Scroll down for the article, which is great! I still haven’t got this completely figured out, but hang in there…I will.
Chuck is the author of the published novels: Blackbirds, Mockingbird, Under the Empyrean Sky, Blue Blazes, Double Dead, Bait Dog, Dinocalypse Now, Beyond Dinocalypse and Gods & Monsters: Unclean Spirits. He also the author of the soon-to-be-published novels: The Cormorant, Blightborn (Heartland Book #2), Heartland Book #3, Dinocalypse Forever, Frack You, and The Hellsblood Bride. Also coming soon is his compilation book of writing advice from this very blog: The Kick-Ass Writer, coming from Writers Digest.
He, along with writing partner Lance Weiler, is an alum of the Sundance Film Festival Screenwriter’s Lab (2010). Their short film, Pandemic, showed at the Sundance Film Festival 2011, and their feature film HiM is in development with producers Ted Hope and Anne Carey. Together they co-wrote the digital transmedia drama Collapsus, which was nominated for an International Digital Emmy and a Games 4 Change award.
Chuck has contributed over two million words to the game industry, and was the developer of the popular Hunter: The Vigil game line (White Wolf Game Studios / CCP). He was a frequent contributor to The Escapist, writing about games and pop culture.
Much of his writing advice has been collected in various writing- and storytelling-related e-books.
He currently lives in the forests of Pennsyltucky with wife, two dogs, and tiny human.
He is likely drunk and untrustworthy. This blog is NSFW and probably NSFL.
You may reach him at terribleminds [at] gmail [dot] com.
- Holy Shit, Free Stories
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And the madness of toddlers. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.
25 Things You Should Know About Antagonists
1. Real People With People Problems
Antagonists are just people. Er, unless they’re insane sex-bots, sentient washing machines, serial killer dinosaurs, or hyper-intelligent window treatments. But even then, we need to treat them like people. People with wants, needs, fears, motivations. People with families and friends and their own enemies. They’re full-blooded, full-bodied characters. They’re not single-minded villains twirling greasy mustaches.
2. Meaning, They’re Not Just Fuel For The Plot Engine
Character is the driver. Plot is the getaway car. Character drives plot; plot does not drive character. The antagonist isn’t just here as a rock in the stream diverting the plot-churned waters — he does not exist in service to a sequence of events but rather, he exists to change them, sway them, turn them to a sequence he wants — a sequence that stands in opposition to the protagonist. For opposition is key.
3. Like I Just Said, Opposition Is Key
Jeez, weren’t you paying attention? EYES ON ME, SOLDIER. Anyway. The antagonist opposes the protagonist. Theirs are clashing motivations. They possess needs and wants that exist in defiance of one another. The protagonist wants to free the slaves; the antagonist wants to keep them and the power they provide. The protagonist wants to rescue the hostages; the antagonist wants to keep the hostages, or worse, kill ‘em. The protagonist wants a chalupa; the antagonist has stolen ALL THE CHALUPAS. The antagonist can oppose the main character directly, seeking to undo her efforts; or the antagonist can oppose her indirectly, coming at the story at an oblique angle (but still clashing with our protagonist character). But the point is the same no matter how you slice it: the antagonist stands in the way of the protagonist’s goals.
4. I Like Kittens, You Punch Kittens, Now We Fight!
The antagonist is the foil of the protagonist in the very fabric of his character, too — theirs are contrasting personas. At the simplest level, this is heroism versus villainy, but can (and should) go deeper than that. The protagonist is a drunk; the antagonist is a proponent of clean living. The protagonist is a rational woman; the antagonist is a religious zealot. The protagonist likes Batman, PBS, and whiskey. The antagonist likes Spider-Man, telenovelas, and Zima. Character traits existing in disharmony. Thesis, antithesis.
5. Like Krishna, Except A Total Jerkoff
The antagonist is the avatar of conflict. He causes it. His character embodies it. The antagonist is there to push and pull the sequence of events into an arrangement that pleases him. He makes trouble for the protagonist. He is the one upping the stakes. He is the one changing the game and making it harder.
6. Antagonists Think They’re The Protagonists
The antagonist is the hero in his own story. In fact, your story’s protagonist is the antagonist’s antagonist. BOOM DID I BLOW YOUR MIND? People who do bad things often justify their own actions as being somehow positive — Hitler wasn’t just a troll on an international scale. He thought he was the savior of mankind and that his deeply shitty agenda was justified. This isn’t to say that the antagonist’s desires must be noble (“I had to kill all those people to save the orphanage!”), only that he will have convinced himself of his own nobility. The antagonist thinks he’s right. And doing the right thing. Even when it’s awful.
