Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Worthy Adversary Checklist

I'm reading a nifty little book on craft called The Writer's Little Helper. It's sort of like hamburger helper, only different. Instead of hamburger, the user just adds her own voice.

The book is by James V. Smith Jr. I hope Jr. doesn't mind if I share some of his savvy advice here. I'm sure he won't. We're all writers, and he wants to help writers, or he wouldn't have written such a book, right?

Right.

Several of us are in the midst of the revision process. And if we aren't at the moment, we probably will be soon. For isn't it true, writing is one part writing, 17 parts revision? It seems that way to me.

So, you're revising along -- you've gotten rid of most of those pesky adjectives, the unprofessional passive voice, and the unnecessary words like very, little, much and even, correct? You've made sure your protagonists are flawed, yet interesting, capable of fear, but not big old whining wienies, and your characters are able to connect with readers in issues of humanity, correct?

Alrighty. Good, good.

So, now let's talk about the antagonist(s) -- those bad, bad guys who tempt us to create them all encompassingly (is that a word? If so, it's a bad one, but I'll leave it as a poor example of wordsmanship) evil, right?

Right.

But wait. Back up the train. Hold your horses. Stick a feather in your hat and call it hamburger helper, there's more to it. More to it, you ask? Yessiree, for that's exactly what I asked myself last night, before reading James V. Smith Jr's. checklist, which brings us to the meat of this blog. (Sorry, Karen, for you, this is the garden burger of the blog. Ha!)

THE HERORIC CHARACTER'S WORTHY ADVERSAY:
IS THAT ADVERSARY ...

* Distinctive in voice or attitude?
* Continually in competition with the heroic character?
* Likable or sympathetic to some extent?
* Interesting in career, crimes, or skill?
* Wicked but not entirely demonic?
* Flawed or vulnerable, either physically, mentally, or emotionally?
* Capable or humor or irony?
* Powerful enough to crush the heroic character?
* Physically fascinating, even if repulsive?
* Defeated at the end of the story?

When I read this cheklist last night, I had a light bulb moment. I realized my bad guys are too bad. I don't make them sympathetic or likable. My antagonists tend to be complete, evil, irrational jerks. It's more fun to write them that way, but perhaps, not as fun to read.

So, how do your bad guys measure up to the above list? Do they make the grade?

As for me? I'm back to another round of frickin' frackin', brickin' brackin'(insert real cusswords here) revisions. I'll be at this for days yet. Looks like I better stock up on quick-to-fix dinner items so I don't waste a lot of time in the kitchen. Mmmmm...hamburger helper might do the trick...

25 comments:

Danita Cahill said...

I do follow Karen, right? So, although I didn't receive a new blog sched, I'm pretending to know when it's my turn to blog, and guessing today is it. Ha!

Everyone who's going, or gone by now -- have a blast at Nationals. And we'll be rooting for you both, Eli and Terry. Wooooooot!

wavybrains said...

Great Post Danita!
My problem is simple: I don't have adversaries. What I generally have are PROBLEMS and COMPLICATIONS, but no bad people running around. I'm trying to remedy that somewhat in my WIP, but I still remain unconvinced that every books NEEDS an adversary. As long as there's conflict, is an adversary really needed?

Paty Jager said...

I don't know if it's your day, but hey, it works for me! I like your hamburger helper! HA!
My current WIP I have two antagonists.


Distinctive in voice or attitude?
Yes and no. LOL One is set on revenge and the other just likes to bully and kill people. One has curt answers while the other likes ot hear himself talk.

* Continually in competition with the heroic character?
One is after the heroine for revenge the other is after the heroine because he wants her. And of course the hero has sworn to keep her safe.

* Likable or sympathetic to some extent?
One had his brother killed by the heroine's father. The other shows compassion to the heroine now and then, but only because it serves his purposes.

* Interesting in career, crimes, or skill?
If you like outlaws.

