Here’s one of my rare posts about my writing journey. I’m working through an editing class, reading craft books, and taking craft classes. I haven’t studied this hard since graduate school. Today’s topic: the Big Boss Troublemaker (BBT). Too many years than I’d like to count (so I won’t), I started a story that grew from a short story into a futuristic dystopian (waaaay before those were popular on the bookshelves). The idea morphed and evolved into a fantasy with mythology and magic.
I finished it and revised it a few times. I queried agents with it (and got some good feedback). A couple of my beta readers thought something was missing, too. The BBT was flat, flimsy, and contrived at the least. My antagonist had no motivation.
Then I heard about Kristen Lamb’s course Bastards, Bitches and Baddies–Understanding the Antagonist.
Here’s part of the class description: “All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.”
I’d attended Kristen’s DFWCon session about writing strong antagonists. I obviously wasn’t getting it. I needed to hear it again. I registered for the July session. Classmates joined together in WANATribe where we can chat and bounce ideas around with each other. The webinar itself was filled with so much awesome that I plotted a brand new science fiction novel with a detailed BBT that week. I’ll repeat the most important part. I plotted.
Has that sunk in yet?
I’ll give you a second to realize that this pantster plotted.
I registered for one of the upgraded class levels, because I needed help with this antagonist—I wanted some hand holding along with the repetition.
Beyond the basic webinar, Kristen and I chatted for 10 minutes about my fantasy novel. She hadn’t read any of the 108K words. For the next couple of hours, we talked about the story in ways that I hadn’t considered. It was obvious that I didn’t have a BBT. This story I’d been loving and massaging and tweaking for years didn’t have REAL conflict. I’d started with my hero, gave her a superficial problem, and then let her off too easily. It was that “wondering nightmare” in the class description.
Kristen didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already suspect about this story. I knew it was weak. I knew the antagonist was a stretch. I knew.
No antagonist, no story!
Barney Stinson from the TV show How I Met Your Mother looks at movies unlike anyone else (except maybe Kristen Lamb). He argues that the bad guys in his favorite movies are indeed the main and title characters:
These stories wouldn’t have happened if these characters weren’t there to antagonize the heros.
Kill some darlings.
I haven’t told my beta readers yet that I may have to “kill some darlings” (favorite parts), including some of their favorites. (They may know now though!) Why is this necessary? Because I have to make room for the revamped villain.
Kristen even warned me before we got started, “You can’t be afraid to kill some darlings. You might even go through the stages of grief.”
Yep. She was right. I went through those stages during our meeting. I thought, “If I make this happen, then that scene has to go. I don’t wanna cut that…oh, crap, I have to cut that scene.” I might’ve made a sad little whiney sound.
Kristen: “Are you OK?”
Me: “Um, yeah, I’m just thinking about the darlings that may have to die.”
Kristen: “I warned you…”
Me: “I know!” *sniff*
I’m sure I’ll experience the stages again when a darling can’t be integrated into the revision.
I highly recommend taking this course. Kristen helped me see the entire story all at once from a different perspective. She helped me see the obvious and many possibilities. I’m excited about this story again. The BBT is going to have teeth. She’s going to be bad with motivation and action. She isn’t the main character, but there’s no story without her.
What are you excited about this week?