A wretched hive of scum and….

5 Nov

I have had some issues with my new story that have made my work on it…intermittent over the past two years. One of the biggest hurdles has been I don’t like my antagonists. Somehow, they have become paranoid minute-men taking potshots at invisible spirit-folk they fear just out of fear of what is unknown/out of their control, and no matter how justified I tried to make my antagonists (there really *are* some bad spirit-folk out there!), or personal their motivations (“I saw my own bruthah kilt by one of them!!1!”) they still seem horribly boring to me.

It’s like I just need there to be bad guys for my good guys to fight, and so I have set up these prop bad-guys, but I don’t care about them. And you know that will mean the reader won’t care about them, either.

Honestly, my story is going to turn into a Disney movie with a general “Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to the dark side!” moral.

So I try to take a cue from other writers, say, oh, Joss, and make my villains personal (“my heroine falls in love with a guy who is one of the antagonists and starts to see his point of view…whatever that is….”)

But I still…can’t get myself…to care about these people. They’re still props.

39 Responses to “A wretched hive of scum and….”

  1. ponygirl2000 November 5, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    Use the time-honoured writer’s method and steal! Take the things you’ve liked best from villains you’ve seen or read and give them to your baddies. Take the things you like best about heroes you’ve read or seen and give them to the baddies. Take the stuff you like best in yourself – whatever it takes to make them interesting to you. Motivation and justification can come after, in fact they can flow from trying to understand why someone you would normally root for has gone off the rails. Find the cool factor.

  2. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    I’ve been thinking about villains in stories I like a lot. Like Annikan Skywalker. Does anything he does *really* make sense, besides the fact that he’s kind of always been a fascist-leaning person all along?
    And the band of rogue Watchers in Highlander are just the sort of knee-jerk paranoids I’m trying to avoid.
    Most of the villains in stories I’ve really liked have been after the heroes because the heroes have magical powers they think they can use for their own greed and ambition, or they are bumbling government types who have to go after the supernatural heroes for National Security.
    They’re all just as two-dimensional as my bad guys. But I never noticed before because I was so busy being self-righteously justified in the hero’s POV.

  3. ponygirl2000 November 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    I don’t know if you need to make villains make sense or even be that complex, just as long as they’re interesting. Readers can create complexity in their heads (look at all the Draco fanfiction!) by trying to figure out why they have that interest.

  4. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    But don’t you think a lot of that Draco fan-stuff (and other, similar antagonists from other story ‘verses) is done precisely because fans want to take what are otherwise two-dimensional villains with a little personal charm and give them the three dimensions the writers aren’t giving them?

  5. mamculuna November 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm #

    I once tried writing a letter from a bad guy to help me get into his head and see what made him run. I think it helped.

  6. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm #

    I suppose that depends on who the letter is to. But see, I’m still stuck in my antagonist having these broad political motivations. “We must protect ourselves from the invisible invaders! OmG!” And if I wrote a letter, that’s what he’d say. And that sort of villain is just uninteresting to me. I need to give him a different motivation, one I could even believe in, one that doesn’t make some broad metaphorical social statement that I have no passion for. And I just don’t know what that could be, yet.

  7. mamculuna November 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    Create a childhood for him? I’m just thinking of things I’ve done–often when I start writing about a character in a different situation, I think of new sides of them. What could make a person be like that?

  8. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    Be like what, though? I still haven’t figured what he’s “like” in a way that I’m happy with. I have a “what he’s like” and I don’t like it. It’s off-target somehow in what I need my antagonists to be.

  9. rahirah November 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    Have you considered ditching the bad guys, and taking some of your good guys and setting them at odds with your other good guys instead?

  10. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 2:36 pm #

    I actually made my bad guys into good guys for about a year out of the past two years. Instead of “demon-fighters” I made them more like “ghost-hunters” seeking evidence of the supernatural instead of trying to fight it. But that didn’t make them particularly villainy, necessarily, so I gave one of them a dark motive of vengeance for his brother’s death, and after a while, I was bored of those guys, too. And now I’m right back where I was before.

  11. ponygirl2000 November 5, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Perhaps, but I’m not sure that’s entirely on a conscious level. In any case all it required was a hook for everyone to take it and run – the actor’s cuteness perhaps, or those times in the books where he seemed reluctant or scared. You just need to find a hook for your baddies, something that interests you.

  12. cornerofmadness November 5, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    yes I can see that frustration. I HAVE that frustration. I suck at making good and believeable villians

  13. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    I think what I need is to give them a cause – an activity they are up to – that isn’t garden-variety (what they would see as) evil-fighting. In their minds, they’re the good guys, the demon-hunters, and I am just not finding that interesting. People have been creating scapegoats and declaring war on them for a very long time, but that’s not who I want my antagonists to be.

  14. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    It’s really pulling my story down. And I think it has been all this time, for two years. I just can’t think my way out of the box.

  15. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    But they bore me. Which makes me not want to write them. And therein lies the problem.

  16. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    If they are props, let them be props. Don’t try to dig too much out of them. Like Draco Malfoy, who you mentioned above, let ’em be cardboard and the readers can fill them out to their hearts desire. It’s hard enough to write good characters that aren’t boring without worrying about the villains.

  17. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    Then don’t write them push them to the background and forget it.

  18. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    In which case my protagonists have no problem to overcome in the story, and then there’s no story.

