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Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Apples and Antagonists

Apples and Antagonists

Picture an apple.

‘Tis red, yes? Red, fairly constant in color, fairly normal in size and definitely normal in shape.

Congratulations. You’ve just pictured a stereotype. While sometimes quite lovely, stereotypes not only lack variation; they lack personality. Of course, for apples, this isn’t much of a problem. When it comes to things we’re going to eat, personality is not high on the qualifications list.

When it comes to antagonists, though, personality makes it pretty high. And yet, oftentimes, I see the same thing; just like apples, people seem to think that, because antagonists all serve the same purpose, they must be the same. Apples come in different colors, with spots or scratches, in weird shapes, huge, tiny, and in just about every form of variation that can occur within the same fruit; there are even some blue apples. Antagonists, being (most often) sentient creatures, come in an even greater variety.

If we take the time to make it so.

Of all the characters in the world, villains are probably the most stereotyped. They come in clichés, the evil emperor without a care for the lives of the people, the black-haired, black-clad, black-mustached, black-caped evil overlords with devious plans to take over the world equipped by their maniacal laugh. (Admittedly, the last bit  is a bit of an exaggeration when it comes to Young Adult novels these days, but you get the idea.)

And then, there is the other side, the ones that are too sympathetic; the sob-story villains who, of course, couldn’t use their human nature and automatically responded by turning evilbut they couldn’t help themselves! The tragedy in their back-story made them do it!

The idea is to find balance between these two sides. Sentient creatures (be they human or otherwise) have the ability to refuse evil, so whether or not they had a terrible back story, it is their choice in the end. In the end, assuming that your antagonist is a villain, your villain has decided to do something that’s wrong (whether they’ve justified it in their head or not), and it was their choice, not one made for them; they are entirely responsible for what they’ve done. Mind control, by the way, is an entirely different matter, leaving the role of antagonist up to whoever is doing the controlling. Since your villain has decided to be the evil fellow, he must automatically turn into a cape-swirling evildoer, yes? I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Your villain is neither entirely innocent of all the crimes brought against him because of what’s going onnor is he automatically an entirely evil fellow without a shred of human-ness within him.

He remains a person. Yes, perhaps an evil person, but a person nonetheless. This, my dear readers, is where it gets complicated. How are we to make our villains not only evil people with a certain amount of danger about them, but also make them people?

In the end, it’s fairly simple. Aside from the fact that one is evil and the other is good, villains and heroes are not all that different. The differences between them are slightly enormous, but when it comes down to it, some villains would make the best heroes if they changed what they were fighting for.

Being a supervillain requires a certain degree of insanity, devotion, and determination. Without it, they would never achieve the status as antagonist in a novel. Saving the world also requires those ingredients.

I have a slightly bizarre mix of villains. In IOTW, my villain is a calm, in control man with a very expressive smile and a whole world of hopes for the goal that he sincerely believes is right. In another story, I have a villain who acts more hero than villain; his passion, his energy, his devotion brings a whole group of people to him. He could be seen bravely leading the charge at the front of his men, moving among his men before the battle to encourage them, remembering even the most insignificant of them. Except for the slight fact that he’s a murderer and his purpose is only for himself, he could be the ideal hero-King.

In both, I see character traits that someone could find in a hero. In both, I see a villain very clearly, but at the same time, there’s a person.

Having your villain be a person is the real goal. Since there’s no 3-2-1 step guide to creating people, there’s also not one for creating villains. The one thing that I’ve found helpful to remember? Villains are people. They have personalities and quirks, things they value and lines they won’t cross, just like the heroes do. At the same time, they’re villains. They’re people who don’t understand or don’t care for the sanctity of life, who are more willing to sacrifice other people than themselves, whether for themselves or for something that they believe is right.

They all serve the same purpose: conflict, but they’re not the same. They’re apples, all different, with huge variety, not stereotypical.

So let your villain be a person. Let him turn blue or green or whatever color he wants to be; let him be flecked with brown specks or smooth entirely around. Make him into a person, an introvert who doesn’t like introducing himself or a speaker who can capture the attention of hundreds of people at a time. He’ll still be an antagonist, just as an apple will be an apple. But this time, he will neither be stereotypical nor plastic. He’ll be a villaina real villain.


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11 thoughts on “Apples and Antagonists

  1. Hannah on said:

    Let me say it again–I love your posts. I love ’em, I love ’em. SO insightful and beautifully written.

    I forget, are you writing a story? I’m very interested if so. 😀

    • Thanks, Hannah. 😀

      I don’t think there has been a moment where I stopped writing a story within the past seven years… :p At the moment, though, I’m afraid I’m not actively working on any novel. I’m working on building a world from the first recorded history on; editing IOTW (which isn’t the actual title; the full title hasn’t been released yet); and writing a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which may or may not end up being finished in time for the Five Enchanted Roses contest.

  2. Very true indeed. Clichés are the deadliest enemies of writers in my opinion, that and stereotypes. Villains do really need a character of their own. They have to be more than flat, evil presences who make life terrible for the hero(s). I really like how you present good villains as a balance between the two stereotypes. I agree completely. Personally though, I’ve started to find myself preferring an antihero-type character for a villain. I don’t know, maybe it will change. 😀

    ~Michael Hollingworth
    Disce Ferenda Pati – Learn to endure what must be borne

    • They can be very dangerous, indeed; few people can pull off stereotypical things in an engaging manner.
      Anti-heroes can be very interesting to deal with. They’re slightly difficult sometimes to figure out, since they’re not heroes, but they’re not quite the type of “villains” we think of when we hear the word.

      • Yeah. Exactly. XD
        They are intriguing. I find them really fun to work with because it’s as yet a fairly undefined topic, and you can push and pull in the direction you choose. ‘course, I wouldn’t recommend using them as the straight up antagonist to a novel, though I guess it would be possible. =P

        ~Michael Hollingworth
        Disce Ferenda Pati – Learn to endure what must be borne

  3. AMEN!! A villain is the hero in his own eyes.

  4. Great post, Athelas! I love the advice that your hero and your villain should mirror each other in some way, and that’s what this post made me think of. Would this villain be a hero had he made a few different decisions? Very well-written post that I’ll definitely be thinking about. 🙂 And I like the comparison between apples and antagonists; very clever!

  5. Emily D. on said:

    OH MY GOODNESS. Best. Post. Ever. Eep, I just love this so much. ❤

    Oh wow. The antagonist for a story I'm planning is named Rais too. 0.0 And his personality is just like what you described. Wow. 😛

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