7. Evil For The Sake Of Evil Is Yawntastic, Snoretacular
Antagonists who do evil just to do evil are basically big fucking cartoons. They’re Snidely Whiplash. They’re Cobra Commander. They’re Pageant Moms, Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh. In other words: boring, unbelievable, and totally untenable. Give them motivations beyond “being the biggest dick I can be.” Yes, you can in certain modes and stories get away with this (see: Batman’s Joker, or nearly any killer in slasher films), but it’s hard, and it puts an even greater weight on the shoulders of the protagonist.
8. The Motivations Of Awful People
Antagonists must possess believable motivations. And a motivation is the thing we tell ourselves — right? A racist doesn’t act just because he thinks people of other races should experience pain. Racism is far more deeply rooted and often glossed over with justifications — they don’t need to be good motivations or healthy ones, but we need to believe in them. Or, at least, we need to believe that the antagonist believes them. Ask yourself: what does the antagonist tell himself? How does he sleep at night?
9. Black Hats, White Hats, Can’t We All Just Get Along?
All villains are antagonists. But not all antagonists are villains. “Villain” is a perfectly suitable character type in many genre stories: the serial killer, the evil wizard, the twinkly-dick vampire, whatever. But real life doesn’t always offer up “bad guys” (though we’d sure like to see it that way, ahemcoughcough DICKCHENEY hackwheeze). Antagonists can (and often should) fall into that gray zone instead of the bullshit black-and-white dichotomy. Want an example? In First Blood, John Rambo is the protagonist and Sheriff Teasle is the antagonist — but Teasle’s not a “bad guy.” Wrong in a lot of ways, but not villainous.
10. Nemeses And Arch-Enemies
Earlier I referenced antagonists that oppose the protagonist directly — as in, the antagonist has a real firm boner when it comes to fucking with the protagonist (“I peed on your bed, kicked over your houseplants, and skunked all your beer! Ha ha ha, eat a dick, Dave! Again I am triumphant!”). An antagonist of this nature is, of course, a nemesis or arch-enemy of the protagonist.
11. Vivisect Your Favorite Antagonists In Pop Culture
You want to know what goes into a good antagonist, look no further than the stories and pop culture properties you love dearly. Why is Hannibal Lecter a great antagonist? Is he? What about Darth Vader, Voldemort, Khan, Gollum, Norman Bates, Hans Gruber, Annie Wilkes, Prince Zuko, Marlo Stanfield, the Cobra Kai Sensei John Kreese, the monkey from Monkey Shines, or Rob Schneider?
12. Now Look To Your Own Life
Turn now from pop culture and instead look to your own life. Identify your own personal antagonists. Then realize that these are infinitely more complex and sympathetic than you find in a lot of fiction. Our parents are often our antagonists through our teenage years; but they don’t start that way and they often don’t end that way. And oh what a powerful and valuable lesson that is. Now, take it one step further: try to see if you’ve ever been somebody’s antagonist. Surely you have? Your parents probably saw you as one. A teacher, maybe. A forgotten friend. A bullied kid. A sibling. Bring what you discover there into your storytelling. Find the complexity within the antagonist; we don’t need sympathy for the antagonists necessarily, but we demand empathy. If we cannot understand them, then we will not believe in them. More on that soon.
13. Write From Within The Enemy Camp
Write from the antagonist’s point-of-view. Maybe this is something that goes into the story itself, or maybe it’s just an exercise betwixt you and yourownself. But you gotta get all up in them guts, son. You have to wear the antagonist’s skin and use his mind like a helmet. Unpleasant, perhaps, but necessary.
14. Holding Hands With Monsters
We need to sit with the antagonist, too — as the audience, we may not need to, erm, “get all up in them guts,” but we do need time spent with the antagonist for them to bloom as a fully-formed figure in our mind. Give us time with the antagonist away from the main character so that we can see who they are, what they want, why they do what they do. Force us to babysit the monster.
15. Over-Powered Is Under-Interesting
God-like uber-antagonists who never lose and who know everything there is to know and who are forever one step ahead of the game are just as dull as a protagonist who features the same over-powered qualities. (Worse, an antagonist of this particular caliber must often be trumped on a technicality.) It’s called “a game of cat-and-mouse,” not “a game where the mouse goes up against an orbital laser built by Jesus.” Though, now that I say that out loud, I’m pretty sure my next book will prominently feature a Jesus-built orbital laser. Dibs! DIBS. I called dibs. Get away from that idea or I’ll stab you with a barbecue fork.
16. (But We Won’t Buy “Under-Powered,” Either)
The antagonist has to be a real challenge, just the same. Weak-kneed noodle-spined dumb-fuck antagonists need not apply. Give the protagonist something to do. A believable foe goes a long way, especially one that has some advantage over our main character — we want to worry that the antagonist can’t be beaten. Not because he’s a hyper-powered god-like genius, but because he’s just that much smarter, stronger, and more capable than our hero. Lack of antagonistic power means a lack of tension. So, uhh, don’t do that.
