Thursday, February 16, 2017

Equal Opportunity Antagonists

How much should you like your lead character?

For as long as you can recall, your earliest awareness of a story presents itself to you as an oversimplification or abstraction. A young man agonizes over his choice for a profession. A youngish woman wishes to try her hand at something she's been advised against. Family members of a family business are successful in spite of themselves. 

Unlike some writer friends, who seem to have stories delivered to them as though they were first seen on Amazon, then rushed over, you have to build, character by character, wrapping qualities of each about an armature, piling on competing or inimical qualities that will make the story seem more taut and surprising.

A major obstacle comes when, after you've chosen (or been chosen by) your main character. Now you need one or more opponents. You've played with the notion of working to make your opponents in some way more agreeable, more reasonable, even more intelligent or talented than your main character. After all, your good guys or gals need to win over a significant opponent, or it's no real contest, right?

But the kind of neutrality you're talking about--authorial neutrality--is hard come by, because you've already built up a sympathy for the individual who wants to get the thing done or find the answer or solve the problem or decode the secret message or all the other things you've in effect objectified for your waking hours.

At the moment, you're working on a complex issue of a mystery and its implications, involving a lead character your agent thinks can carry a series and indeed for whom you have two other situations, or shall we call them enigmas? There is maybe one other character in your dramatis personae you like. This has caused you to go back and take a second look at a number of what you think of as "the suspect class," men and women, boys and girls, LGBT's and such who need to appear dodgy enough for the reader to suspect of being in on it, which is to say The Big Score.

This raises political and moral questions (in cynical awareness that politics and morality have individual centers of gravity). Are you concerned with parity between your characters to the point of writing personal conflict out of the narrative. This slippery road has not been called Overthinking for frivolous reasons.

The immediate goal is to present a narrative presence known as a simulacrum. which in your mind takes you steps beyond the mere linearity of oppositions that pop up before the protagonist. The simulacrum is the overall appearance of reality you find in all your favorite stories and novels, which other readers find in theirs, and differing simulacra don't signify narrative crash and burn. Rather, the goal is to let the reader in, participate with judgments and misapprehensions, which is, in final analysis, a pretty good depiction of Reality.

Unlike some individuals romping through the contemporary political scene, and beyond such basic political divisions as the ultras--liberal and conservative--literary villains and antagonists are equal opportunity characters. They have as much right and reason, to their agendas as the protagonists have to theirs.

We don't require our protagonists and antagonists (let's say Othello and Iago, for instance) to present complete psychological dossiers. Better yet, we need to be allowed to see them in action, then have the opportunity to judge them in those terms rather than the dreary details of logical explanation.

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