughing out my protagonists in the romance part of the story—and figuring out how they’ll be antagonists to each other for a period of the book—I’m fresh out of ideas for a self-contained antagonist who will come up against my hero and heroine. Just to make life more difficult.
As I said (whined) to Susan Grant on the phone: can’t we just have Generic Bad Guy? Does he or she have to have motivations? Can’t he just be BAD?
Nope. You need a face on conflict.
Susan had one great suggestion: look to the news. The media is full of bad guy stories, from politics in any given country to the pirates in the shipping lanes over in the Middle East, from which to craft an antagonist. Real life examples exist all around us. Greed afloat, in the latter case. A little research into current events—and reading the news analysis of same—can give you a lot of background with which to plop into your antagonist’s character chart.
The other—for me—is simply to do a character chart for the antagonist(s). I’ve really not done them before—at least, not in any detail. (IE: in AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS I knew what motivated Rigo and Blass at that point at which they appear, but I didn’t know anything about their histories.) Writing Del in SHADES changed all that.
So for me, putting a face on my conflict now means going far more in depth on my “adventure plotline” antagonist than I have before. It means doing a lot of backstory that will not show up in the book other than as motivations. It means forcing myself to give the antagonists some likeable characteristics. I read somewhere, “Remember: the bad guy is the hero in his own mind” and that thought is really what sparked Del and what I hope sparks the baddies in my current WIP.
That doesn’t mean at all that the Evil Empire as antagonist is wrong. For a lot of books—many of which I’ve written—that’s exactly where and what the baddie needs to be. Sometimes the greater threat must really feel greater and all-encompassing. Sometimes one bad-ass dude with a laser pistol just ain’t enough.
But when you need a self-contained bad guy, Susan’s suggestions of starting with news articles (or even history—if she has time to post I’ll let her relate the story about Hitler she told me) is a good jumping off point for your creativity.
Then spend some time working with that character’s backstory, as deeply as you do for your protagonists. Get in to the antagonist’s “But I’m a Hero too!” mindset.
It may not make your book any easier to write. But it will definitely make it more fun.
Chaz, Del is not the problem you perceive him to be.
Let’s see. He ambushes me on Narfial, blocks you, wanted to neutralize Marsh and then locks you away from me in some mystical woo-woo place that used to be a shuttle bay. In between all that, he has an annoying habit of calling me “angel” and “lover,” walks a very thin line between harmless flirtation and practiced seduction, and then has the balls to say I’m touchy. I have no idea why I think he’s a problem.