17. Still Abide By The Rules And Laws Of The Storyworld
The protagonist must work within the storyworld — the antagonist must, too. All the characters are chained to the world you create. The antagonist may exploit the storyworld, may circumvent the rules in some fashion, but it is not in ignorance of those rules as much as a character-driven contravention of them.
18. Chatty Cathy Clip Your Strings
“Ahh, Mister James Q. Clark Kent Bondwalker, Jr. — now that I have you dangling over a pit of a starveling toddlers covered in the bloody marrow-jam of the bones of their gummed-to-death opponents, let me bore you with the the entire breadth and depth of my plan! I will share for you my motivations, my weaknesses, and give for you a glimpse of my end-game. Do I expect you to talk, Mister Bondwalker? No. I expect you to die. And, failing that, I expect you to use my confession against me at a later date because that’s what the Villain Manual suggests is most likely to happen.” Get done with chatty tell-don’t-show antagonists. No more villains who over-share expository details. Ugh.
19. Freak Me Out By Forcing Me To Emotionally Connect
Once, just once, put me on the same page as the antagonist. He can be vile as fuck — a kitten-kicker, a baby-puncher, a drives-too-slow-in-the-left-lane, ejaculates-in-coin-return-slots kind of dude. But then, make me connect with him: something he does, something he believes, should be something I would do, something I believe. Or connect me to his past — help me understand why he jizzes on public phones and karate-chops puppies. Empathy is powerful stuff. Connect me to the protagonist and I identify with his struggle. Connect me with the antagonist and I identify — even if in a fleeting way — with his villainy.
Worth noting: just as you can have multiple main characters, you can have multiple antagonists. An ensemble of opponents works — it just requires balance to make sure they all get enough story-time.
The antagonist can have an arc. Should have an arc, actually. An antagonist doesn’t start at Point A and end at Point A. He changes and grows (or sometimes shrinks), same as the protagonist. Don’t assume the antagonist needs to be a static, unswerving face of conflict — have his character shift with changing conditions, have his madness deepen, his hatred or pain worsen, his zealotry catch like a grease-fire.
21. Ideas And Institutions And Other Non-Charactery Antagonists
An antagonist needn’t actually be a character — an antagonist can be an idea (“racism”), an institution (“the CIA”), a natural force (“Another Paul Blart movie”). Zombies probably count as this sort of antagonist — they’re relatively faceless and on par with a hurricane or disease. Just the same, antagonism always deserves the face of some character — a character championing an idea (dragon-wizard poo-bah of the KKK!), working for the institution (callous field agent!), or complicating the natural force (Kevin James!).
23. The “Kick The Cat” Moment
In Blake Snyder’s books, he speaks of giving the hero a “Save the Cat” moment — meaning, we get to rally behind the protagonist early on as we get to see just what he’s capable of because, y’know, he rescues the cat from the tree (metaphorically). Antagonists need the reverse: one requires a “Kick the Cat” moment (see also: “Detonate the Puppy,” “Machine Gun the Dolphin,” or “Force the Baby Seal to Watch a Marathon of the Real Houswives of Fucking Anywhere Ever” moment). We need to see just why the antagonist is the antagonist — show us an act that reveals for us the depths of his trouble-making, his hatred, his perversion of the ethical laws and social mores of man.
24. Let The Antagonist Win
Let the antagonist win. Maybe not at the end, but periodically, throughout. Let him break Batman’s back, or kill a hostage, or take all the toilet paper off the roll and *crash of thunder* fail to replace it.
25. Love To Hate, Hate To Love
If you ignore everything else I wrote here (and for all I know, you will, you sonofabitch) then at least absorb this with your squirming storytelling cilia: the biggest and best test of an antagonist is that I want to a) love to hate them and/or b) hate to love them. Do either or both and it’s a major win. If you make me love them and I feel uncomfortable about that? You win. If you make me despise them and I love despising them the way a dog loves to roll around in roadkill? You win again. I hate that I love Hans Gruber. I love that I hate every Nazi in every Indiana Jones movie. For fuck’s sake, make me feel something.
Want another hot tasty dose of dubious writing advice aimed at your facemeats?
- Bronson O’Quinn
Number 12 just blew my mind. I think I just hit some repressed memories and need to get serious help.
And how do you feel about stories where the antagonist isn’t necessarily a character but an environment or force of nature? Do you think these can hold up, or does that not count as an antagonist at all?
- Jason Krell
Here’s a question for you Chuck,
So in a series I’m working on, the FINAL antagonist could possibly violate rule 15, or at least comes close to violating it. In this case he is physically (or I guess you could say sci-fi-magically) powerful, but I mitigate that by making him have mental and emotional weaknesses and constraining him within society. He may be able to level a city, for example, but if he doesn’t know the city or he doesn’t want the bad press that leveling the city would bring, he’s powerless.
Another issue is that he’s present from the beginning of the series. For a long time he’s supposed to play the part of mentor to the protagonist, but when he flips the script it follows logically that the two of them would face off. This would result in a super-dead protagonist way too early, so I fix THAT by giving the antagonist a far bigger problem than the protagonist to deal with, meanwhile sending subordinates to do the job.