  19. spiletta42 November 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

    I am having the exact same problems with a fanfic I wrote. Every time I sit down to edit it, I hate the cardboardiness of the antagonist so much that I get completely frustrated and throw it aside again. I can’t even figure out how to fix it. And I promised this thing to someone in, like, June.

  20. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Making the villains background instead of foreground characters is not the same as having no villains. Villains can be totally faceless without hurting the story. We don’t need to know about their awful childhood, or the cute little way they comb their hair. Mystery about what the bad guys are doing is as good and often better than telling details of their thinking and planning.

  21. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    I’m assuming that’s last June, LOL.

  22. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    I think shadow villains are the most two-dimensional villains of all.

  23. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    And that makes, say Bellatrx La Strange, less scary and effective?

  24. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    She’s one face of a multi-faceted group of people known as the Death-eaters who have very concrete personas in a number of characters, most notably, the Malfoys. Their motives are elitist and fascist, but not unrecognizable as very human drives. Bellatrix’s like one flavor in a banquet of bad guys. If we never met any of the Death-eaters, but only heard about them and saw the effects of the awful things they’d done, then they’d be shadow-villains.

  25. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    If we never met any of the Death-eaters, but only heard about them and saw the effects of the awful things they’d done,
    Like for the first four Harry Potter books? None of those worked very well did they. ;o) We did meet Peter Pettigrew and Barty Crouch Jr. But exactly what did we know about them or even Voldemort in those early books other than they were “all evil and stuff.”

  26. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm #

    We met the Malfoys. We heard about Sirius’ family from Sirius. Maybe we weren’t entirely sure they were Death-eaters, but we had a reasonable suspicion. So they had faces.
    But on the assumption I have one novel, and not seven, my villains need to have real faces sooner rather than later.

  27. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 4:28 pm #

    How much depth is there to Lucius Malfoy? What did Sirius tell us other than his mum disowned him for being a goody-goody? And that was in book five. I think you are trying too hard to recreate a full-blown Angelus replacement for one novel when what you need is just a boogey-man or two to get your charcters moving.

  28. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm #

    Except boogy-men are boring to me personally and aren’t going to get my fingers tapping.

  29. cactuswatcher November 5, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    The hard question: If your heroes aren’t interesting enough by themselves to get you writing, why should other people read the story? If you want to write a story about villains, do that instead.

  30. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Oh, I’m writing merrily along about my protagonists. But now things need to get complicated, and complication comes from some kind of antagonist, be it a character, nature, themselves, or something.
    I always imagined it would be other people, human people, who would cause problems for my protagonists. But heck if I can figure out why these people are being mean to them. Even when the supernatural characters in the story are themselves awful, not all of them are awful, and so the antagonists just look like wind-up toy soldiers going after them.

  31. cornerofmadness November 5, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    i hate when that happens and it’s usually really hard to do on your own if you can’t see it

  32. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    Hence the post today to see if people have out-of-the-box ideas.

  33. ponygirl2000 November 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    Maybe you’re being too linear about it? Don’t start with a cause, start with a confrontation with your heroes. How do you want that to go? Are the villains businesslike or passionate? Phyically violent or manipulative pencil pushers? You could work back from that.
    Or start with an image. One of my baddies I couldn’t figure out until I had an image of him alone in an empty room, waiting – he started off doing all the right things, but patience and loyalty turned out to be his downfall. For another I liked the idea of the villain looking and acting like someone who from another perspective would have been the romantic hero, and actually from his perspective he’s not doing that much wrong, he’s just unaware of the consequences. The third is just a thug so far, but he seems to like his work!

  34. spiletta42 November 5, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    That’s right, laugh at my pain. Yes, that’s last June.

  35. rahirah November 5, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    Do they have to be going after supernatural creatures per se? Can’t they be going after something that the supernatural creatures also need for some reason? Or could the supernatural creatures just be in their way as they forge ahead to whatever their goal is? Or could your heroes do something to legitimately piss someone off?
    Or, to come at it another way, how do you want your protagonists to change and grow during the story? What should they know by the end that they didn’t know at the beginning? What do they want, and why would someone else want to prevent them from getting it? Honestly, it kind of sounds to me like the potential for story here lies not with your protagonists, but with the ‘villains.’ What if one of them were to get their minds changed about said protagonists and thus come into conflict with their own group?

  36. neshaffer November 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    I’ve gone through all these iterations in my head over and over and I can’t find anything that “sticks”, i.e., that holds my interest long enough to fuel the writing and make me excited about it. I had the rebellious antagonist that joins the protagonists, I had the supernatural creatures after something that put them in conflict with humans and thereby created antagonists, and I get excited about something for about a month, then I’m not anymore.
    Which is why I’ve been revisiting my theme, that is, what do I want this story to really say, because that leads to a plot of sorts and that leads to who the antagonists should be.
    It always seems to roll back to “my human antagonists are simply threatened by the supernatural creature’s existence.” There’s something in that I want to say, but I’m still getting it wrong as well somehow.

  37. cornerofmadness November 6, 2010 at 1:42 am #

    without seeing it, not really. I can’t work that way i’m afraid

  38. neshaffer November 6, 2010 at 2:17 am #

    I wish there was an “it” to post. But given the way I write, it’s a bunch of scattered story blurbs, some of which contradict each other.

  39. cornerofmadness November 6, 2010 at 2:28 am #

    yeah that would make it tough

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