* Wicked but not entirely demonic?
one but not the other

* Flawed or vulnerable, either physically, mentally, or emotionally?
Both in a way

* Capable or humor or irony?
One definitely

* Powerful enough to crush the heroic character?
Yes.

* Physically fascinating, even if repulsive? sort of

* Defeated at the end of the story? Of Course!

So how would you use this if your antagonist was say - the elements or and area rather than a person??

Good blog, Hamburger Helper Woman!

Paty Jager said...

Aha! Great minds think alike, Wavy!

wavybrains said...

And yes, Danita, today was your turn! Tomorrow is Jen, and Friday is Genene!

Piper Lee said...

Fun and interesting post, Danita.

I'm like Wavy, I don't really have bad adversaries, if any. I don't like bad guys in the stories I read either. I'm a big chicken. :) I've had enough people in my life be jerky or just plain crazy, so I don't want to write or read about them. I just want them gone from my life and my mind. I like fluff.

I read romance for the romantic part, not the scary or twisted. That's why I read Regency I guess. Not a whole lot of bad guys there. :)

I leave the Romantic Suspense and other scary stories to you who are braver than me. Plus, I don't like sleeping with a light on, so if it's not in my mind, I don't have to worry about sleeping at night. Now, the characters and stories that you and Karen create, well, dip me in honey and plaster me with feathers, I'm just a big ol' chicken of those kind of stories. ;)

But happy, creepy writing to those of you who are into the scary adversary kind of thing. :)

Karen Duvall said...

Danita, did you catch the AskAnAuthorAll Q&A on villains? It was a great discussion, and your blog reminds of me of what was discussed last week. I'm a big fan of well-crafted villains because the best ones have depth and are worthy of the good guys they're fighting.

BUT... to respond to both Wavy's and Piper's concerns, you're absolutely right that not every story has to have a villain. But every story DOES have to have an antagonist. And what's great about romance is that the hero and heroine get to take turns being each other's antagonist. Yin and yang, polar opposites, one working against the other in one way or another, but nothing evil or sinister going on. It's called a relationship, and no relationship is perfect. It's those imperfections and conflicts that make a story compelling.

But there can be other antagonists in a story and by definition these characters stand in the way of the main character's goals. It's their job. They don't have to be murderers or any other scary bad ass to do it, either. Heroine's brother tries to protect his sister's honor by trying to keep the hero away from her. His intentions are good, but he's her antagonist because he stands in way of what she wants. Make sense?

Wavy, as long the PROBLEMS and COMPLICATIONS in your story involve people, either the h and H or anyone else, you're golden. As long as your h and H are trying to achieve something and stuff keeps getting in their way, you're in good shape. When everyone gets what they want all the time, well, that's not a story. That's Paris Hilton's life. Snort.

Danita Cahill said...

Wavy,

I don't think anything is set in stone, but even in YA, there could easily be a rival -- for a boy's attention, or just a snotty girl, who, for whatever reason, makes life hard for your heroine.

Danita Cahill said...

I think even a sort of non entity villain, like in your spirit books, Paty, could benefit from this checklist. But, like I mentioned a minute ago, nothing is set in stone.

As far as Hamburger Helper, it helps your hamburger make a great meal. Make mine three cheese lasagna. Not bad.

Danita Cahill said...

Wavy, Karen said it way better than I.

And no, Karen, I missed the loop discussion on villains. Was it maybe on the PRO loop?

And although Paris is a spoiled brat, she did have to do her time behind bars.

Danita Cahill said...

Piper,

It's okay that you can't groove with Eli and my darker books. Maybe someday. Then again, maybe not. But that's okay too.

Karen Duvall said...

Danita, regarding Paris, I think she's her own worst enemy. Hee hee! See, there's a villain even in a narcissist's perfect life.

wavybrains said...