Are these believable fixes/acceptable “rule” breaking/motivations in your opinion?
One of my favourite authors (until the last few books, of course, they were rubbish) is Guy Gavriel Kay who writes fantasy stuff; and in “The Lions of Al-Rassan” he does a wonderful shitty annoying thing — he has main characters on opposing sides of the conflict. Each person has heroic aspects and faults, some people are more obviously “good guys” and “bad guys”, but Kay gets you to love people on both sides of the story and then throws them against each other so you don’t know who to root for. Bastard!
Thanks, this one has actually really helped me. My antagonist is currently far too ‘evil for the sake of it’ and obvious, so I know in the rewrites I need to do some serious work into character.
- Anne Lyle
I’m conscious that antagonists are my weak point – I tend to go too far in the opposite direction from “evil for evil’s sake” and have a lot of empathy for them! Also, in my first book, I felt that knowing who the villain was too soon would mean a lot of spoilers, as well as a lot of infodumping – I wanted the reader to discover the enemy’s covert agenda along with the hero.
However the subject of killer villains (pun intended) is something I’m trying to address in future projects…
- R Thomas Allwin
The Jesus-built orbital laser has already been done. Check ‘Revelations’, it’s there…
No, really–it is!
- Sarah Z.
Strangely enough, I have no problem writing antagonists. I follow a lot of your points here, especially in making their beliefs, wants and goals. They all have depth, character, struggles, strengths and weaknesses that define them as people first and bad guys second. My problem was protagonists. I can’t write one that doesn’t sound too good to be true and two dimensional. So I started looking at it from a new angle; write them as antagonists. It’s the only way my hero seems real because hey no one is perfect.
I’m writing a romance novel, and I know that my antagonist is a “force” but I’m not sure it’s definable, or if there’s actually only one antagonistic force keeping the lovers apart, but several. I think that’s okay, but should it be? (Feeling insecure this morning.)
- Stephen Blackmoore
An excellent example of the protagonist / antagonist relationship that covers a lot of these points is Ray banks’ novel SATURDAY’S CHILD.
He alternates between the protagonist’s and antagonist’s points of view and they have such distinct voices that you never lose track.
It’s clear which is which but the lines between protagonist and antagonist get very blurry. It gets into the antagonist’s head as much as the protagonist’s and even though there are moments where you an sympathize with the antagonist, it’s more that you get a really good view into what makes him such a monster.
It’s less sympathy and more understanding.
I just want to say that this:
“Though, now that I say that out loud, I’m pretty sure my next book will prominently feature a Jesus-built orbital laser. Dibs! DIBS. I called dibs. Get away from that idea or I’ll stab you with a barbecue fork.”
pretty much made me glad I wasn’t drinking anything at the time because I started laughing out loud in the middle of work.
Fantastic, funny list, as always.
- Paul Baxter
Jesus is going to be mad when he finds out you’ve been using his orbital laser to cook hot dogs. Again. And use tongs instead, while you’re at it. Barbecue forks poke holes and let the tasty juices out.
- Bronson O’Quinn
#6: Antagonists think they’re the protagonists.
I was thinking of examples where the antagonists actually ARE the protagonists, and the first thing to come to my mind was Frank Grimes from The Simpsons. Seriously, how terrible a person is Homer Simpson?
Also, Walter White.
- Adam Gallardo
Number 6 is like a mantra for me when I’m creating an antagonist. No one thinks they’re the bad guy.
- Tom Sharp
I recently got the novel I am working on appraised by a freelance editor. She said she preferred the antogonist to the protagonist. I can’t work out if that’s a good thing or not.
Behold this post from John August:
“Every Villain Is A Hero.”
- Paul Baxter
@Tom Sharp – is it possible that your antagonist is just more interesting than the protagonist? If so, what can you do to make the protagonist more interesting? A little more complex, more conflicted? Does the protagonist reveal any faults or weaknesses?
As to whether it’s a good thing that your reviewing editor preferred the antagonist to the protagonist, I’d say it’s a good thing if you can figure out what you’re doing in your writing that made that character work better on some level.
Thank-you for adding Prince Zuko in your list of examples in #11! His story arc is one of the best examples of well-paced character development I have ever seen.
Fleshing out antagonist characters is probably my favorite thing to do when writing any story.
- Martin Cahill
Thanks for this post my man, this was really helpful. I’m working on an epic fantasy thing, and my protagonist is technically the antagonist, as far as the rest of the storyworld is concerned. This was really helpful in pointing out some things to keep in mind as I begin to write him and the world he occupies. Guess the question becomes, how do I write a sympathetic character, who, while our pov protagonist, is actually known as the antagonist? Something to keep in mind, I suppose.
Thanks again, godspeed!
