…stop me if you’ve heard this one.
Hey, remember summer 2017?
If summer 2017 were a Game of Thrones character, it would be Ned Stark. Super nice with a promising future, then BAM! Decapitated by a bastard.
Winter is Coming.
While the rest of the country anticipates my favorite season of fall, I’m stuck down here in South Florida—the penis of the continental United States. And with that imagery, yes—it’s hot as balls down here.
The upside is that it’s football season, so when I’m not writing or editing for you fine folk, I’m screaming my head off at my sons’ football games. No joke—I’m that mom. Most of you know that already, but if you don’t, it’s important that you do. It’s one of my defining characteristics.
Writer. Editor. Screamer at children’s football games.
I mean, I SCREAM. They are blood-curdling, larynx-shredding wails. I sound like I am being murdered and everyone I know is simultaneously being murdered. It is a thousand degrees out there and I’m the idiot with goosebumps all over my body because wow, that was a good play!
I turn each game into The Red Wedding, and why all the GOT references?!
Oh, that’s right. Because I want to talk about characters. Duh.
A question was raised a few weeks ago by my girl Cassie about writing from the antagonist’s POV. The issue was that, as normal, kind-hearted civilians, we have a hard time getting into the minds of our villains, whether they are murderers, stalkers, rapists, or Lannisters.
Sorry, I’m done. I swear (to the gods).
I’ll suggest a small exercise, and if you feel inclined to do it, fine. If not, fuck you. Kidding.
As writers, we set boundaries. There are things we will and won’t write. I’m sure you all have a set of rules for yourself, whether conscious or unconscious, that you follow. I want you to think of one thing that you will never, ever, in a million years, write about. Hold that thought.
Now, back to Cassie’s initial question. I noticed a lot of comments underneath were along the lines of doing research or watching scary movies or listening to certain types of music. And while those are great if you’re writing a research paper on murderers/stalkers/rapists/Lannisters, as the author of the book and the creator of this character, you need to dig much deeper. You need to locate that character within yourself.
I know that sounds scary, because none of us are the aforementioned clusterfuck that I refuse to type out again, but guess what?
You’ve created that character. He has come from the marrow of your bones and the matter of your brain and the soul of your souls. If ANYONE knows that character, it’s you. And if you don’t give him the proper attention and let him express himself for who he is, you’re doing him an injustice, and ultimately, you’re doing your MC an injustice, as well.
So if you’re scared of your antagonist, it’s probably because you don’t fully understand his role in the story. You should be in his brain just as much as your MC’s, because his character is just as important as your protagonist.
Having that said, because we tend to focus mainly on developing our MC, we end up leaving the rest of our characters as supporting actor nominees. But each character should be just as defined, as they serve to thrust the plot along just as much as the MC.
On a side note—if you have a character that just seems to stand around and does nothing to further the plot, you need to Ned Stark his ass.
Christopher Vogler wrote a book called The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.
I went to a weekend-long conference on Character Arc & Archetype given by Joyce Sweeney and Jamie Morris a few years ago, and we utilized this book along with concepts from Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, who all used a mythological approach to defining and profiling all the types of characters we use in fiction, whether books, movies, theater, etc. It was the shit. Truly one of my favorite writing conferences EVER.
While I strongly recommend buying the book, I want to break down ten main archetypes:
*These last two aren’t listed in Vogler’s book; however, they are character types that are often utilized in literature, both ancient and modern.
You don’t have to have each one of these archetypes in your book, but I can guarantee that each of your characters fits into at least one (if not more!) of these categories. Take a minute to determine which archetype each of your characters symbolizes. Also, there are soooo many more sub-personalities and archetypes in the book, so please. Just get it.
Now here is the fun part. Let’s do a little writing exercise by mixing and matching. If you have a Lover in your story, write a paragraph or two of him/her as a trickster.
Now do the same thing with your sidekick, and write him/her as a rival.
Write about your mentor as your antagonist.
Uncomfortable, isn’t it? You’re feeling out of your realm, bending literary joints and muscles in directions they’re not meant to go…
Does this remind you of when you try to write from your villain’s POV? Do you feel like you can write your antagonist as a protagonist?
Now, remember that thing you thought of earlier? The one you said you’d never, ever, in a million years, write about?
Go write it.