We talked about sidekicks back in June. How about an antagonist, the opposite of the supportive sidekick? Let’s distinguish antagonists from villains, because one doesn’t necessarily include the other (and we’ll cover villains next week). The Writer and Proud blog cites google dictionary’s definition of antagonist: “A person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone.” The villain, perhaps obviously, is the one who does the deed, and is often an antagonist. But the hostile person in opposition doesn’t have to be the murderer. “Antagonists are characterized by simple opposition. An antagonist is not necessarily evil, he merely has opposing actions, thoughts, motives, etc. to (in a story) the protagonist. The term does not say anything at all about the actual personality of the character. It is simply a plot role.”
They go on to say, “There are antagonists who aren’t villains. They oppose the protagonist, but they aren’t evil. …Elsa from Frozen … and Inspector Javert from Les Miserables are a few examples. None of them are evil in their motives, but all provide a major conflict with the protagonist.”
So, Wickeds, what are the elements of an antagonist, particularly a continuing character of that type? Why do you want one in your series? What makes him or her somebody our readers want to keep reading about, even if reluctantly? How does the antagonist play off the protagonist? Who are the antagonists in your books, and why? Go!
Barb: The antagonist in the Maine Clambake Mysteries is Julia Snowden’s brother-in-law, Sonny Ramsey. I wanted Sonny to oppose the updates Julia wants to make to save the clambake from financial ruin. He’s not a bad person. He’s a conservative with a small “c” (and probably a capital C–though I haven’t explored that), who wants to preserve the past, which with a traditional experience like a clambake is not an entirely bad thing. Complicating the relationship, Sonny is the husband of Julia’s much loved sister and the father of her niece, so even as Julia fights with him, he will always be family. In book 6, Sonny and Julia find themselves on the same side of an issue, opposed by Julia’s mom and sister, which is a new experience for all of them.
Sherry: When I was writing the proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries I thought a lot about how to change things up. One of the ways I did this was by making Sarah’s ex-husband, CJ, the chief of police in the small town they both live in. Instead of having a sidekick in law enforcement that will help her, she has a police force that won’t feed her information.
Liz: I ended up with a police antagonist too – but with a bit of a twist. State Police Trooper Jessie Pasquale is Jake McGee’s sister – and Jake is Stan’s new love interest since moving to town. Jessie is prickly and doesn’t trust Stan at first. As time goes on they develop a better relationship, but Jessie is always giving Stan a hard time about the dead bodies she keeps stumbling across.
Julie:This is such a great question! I do have antagonists in my series, like Beckett Green who owns the bookstore across the street. Am pondering a couple of more for the next book. Antagonists are important, and lots of fun to write.
Edith: In the Country Store Mysteries, local police officer Buck Bird is pretty friendly with Robbie, but the state police detective who appears starting in book two definitely is not. She plays by the book, does not want Robbie’s help, and provides the kind of tension any good story needs.
With my Quaker midwife Rose Carroll in 1888, Detective Kevin Donovan starts out an antagonist but eventually grows to accept Rose’s tips and what she hears. But because she’s a Quaker woman and by definition an outsider, a number of local residents act as antagonists: they think she’s odd, talks funny, and is too independent – including her beau’s mother.
Jessie: Antagonists can be a great deal of fun to write. One thing I like to use them for is to prompt self-reflection and growth in my protagonists. Instead of wallowing in anger or irritattion because of the antagonist, my main characters take action to either change or to firm up their own position.
I think readers enjoy them because we all have had people in our lives we wish we didn’t and when a reader sees that in the protagonist’s life it helps forge a connection to the main character.
Readers: Favorite antagonists? Writers: how do you work antagonists into your stories?