- Shiri Sondheimer
What if your antagonist exists purely to be a douchebag and cause pain, but in doing so, turns one or more of the protagonists into his (and her) own antagonist? Legit? Or do I have to start all over again? Again
Poor Dave… He has to eat so many dicks.
There is a local restaurant that has hundreds of thousands of dollar bills stapled to the walls and ceiling. The ones on the ceiling are stapled on a short end, so the rest of the bill hangs down, softly undulating in the breeze. The lighting is low. They serve booze. I inevitably get drunk and paranoid that the restaurant is in fact digesting me with it’s sinister green cilia.
- Mike Manz
“Machine Gun the Dolphin” sounds sooooooo dirty.
More good shit, Chuck — thanks. After reading this, I got a bit worried about my current effort, and then concluded that the antagonist is time…or a lost potential future.
Or I could be fucked up and not really get the whole antagonist thing. But I think I’m good for now.
If I have to destroy the story to save it, I will.
- Casz Brewster
Anyone else have visions of Silence of the Lambs after reading #13?
Thanks again for the digital reminder, Chuck.
- Casz Brewster
Oh and if Stephen Blackmore could get any more cool points in my tally — he referenced Ray Banks. /swoon.
- AJ Bradley
#14: “Give us time with the antagonist away from the main character…” How do I do this if my WIP is in 1stPOV?
- Iain Stevens-Guille
@ #1. “Unless they’re the Joker.”
- Iain Stevens-Guille
@#7, Not that a good story couldn’t be told about the Cobra Commander, or Rush Limbaugh, or the Cobra Commander fighting Rush Limbaugh on the back of a giant Iguanodon… next flash fiction?
- Gary Pettigrew
#15 Underpoweredis more interesting…. Look at the two top Comic Book villains; The Joker and Lex Luthor. No powers. Average Joe Lex Luthor has been outwitting the all-powerful Superman for decades.
That’s kind of my fear. In my current work, the Antagonist is just fucking awesome. The protagonist is rather…milquetoast. I”m still on first draft, so I can fix that. But don”t let it get you down.
Maybe–oh, hell, this is a great idea–maybe the Protagonist needs to step up his game. Get his hands dirty. Get angry. Cross the line. Sink to the Antagonist’s level–even a little.
I think it’ll work for mine. I hope it works for yours. I’m glad we had this talk.
- M. Chapman
Heh, I have to admit I do learn a lot from this blog.
The truth is I’m in fact an immature 17 year old kid dreaming big at the moments, but reading your blog, Chuck, has helped me develop so much more than I’ve ever imagined. I thank you for that.
And yes I know in the past I’ve sent you hopelessly immature and unacceptable content before, but I am just immature at heart, sorry. Although yes I’ve grown a lot since I last commented here I will, for my own good resist commenting here unless it’s 100% useful, so I bid you Adoo for now and I will hope I can learn much more from this blog in the future.
I wish you further success in your writing career and I hope to see more gems from you in the future.
- M. Chapman
But something more on-topic. When making major characters I try to treat them all like they could be a main charcter in another book, not just some undevelped flat charceters you see for two seconds. Although a story requires a lot of them, too, the main “core” characters (typically including the hero, his family, and of course, the villain) that a novel spends most of its time focusing on I feel like should receive almost equal development, second to only th main charcter, as, well you can’t have help but develop him or her more than everyone else. I’m experimenting with this new littleidea of mine where I have a book focus on multiple main characters, both on opposite sides of a war, both looking simply to further their own gains, and neither really that much better than the other. Because in real life there really are very few bad guys that do bad simply because they feel like it. They all have their own agenda and merely want the best for themselves. And honestly with America, the supposedly “good” guys in the world doing horrific things in our long history, you can’t help but think who, if anyone, really is the “good” guys in the world.
- Stevie B
Hahah great article
Concerning #[email protected]… Except for the drill sergeants in basic (necessary), and some drunk rednecks after I moved from NY to NC as a teenager, I don’t think I have ever had any antagonists. There was that one guy in Panama City (Central America not Florida) who, while I was walking from the casino to the bordello, wanted to deposit a knife in my gut and withdraw my wallet (they have different kinds of atm down there), but I don’t think he had anything against me personally (btw, I kept my wallet and still have his knife).
Of course, I have always wanted, and hoped for, something more than an antagonist… a nemesis or an arch enemy but that has never materialized. I mean there was that time in west Philly back in the early ’80s when I was running numbers for an Irish group of gentlemen. Things kind of went badly and they somehow got it in their heads that I had something to do with it (completely unfounded, I assure you) so I went and spent four or seven months in the SE of England and Brittany in France.
Other than that, I can’t say I have had much experience with antagonists unless you move to the metaphorical realm in which case Death does keep trying to kill me but after falling off a mountain (sort of, there was one last tree before the precipice), being buried underwater, having a parachute collapse above me, and being shot at by a different red neck while water skying he has given up and is waiting for me to die a slow death of boredom.
