Last week I stumbled across K.M. Weiland’s 7 Considerations for Your Antagonist’s Motivations. I’ve been looking askance at the protagonist in the mystery I am currently reading and now I understand why in three simple points.
He’s just plain crazy.
First of all, this is problematic because mental illness carries such a huge stigma. It doesn’t help when so many writers create mentally ill antagonists. If that isn’t where the author I am currently reading is headed, the other probability is just as big a problem.
Picture of evil.
Protagonists that are just evil incarnate are also hard to pull off. Whether they are bent on world domination or ending the world, very few stories can carry off this type of antagonist. This type of antagonist is just too big for most stories and really? Good vs evil? True, that is how most people think of themselves (good) and those who stand in their way (evil).
“He’s just an animal.” “She isn’t even human.” “His eyes pits with no soul.” The third pitfall to beware is dehumanizing your antagonist. This is something our society has done for far too long with people we don’t understand or value. Don’t take this cheap way out with your antagonist. Instead, do something that is much more difficult but also yields a more compelling story.
Create a character who is deeply human with a motivation you protagonist and even your reader can understand and sympathize with. This will make your protagonists choices that much more difficult to make.
Think about it. Slapping down someone who isn’t human and is just pure evil? There’s no moral quandry there. It cheapens the struggle. But having to struggle and take something away from someone you can identify with and quite possibly like? That is much more difficult emotionally and, if played right, will lead to a more gripping story.