Been working on my third writing assignment for the Science Fiction/Fantasy workshop I'm doing at Writer's Digest University. This time I get to describe my protagonist and antagonist and then put them in a scene together. I've already learned one thing from this assignment - I didn't know my antagonist quite as well as I thought I did.
Since my antagonist doesn't actually appear in any scenes until the last half of the book, I guess I didn't see the need to get to know him very well. But as I worked on my assignment, I realized I needed to give him more motivation than just the desire for power. I mean, that's kind of a cliche now, isn't it? I wanted a better reason. I wanted to go deeper. Why is he obsessed with power and control? What happened in his past to bring him to this point? What drives him?
"Fleshing out" is just as important for your antagonist as it is for your protagonist. Especially if the two are in direct opposition to each other. Here's what I've learned.
My antagonist is actually the protagonist of his own story with my protagonist in the role of my antagonist's antagonist. Kind of hard to get my mind around but not impossible. I can exercise this concept by writing parts of my story from my antagonist's point of view. These scenes most likely will not be in the final draft, but these scenes let me watch my antagonist in action and help me to learn more about him in the process.
Not all antagonists are the villain, either. Especially not in their own minds. To them, their actions are necessary in order to reach their goal, whatever that may be. They may even see their goal as altruistic despite the fact that it causes problems for the people they claim the goal will benefit.
In order to do that research, I entered "antagonist motivations" into my favorite search engine, Google. This brought up pages of links to informative websites that helped me understand the importance of getting to know my antagonist as well as I know my protagonist. I got most of my research done at Fiction University. It's a site for authors run by Janice Hardy, author of the Healing Wars series. I've just started reading this series and am pretty much sucked in. If you're looking for another source of helpful articles about the craft of writing, I highly recommend Fiction University.
After much research, I have finally come to know my antagonist and even understand what drives him. He has a flaw just as potentially fatal as my protagonist. Unfortunately for my antagonist, however, his fatal flaw will be just that - fatal. I'm surprised to find myself actually feeling sorry for him now because I know what he'll ultimately be facing, even though his end has been brought about by his own actions.