Tag Archive: antagonist


Other Characters

We’ve discussed our antagonist and our protagonist the last few weeks. How about other characters? These could range from our protagonist’s fiancée to the guy who handed the antagonist a latte at Starbucks. What care do we need to take with these.

First question we need to determine about any individual is his or her importance to the story. Is this just an incidental character who make one or two cameo appearances to drive a bus or prepare a hot dog at an outdoor stand (mmmm—a hot dog sounds good right now), or does this person appear throughout a substantial portion of the book?

The incidental character doesn’t need to be named. In fact, we can do our readers a great service by not naming these people.

Have you ever attended a friend’s family reunion. Or maybe met the extended family of your significant other for the first time?

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Remember how you felt meeting all those people? OMG, I’ll never remember all these names. What if I call Aunt Sue Aunt Jenny by mistake? Or Cousin Joe Cousin Sam? I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s ever been in that position. I could remember Mom and Dad and brother and sister if they’d limit it to them, but all these others? How will I ever remember who’s who?

This is what we do to our readers when we throw too many names at them. There are a certain number of characters important enough to require the reader to remember them, but let’s try to have a little pity.

Okay, David, who is important enough to be named? We’ve already named an antag and a protag. Who else?

Generally, the antag needs some help causing turmoil for the protag. These helpers are called minions.

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They may be evil people hired by the antag, or they may just happen to have agendas that run at cross purposes to the protag’s agenda. We could come up with some stories where the antag is the sole disturbing element, but in general there will be one or more minions.

The protag will usually need a mentor. Remember, we discussed earlier that the protag must start out inferior to the antag. He grows throughout the story as he meets one conflict after another until he is finally able to defeat the antag.

If he’s going to grow, he probably needs someone on his side to help him grow and to direct him along his path. Again, this is not an absolute in all stories, but it’s a normal necessity.

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This mentor need not sit the protag down and lecture him like a professor with a student, although that could happen. He may just be someone our protag observes and learns from. In either case, he helps our hero to grow into his role.

The protag may or may not also have a love interest. If so, this would be a pretty major character.

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The love interest may be at our hero’s side throughout the story, or he or she may be visiting an aunt in Gotebo, Oklahoma, and never actually appear except in the protag’s thoughts. In either case, this love interest will be important to our story.

Our protag may also have one or more allies. These are generally good friends, but they could also just be people whose goals more or less line up with our hero’s goals.

Each of these characters would naturally be named in our story. They’re too important and appear too often to keep saying “The man with the funny glasses . . .” or “The woman with the whiskey baritone voice . . .” We need to call them by name.

But we need to do more than assign names. We mentioned earlier visiting someone else’s family reunion and trying to remember names. Wouldn’t it be easier if we knew Uncle John was the one who always had a mug of coffee in his hand and Cousin Fred was the one who never lit his ever-present cigar?

If a character is important enough to be named, we need to do a profile on him or her like we did on the antagonist and the protagonist. Depending on how important—and how frequently present—these characters are, we may or may not go into quite as much detail as for the two main ones, but we still have to give them identifiable traits and personalities. Our readers can remember who’s who much better if they can identify them as individuals.

Next, we’ll get into a discussion of our main narrative plot points. See ya’ then.

Ø What experiences have you had with being overwhelmed by meeting a bunch of new people all at once and being expected to remember all their names?

Ø Forget the reader for a moment—how does it help you as the author to have a written profile?

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Antagonist’s Profile

Last week I mentioned that the characters in my earlier—and rejected—novels were all plastic, one-dimensional characters who looked, acted and sounded like me. Sound familiar? Surely I’m not the first writer to make that mistake.

Since I neither smoke nor drink, none of my characters ever lit a cigarette or had a drink, but they all ate frequently and drank a lot of coffee—just like me. Fascinating as I may consider myself to be, apparently readers not looking for stories populated with David clones.

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Okay, how do we avoid that? We’re going to have to create interesting characters with their own identities and personalities. Their personalities and backgrounds are going to have to contain the seeds for their behavior in the story.

It may help to visualize a movie star or other public figure when we create a character. In fact, lets go to IMDb and find a photo of the person we’re thinking of, and lets put that picture at the beginning of the character’s profile. There’s no law that says we must do that, but at Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp, we’ve discovered this can be a big help in keeping a character in focus.

Okay, so we’ve got a photo. What else? What is our character’s height and weight? Eye color? Hair color? These physical characteristics can affect his behavior and thinking. If he or she is small or ugly or fat or skinny, that could result in a chip on the shoulder that makes him or her mean, testy or defensive.

Let’s build some personal history, too. Any siblings? Single-parent family? Father beats the mother? Loving aunt or uncle of particular importance? All of these things affect a child growing up, and we need to see where our character’s behavior comes from. We probably need a page or more of this background information before we proceed.

How about mannerisms? Does this person always let a cigarette burn until the ashes fall off without flicking them into an ashtray? Wave hands to illustrate or emphasize oral communication? Squint or blink a lot? We can use these little mannerisms to make this guy distinct and separate from our other characters.

How about fears? What things keep him awake at night? Prevent him from taking an action he may want or need to take? Drive him to do things he maybe shouldn’t do?

What are his dreams?

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Does he see himself in a multi-million dollar mansion? Owning a private island with a bevy of women serving him? Running a criminal empire? What moves him and gives him long-term motivation?

What are his stressors? A stressor is something that triggers a fear or a reminder of some important bad experience. If our guy grew up in an abusive family, seeing someone yell at or strike a child might be a stressor. If he grew up in abject poverty, old run-down shacks or clothes with holes in them could be stressors. These things will cause a strong reaction in our character.

How about his manner? Is he boisterous and obnoxious? Quiet and calculating? Kind? Polite? Rude?

What is his inner conflict? What does he really want to do or really want to be but he can’t because . . .

What are his goals? NY Times Best-selling Author Bob Mayer (http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/) suggests asking these three questions: What does he want? What does he really want? What does he really, really want? We should have three different answers to these questions, each a little more revealing about our character.

What blind spot prevents him from being able to see his path clearly?

What is his main problem in the story?

We might be able to come up with a few more things to put into his profile, but this gets us a pretty good sketch to work with. One of the things we accomplish by building this profile is that we can see in the course of writing our story what sorts of things this person would or would not do. Anyone who will be involved in beta-reading or critiquing your novel should have access to this profile to help you stay within the character’s personality and behavior.

How about our other characters? Let’s talk about them next week.

Ø Think about the cast of your favorite television show. What things so completely identify one character as opposed to another that you don’t even have to see them to know which is which?

Ø What things can you do to create such distinctive identities for your characters?