(Insert evil cackle)
We all love to hate the bad guy in a movie, in a book, in life!
Let’s take Mr. Norman Bates as an example. Creepy guy without a doubt. I’m sure that you have seen the film Psycho, 1960, brought to us by the portly terror-peddling genius, Alfred Hitchcock. Am I alone in actually feeling empathy for Norman by the end of the film? (If so, then that makes me weird so let’s pretend you felt for him too).
I cared about him! He loved his poor, rocking, dead mother so very much that he used to cross-dress in her frocks––that’s love!
His backstory was heartbreaking. Misguided as he was in slashing doe-eyed ladies in full makeup in the shower (I mean, do not try this at home!), I could sort of understand how he was as psychotic as he was. If I hadn’t known about his mother’s love then I would have pegged him as a nasty piece of work who slaughtered without motive. I wouldn’t care what happened to him! He could have had his eyeballs chewed out by mice and I’d have applauded, or worse still I wouldn’t have cared.
A wise owl, the wonderful Ms. Paula Munier, told me recently that readers need to be invested in our antagonist as well as the protagonist. This made sense to me. I don’t necessarily have to like the baddies in the books I read, but I need to understand their motivations.
Antagonists need to have something to lose and something to gain also!
What does Norman Bates have to lose? He never got over the death of his sweet mother who butchered her lover then killed herself. Desperately trying to continue his abstract life where his mother lived on, he hid her body in the fruit cellar (as you do) and created her inside his own mind (he could be a writer!). With his altered personality he became two people and it was the real Norman towards whom viewers empathised. We became invested in him and that emotional investment meant that we cared about him, even if we didn’t like him.
And, as Norman Bates finally got his comeuppance, sitting in a police cell, his dead mother’s voice could be heard protesting that the murders were her son’s doing. That she wouldn’t even ‘harm a fly!’ Poor Norman. His devotion to his mother was impressive and yet, when the s*** hit the fan, she turned on him like a rat.
We want our protagonists to rise up gloriously at the end of our stories but, in order for their achievements to be monumental, we need to see them overcome our antagonists and for the battle between them to be real, to be emotional, for all to be at stake on both sides.
What have you thrown at your antagonists? I’ve wept for my baddy when I threw her off a high building, have you cried tears over yours? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
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Janey Rosen said:
This is so very true, grasping that snippet of empathy and then wham! something dreadful befalls them. Gives the reader a 3rd dimension and a jumble of emotions. Thanks so much for your reply!
One of my favorite plot twists is when you find yourself rooting for the antagonist in a scene. Not huge chunks of the story of course, but maybe a flash back or a scene in the present where you see something truly unfair happening to him or her. If you can get a reader to root for your antagonist briefly, you’ve got them pretty invested in your story, and it makes the antagonist more three dimensional because now the reader sees him or her as a person–albeit a pretty messed up individual.
The antagonist in my story is meant to be hated.
Admittedly, I get over-the-top when describing the horrendous things they do (which is quite a lot of things), but it’s on purpose.
That way, whenever something bad happens to THEM, you go “Ha!” or some kind of positive reaction.
I do throw a lot of things at them in return, however, so they aren’t flawless. (Example: They have Omnipotence, but not Omniscience, i.e. they can do anything, but doesn’t know how to do all of it. Also, if they’re away from their home too long, they start puking blood)
Janey Rosen said:
Ha! I love this! It’s so much fun being a writer, isn’t it? Puking blood?
Janey Rosen said:
Ps. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply! 🙂