I have trouble with antagonists.  The minute I start to invent somebody mean or unethical I start reforming him/her and soon I’ve got Fred or Flora Fly-Right and, oops, no conflict.  My “yes but” mechanism kicks in too soon and I’m explaining and excusing some manipulating, self-involved liar because said baddie was bullied in preschool.  I can’t seem to sustain antagonism long enough to impact on my protagonist. 


         When a writer does a good job with a bad guy I’m in awe.  In Ursula K LeGuin’s Gifts we meet a father who lies to his son, in a particularly devastating way.  His motivation for the lie is a complicated combination of fear, love, pride and a feeling of responsibility for his community.  To make this even more nuanced, we’re not really sure how deliberate the lie is.  Possibly neither is he.

         This kind of delicious, subtle conflict makes me feel as though I’m functioning at a kind of Goofus and Gallant worldview.  Remember Goofus and Gallant from Highlights magazine?

         While I’m waiting for enlightenment maybe I should  just experiment with monsters.  Here’s an inspiring abecedarium of terrors by the wonderful Tom Gauld.


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One response to “antagonists

  1. Julie Larios

    My top villain: Javert, from Les Miserables (at least the Javert we see in the musical version) because he really is a bad guy, and he doesn’t know it. He is so full of BELIEF in the righteousness of what he’s doing (“…filling the darkness / with order and light…..”) right up to the point he realizes no, he’s not the hero, he’s the villain of this story and jumps from the bridge. You’re right, Sarah – it’s nuance and complexity we want in a villain.

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