This has inspired me. I think I’ll go out and get into an argument this evening. Hegel’s foolishness is always a great place to start. All I read is fiction and I have worked my whole life to create a good story. My youth and agility are gone and all I have now are wit and experience. Live life until you can’t do it anymore!
- Musings in Red
Well, you were right! Number 6 most definitely DID BLOW MY MIND!! :))
This is one of the best posts I’ve seen in a long time. Incredible! Thanks for the amazing info! It’s remarkable how much you managed to fit in only 25 points! Some people would have spread this same info into an entire book!
- Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson
Fantastic post. I have seen versions before. I’m trying to figure out what my WIP needs and I think it is what Kristen Lamb suggested I do and I see you’ve got it here. I need to write from the POV from my antagonist a bit. She is tough — critical and judgmental towards her daughter and sometimes toward her grandchildren. I have to make her meaner. And that will force the protagonist to get stronger faster. Or something to happen faster. I have to kill some backstory for sure.
Thnk you. This is painful stuff, but it needs to be done.
- Michael Grant
I’m really bummed out because I thought of the Jesus orbital laser, like, a week ago, all on my own, but now that I see you’ve penned my thought AND claimed dibs (twice) I am compelled to inform you that you, sir, have become my authortorial antagonist. I am duly conflicted, however, because I LOVE what you write—so now you’ve accomplished #25, too. You are a cruel genius, Mr. Wendig. I respect you and I fear your power. So let’s find a quiet resolution: you stop nipping at my dreams and I’ll continue writing until somebody notices. Yes, it’s a win-win for me, because, er, I’m the protagonist in this paragraph. MG
This was awesome. Thanks!
Antagonists are my real bane! This blog entry helped me think some thing through. Thanks a lot! I think it really helped! I got to jotting some stuff down and it got my juices flowing. Maybe I worked some stuff out. Maybe, until I get scared again. Isn’t that sort of funny. I’m scared of my antagonist, and I haven’t even written him yet. lol
This was incredibly funny and enlightening. I’m currently trying to make the antagonist the person the main character is trying to protect.
There i was searching for a way to make my antagonist better…that is, as soon as i could think up one…and by George, thanks to you I’m overflowing with ideas. You’ve saved my camp NaNoWriMo word count and my sanity. I am not worthy!
- Darreck W. Kirby
Excellent blog. Thoroughly entertaining and informative. Well done, sir. Well done. Subscribed.
You. I like you.
This was a terribly entertaining and informative read. Now I’m off to twirl my moustachio, adjust my monocle and get my writing glands juicy.
You had me at ‘insane sex-bots’
- Lauryn Doll
this Entire piece was awesome… and gave so much richness to my thoughts as I develop my novel.
- mary schofield
Is it possible for a protagonist and antagonist to join forces against a worse antagonist?
- Mm 64
Walter White is a good example of protagonist turned antagonist.
Okay, I went and googlified an idea for an antagonist, found this, and after reading I realized just how much of a MISTAKE that would have been. I never thought about an antagonist or villain being personalized to a main character, but thank heavens I’ve seen the metaphorical light! Now I’ve got an idea for an antagonist that is going to make me want to cry while writing it. With any luck it will have the same effect for my readers!
I love antagonists that you agree with, like Alice Morgan in Luther (TV series) cos she kills her parents and she’s really quite sick but I FUCKING LOVE HER!! She’s witty and clever, and ends up being friends with the protagonist, Luther. But even then it’s understood that she’s not a ‘good person’. I think this is bloody brilliant, it’s a giant ‘fuck you’ to white hats vs black hats and I adore that.
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- L.L. Akers on The Word Doctor Is In
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Here are some recent additions to my list of free resources. Definitely worth a look …
From Romance University, two very informative and useful posts about choosing and using an editor.
Free software, including a Word plugin. I haven’t used these yet, so can’t recommend, but they look very interesting.
Protecting your family’s rights to your creative product, from a major author
Two good posts about common errors. I agree with the first, but think authors still need to be more careful than most.
Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I make it a practice to Tweet interesting, useful and insightful blog posts that I discover during my daily research to stay current with the latest in writing, editing and publishing.
My favorite resource, a very lively discussion group called Indie Romance Ink (there’s a link to sign up on the Resources page), frequently goes through cycles of discussion about editors.
Most recently, one author reported that s/he is paying $1/$1.50 a page – which, if it’s a normal, double-spaced, 12 pt Courier, 250-word manuscript page, is an amazing bargain.
One of the challenges in choosing editing services is that they can range from $0.004 ($1 a page) to $0.08 a word ($20 a page) and more. And more expensive isn’t necessarily better.
Since I’ve seen quite a few very useful blog posts in the past day or two about choosing an editor, and about getting your manuscript ready for one, I decided to share a bit of the bounty with my site visitors.
