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Posts Tagged ