Friday, November 12, 2010

Bad Guys Can Be Good Starts

Maybe I need another bad guy.

Sometimes, when I'm casting around for ideas on another story to write, I've realized that I find success by starting with the bad guy. And I've discovered if I can build a good image of a bad guy/antagonist in my head, sometimes the story just flows from  there.

I've found the very nature and character of the antagonist can often influence both the style and mood of a story...and even within the same genres. Take the Shades series of ghost stories. The true evil of the murderous spirit of Priscilla Hatcher gives Death and White Satin a different mood than the understandably vengeful spirit of Charlotte March in Storm Chase(first story in Wind and Dark Waters). Both are objects of fear, both mean mayhem, and both would even have similarly ghastly appearances, but their different pasts and natures change the stories.

More mundane antagonists work the same way. In this newest short story I just finished, Alan Carpenter was jilted by his fiancĂ©e for his brother, Paul, twenty years earlier. Now Paul needs a kidney and Laura has come back to Alan for help. From there, the story just seemed to start writing itself. Alan's role is somewhat ambiguous, but he is the character who best qualifies as the antagonist by the end of the story and it is from him that the story is shaped. And it is his antagonism which drives the conflict of the story, and then almost preordains the ending itself.

It just seems to work better that way sometimes. I can come up with the protagonist and put him in a spot, but at times I really struggle to make the story go forward. If I come up with that antagonist first, the protagonist is often created automatically as a foil or victim for him, and the story is already underway. When I created the Barrow Wolf, Caleb simply appeared as the logical and necessary opponent for him. Even the creature's nature help dictate the issues which the protagonist wrestled with over the course of the story. It seems that a well thought out antagonist can add real depth to a story as well.

 Which brings up an interesting side two most widely liked novelettes (The Barrow Wolf and Death And White Satin) were stories where I had created the bad guy first and let the story build around them. There aren't the complex issues in Death and White Satin that the creature creates in The Barrow Wolf, but the very history and nature of Priscilla Hatcher is what makes the presence on the other side of that door so threatening in the ghost story. She is as much a monster as any wolf, spectral or otherwise.

So let's hear it for the bad guys!

For they often make good stories.


  1. Well said! I have a fondness for bad guys, and girls. So often they are acting out of frustration, disappointment, even sadness. I love figuring out what makes them tick.

    Can be more fun than the good guys :)

    You got me thinking for this new idea I have (no time, of course, but ideas don't wait for time :))

    Good luck! Lenka

  2. Interesting. I'll have to try this.