But first, a plug for the resources at Indie Romance Ink, a priceless group of smart, generous and well-informed authors: there are a number of highly-regarded editors (and proofreaders, cover designers, and more) in IRI’s database under “Freelance Services.” I recommend checking them out.
Now, the links:
When Is It Time to Hire an Editor, from Romance University, not only discusses when, but also offers nitty-gritty details about what to expect, and what options you have, as well as the steps to take to be sure you’re getting a good match.
An especially good pair of blog posts for first-time authors about the editing process, from soldier & author Kevin Hanrahan:
A great one about the basics of good writing craft, from one of the best tips & tricks sites I know, and I can tell you from experience that if you have these basics down pat, your editor will ADORE you:
I also regularly Tweet blog posts of useful advice from other editors and authors (I don’t have time to blog these days <g>). If you want more information to help you find the right editor, you can follow my Tweets at @demonfordetails.
Hope this is helpful!
It is my extreme pleasure to turn the microphone over this time to editor, publisher and popular columnist Zetta Brown. After reading this on another blog site, I immediately went racing (via email, since she lives across the Atlantic) to see if she’d let me share it with my visitors.
Here it is! Think you’ll enjoy her pull-no-punches style and sly humor and as much as I do.
Language is not static. Language evolves over time. Words come en vogue (or are invented) and some words become passé or archaic. As language changes, so do the “rules” of its use.
For example: someone says to you that “every sentence ends with a period and that rule will never change.”
Oh, really? That’s news to me! Sentences can end with a question mark, an exclamation point, or even with a colon.
“Never start a sentence with a conjunction.”
But why not? This can be a personal preference or a “house rule” for a publisher or publication, but it is not a law, and if you break it you do not go to jail. My husband, who also edits, follows this rule but I don’t. We still manage to have a happy, loving marriage despite this difference in our editing preference.
“Sentence fragments are wrong.”
Baloney. What kind of writing are you doing? I would say this is true for academic and business writing, but in fiction writing, sentence fragments are allowed and even encouraged.
“I write like this because it’s my style.”
Well, if your “style” is crap—mission accomplished! Don’t take this prima donna attitude when trying to define your “style” to your confused, long-suffering editor. Your editor may know more about grammar and punctuation than you do, but that doesn’t absolve you, as the writer, from your responsibility to learn the elements of fiction writing and the rules of grammar and punctuation.
“OK, Miss Know-It-All-Editor. One minute you say it’s fine to break the rules and the next minute you say I have to follow them. Just what are you trying to tell me?”
My point is simple. Before you break the rules, you must know the rules. Relying on the spelling/grammar check on your computer does not count. A word processing program cannot tell the difference between your writing “style” and the grammar and punctuation “rules” coded in its program.
When it comes to writing fiction, a lot of the rules we learned (or should have learned) in school can be bent, stretched, and even broken. A competent author will do this to create a certain effect or mood. Unless you know these rules, you won’t know the ones you can use and the ones you can do without.
If you want to be successful (i.e., published), and have editors love you, take time to learn the grammar and punctuation rules of your language. And don’t call them “rules;” call them nuances, because by applying certain nuances of grammar or the use of one form of punctuation over another, your writing will have more depth and more meaning.
Yet, despite all of this, I think there is one rule we can all agree upon that gives us hope when it comes to the sins and transgressions made in the editing and writing process.
On David, Goliath, Politics and the Environment
I love books. For decades I have read an average of three to five books a week and my walls are lined with bookcases. But, while I will always treasure every pristine or tattered member of my vast and precious book collection, I have happily joined the growing legions of ebook buyers for almost all my reading.
Why? To start with, I was born without a patience gene, and ebooks provide instant gratification. I don’t have to leave the house, rummage through a bookstore (used or new) or the library, wait for delivery, or get on a waiting list to borrow a solitary copy. When I’m lusting after a new book, why, zip, zap, zop and I can start reading. What’s not to love?
Another important reason is environmental. I’m a lifelong tree hugger, and after decades of worrying about my part in creating worldwide deforestation, I can assure myself that my ebook purchases are saving trees. And many agree that if you read more than four or five books a year, it is greener to use ebooks.
But to me the very best reason to buy ebooks is political.
I am convinced that the world has embarked on a cycle of change which could well shift the balance of power from large multinational corporations to the little guy. And ebooks, and the indie/self-publishing movement that ebooks have made possible, are right out there on the leading edge, just ahead of Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.
No matter how our work gets published, though, in order to compete successfully, our books need to be as professional, literate, compelling and error-free as anything put out by the Big 6 publishing giants. And, to put it bluntly, right now a painfully large number of self-published books simply don’t make the grade. The other painful fact is that these days the Big 6’s books often aren’t looking as polished and professional we we’ve come to expect.
