Bad Guys and Politics

“The antagonist is the hero of his own story.”

This piece of writing advice has been said over and over again, and it’s absolutely true. No matter how evil your Bad Guy, he or she still believes they’re doing the right thing for their own reason. As a writer, you need to get into your antagonist’s mind and know what that reason is in order to make them believable.

Too often, the Bad Guy is a cliche villain, who wants power and is taking the worst possible route to get there. They’re ugly, speak in menacing voices, have no sense of humor, and are in every way unlikable, which does not explain in the slightest how they got where they are in the world. And as such, they often aren’t scary — and instead of hating them like we should, we just shrug and go “Eh, it’s the Bad Guy.”

This is why Umbridge is a better Bad Guy than Voldemort. We know people like Umbridge. She’s believable. She has a goal that she thinks is right, and she is absolutely convinced she is on the side of Good. trump-voldemort

So let’s talk politics.

Those of you who read my political blog know my views. There are Bad Guys in the White House right now. Seriously, these people are evil. But I can use them to make the point that they think they’re doing the right thing. In their world, anyone who isn’t a straight white male Christian doesn’t deserve the same rights as them, and so every action they take furthers that goal.

“The ends justify the means” was a major theme in my last novel BLOODSUCKERS: A VAMPIRE RUNS FOR PRESIDENT. The conflict in that novel was that the Presidential candidate wanted to do very good things for the country and didn’t care if he had to kill a few people along the way to get there. The protagonist in that story was the reporter who discovered that the candidate was a vampire but had the moral dilemma whether to still support him when the candidate’s opponent had policies that were much worse and could lead to war and even more deaths.

If I were writing a novel about the Trump Presidency, it’s clear that they have a similar philosophy. They think their ultimate goal is good for the country and they have no problem with violating the Constitution, lying, and abusing our election system to get there, because they believe that these means are needed to get to their ends.

And someone else could just as easily write a book where they’re the good guys and we evil Democrats are destroying America with our insistence on things like, oh I don’t know, justice and equality. (We’re so damned unreasonable.)

Anyway, snarkiness aside, the point of this is to emphasize that you need to make your Bad Guys real. Think about politics as an example. Ultimately, both sides want a strong, prosperous America but have different paths they think will lead us to that goal. Both sides think they’re right and the other is wrong.

Get into the mind of your antagonist. Figure out your antagonist’s goal and what reasonable route the character would take to get there. Write a short story from that person’s point of view, and have it make sense, and your Bad Guy will be a lot more believable and much more threatening to your hero.

Write a story without bad guys

There’s my advice for today.  Write a story without bad guys.

Oh, I don’t mean leave out the antagonist.  01-snidely-whiplashMake that antagonist put all sorts of obstacles in your protagonist’s way.

But don’t make “bad guys” in the way we see much too often (especially in the movies).

Writers can get lazy when it comes to their antagonists.  It’s so easy to just say “He’s the evil bad guy” and never have to explain why he acts that way.  “Well, he’s evil, so that’s why” is false and readers know it. It doesn’t make your story full.

A good exercise is to take a scene and rewrite it from your antagonist’s point of view. Why is he or she acting this way? What is the ultimate goal? Surely the antagonist wants something more than being evil and standing in the hero’s way.

Remember: the antagonist is the hero of his own story.

My favorite bad guys have what they believe to be good motives. It’s why I think Dolores Umbridge is a better “bad guy” than Voldemort. She’s not evil — she is trying to bring order, consistency, and a respect for the law to the wild children at Hogwarts. We believe that she could exist because we know people like her. And we love to hate her for it.

My next novel BLOODSUCKERS (due out in May; film rights available) has a few important antagonists. The main one is Norman Mark, the vampire who is running for President. He lives a very long time, and he has a long term goal which is very good. He believes that his power to control others will enable him to pass laws through Congress that will help all Americans, discover and remove corruption, and move the world into a new renaissance of peace and prosperity. And if a few innocent people have to die along the way, so what? He’s doing this for the good of all humanity.

There are other antagonists who are vampires wanting to keep the secret of vampires from the population. They are not evil either (in their minds) and are afraid that if people realize vampires exist, they will begin hunting them. People will suspect each other of being vampires, wars will break out and economies will fall. These vampires are trying to stop Norman Mark for their own reasons, but they are not the protagonists.

The protagonist is Steven Edwards, a reporter who has been framed for the attempted assassination of Mark and has gone into hiding. In order to prove his innocence, he has to prove that vampires exist. He was a Mark supporter and is conflicted with the problem — he knows Mark will be a better President than his opponent, but dammit, he’s a vampire!

Anyway, you can see what I’ve tried to do here. None of my bad guys think they’re bad guys. They don’t just randomly perform evil acts simply because they can. They only do them when necessary, and even then for a future goal that is good in their minds.

Remember: not counting the insane, no one in the real world thinks of themselves as bad guys.

So take some time and write a little short story from the point of view of your “bad guy”. You may discover parts of his or her personality that were hidden before. And if you’re good, you will make your antagonist a full, complete, and believable character.

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