I think b/c I write romantic comedy rather than suspense, my books tend to follow the fairly typical roadblock pattern seen in many other lighter-non RS books. Heroine wants X, Roadblock 1 appears, then 2, then 3, and each Roadblock adds more complications and further upsets whatever relationship she has with the hero. Ideally, the hero is one o the roadblocks standing in her way to her goal. From our brainstorming during Genene's exercise and Alice's great feedback, I realized that the hero's role as a roadblock/helper/complication needs to be more clear, and I plan to spend a lot of time in revisions addressing why she can't have him AND her goals until page 420 something when they get their HEA.

Barbara said...

Our h and H main plot has complications and obstacles, but our sub-plot has a genuine, evil villain. He is a young, handsome, rich, charming psychopath who is about to marry an innocent young woman after sweeping her off her feet. This villain does not currently have any redeeming qualities, but perhaps that is not needed in a sub-plot. What do you think?

Karen Duvall said...

Great plan, Wavy! 8^) I can't remember who the author was, but I remember hearing someone say that for everything that happens in a story, you should ask why. She can't tell him she loves him. Why? Because if she does, she's afraid he'll disappear. Why? Because that's what's happened in all her other relationships. Why? Because the guys were scared of getting tied down to her. Why? Because she's a controlling bitch... etc. It just forces you to make sure there's motivation for everything your characters do and say. When I play the "why" game with a story, I sometimes discover inconsistencies and plot holes I hadn't seen before. It's a helpful exercise.

Karen Duvall said...

Barbara, I think the more developed a character is that has a stake in the story, the better. The subplot obviously affects the main plot or it wouldn't be there, so that means the villain is important enough to have some depth. MHO, anyway. 8^)

wavybrains said...

I love the "Why Game" advice, Karen! I can't wait to play it in revisions!

And I just had a lightbulb from your Monday post about process: I can't write out of order. I started writing out of order on this book, and I swear, "NEVER AGAIN."

Karen Duvall said...

Barbara, I got to thinking some more about your villain, and I have a super bad guy in the book I'm working on who's pretty much 100% nasty. Not much good to say about him, and he's damn mean, but he's also a bit nuts. However, he has a vicious pet that eats people, and he loves this creature. So, that's a smidgen of humanity about about him, but not much. It's really not enough, and this guy is more in the background than the foreground, so I'm having my heroine talk about him with others, showing pinpoints of lightness in his dispicable character. Just a little. But it makes him more realistic that way.

Karen Duvall said...

Wavy, you know, I can't write out of order either! I've never even tried it, but I know myself and how I think. I know what happens when I have to stop the story to figure things out and can't jump ahead and come back to it later. Lots of writers do can do it and I think it's insane! 8^) A good friend of mine, Robin Owens, who writes the Heart Mate books, even teaches a class on writing scenes out of order. Ugh. What works for some is a nightmare for others.

Danita Cahill said...

I hear you on the narcissist thing, Karen. I was once married to one. Not fun.

Danita Cahill said...

Your roadblock, helper, lover/complication plan sounds great, Wavy. And you're right, writing RS is a lot different than romantic comedy.

Danita Cahill said...

From what I gather, Barbara, most, if not all, villains should have some sypathetic quality.

I have evil dogs in my latest work. How the heck do I make red-eyed evil dogs sympathetic? I guess show them as a family unit? Have them lick the heroine before snapping off her hand? Ha!

Danita Cahill said...

Who else besides me is missing our people off at Nationals?

Here's waving at you, kids!

Danita Cahill said...

The why game, Karen? Why?

Just kidding. It's a very good idea. I'll have to play it myself. It's like being 3 or 4 years old again and questioning everything. ha!

Danita Cahill said...

Wavy and Karen,
As far as writing out of order, it works for me. I do it all the time. When a scene comes to me, I jot it down, or sometimes write the whole thing in dialog only. It's quick to get it all down that way, and seems to come out more natural sounding. Of course later I go back and edit, add action, etc. The downside is sometimes I don't use all the scenes I wrote, but I usually gain an insight or two, even from the ones I toss.

Each person's writing process if definitely all their own, isn't it? Like me and my hooks. I cannot venture forth until I have at least that first paragraph fairly well nailed.