Nevertheless, the Big 6 publishers, via several of their authors, are capitalizing on the fact that a lot of indie books are published carelessly and too soon by making a lot of interview and blog noise about poor ebook quality. So far there’s enough truth in what they’re saying to potentially affect your ebook sales.
Until recently, readers seemed willing to tolerate sloppy editing or poor character and plot development when a book cost $0.99 to $3.99, but I’ve been noticing more and more online reader reviews complaining about these things. They’re also much more likely to simply quit reading and delete a $0.99 or $3.99 book when grammatical errors and poor story development get too annoying. And there go your repeat sales.
The ebook transformation of the publishing industry is shaping up to be a David and Goliath confrontation, and self-publishing authors need to follow the example of book-loving indie publishers and keep the following thought in mind:
If you don’t have size and advanced weaponry in your favor, be sure you are really, really good at using a slingshot.
This means, among other things, that you need to get your criticism before you publish, not after.
Even if you’re really good at catching problems when you read books or critique fellow authors’ work, being your own (and only) editor is like being your own lawyer. Don’t!
If you can find a way to budget for it, it’s not hard to find good professional editors–either developmental editors who work with you on character and plot development while checking for technical problems, or copy/line editors, usually less expensive, who will make sure your book is free of errors.
A lot of editors of both kinds are fellow authors who are excited about the changing face of publishing and have a sense of mission, as I do, about supporting self-publishers.
If you’re working on a severely limited budget, though, you have alternatives.
There are very helpful self-editing classes , workshops and books out there. Romantic Times and Romance Writers of America offer good classes, to name just two.
If you go that route, then you’ll also want–and need–a respected literary editing reference book, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Gregg Reference Manual. Preferably both. And you’ll need to stay current with the ever-evolving trends and tropes of your genre or niche.
And while friends and family, and even local English majors, could be an important part of your book’s growth, never, ever leave the your published work’s professional success solely in their hands.
Critique groups of writers, and fellow authors who are willing to be beta readers, are usually very important to a book’s development, whether you’re struggling with your first book or published many times over. And if you’re depending on your beta readers to make that all-important final read-through for accuracy and overall excellence, be sure they know it.
Conventional wisdom says that agents and editors will stop reading submitted manuscripts when they’ve discovered only three errors.
Readers might be a bit more tolerant, but if you’re building a career as an author, why take the chance? Show those precious people who pay for your book just how much you respect and appreciate them! Invest as much in correct use of the language, and in cleaning up other errors, as you do in developing your plot, characters and author voice.
This reader, to name just one, will be very grateful!
Sounds crazy, huh? What do commas have to do with you readers? A lot.
Recently the Indie Romance Ink online discussion group for self-publishing romance authors (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IndieRomanceInk/) had an intense discussion about commas.
Don’t laugh. This is important stuff!
Rousing discussions are common in that group, but they’re usually about more technical issues, such as uploading to Kobo, has Amazon paid anyone else yet, where do you find good editors or cover artists, is there any kind of publicity that’s guaranteed effective, can anyone recommend a good iTunes formatter … that kind of thing.
Besides learning everything I could possibly want to know about various reader/writers’ pet punctuation peeves, I learned one important thing from that discussion.
Authors, especially those of us who write fiction, no longer have the comfort of falling back on hard and fast rules about commas, semicolons and prepositional phrases. There’s even disagreement about passive voice and adverbs. And complete sentences? Well … it really depends.
Written communication is rapidly evolving. Rules, written and assumed, can be startlingly different, depending on what medium you’re using, or what genre you’re writing.
If you’re writing for a publisher, of course you’ll be given a detailed style guide which includes their punctuation preferences. Otherwise, you’re on your own. And yet you still have to worry about getting dinged in reviews by picky readers.
Confusing, right? Not if you follow this rule:
Don’t distract your readers with mechanics.
At a minimum, you need read enough other authors in your chosen niche or genre to stay current with the norms and conventions, understand the tropes and cliches, and be aware of reader expectations. For example, there are marked stylistic differences which separate urban fantasy, paranormal, steampunk, chick lit, erotica and straight romance.
And since they’re your readers, unless you’re with a publisher who specializes in your genre, don’t expect your editor to know as much about these subtleties as you should.
Write so your readers don’t think about punctuation, aren’t stopped by commas or lack of them, don’t get annoyed when something is inaccurate or misspelled. Write so the mechanics are invisible.
Invisible mechanics can be accomplished two ways (and ideally you’ll do both).
First (of course), write a story full of compelling characters driven by a great plot which keeps readers riveted right through to the last paragraph. Keep them so busy finding out what happens next that they don’t even think to look for things to criticize.
Second, pay attention to the rules and trends which affect your genre or niche, and to accurate spelling, facts and consistency. Either you or your editor (preferably both of you in a team effort) should be knowledgeable enough to avoid doing anything to distract readers from your story.
As author L. j. Charles says: “It has to be correct and so familiar that they don’t actually ‘see’ it.”
Which means: Know thy reader.