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. www.tomgauld.com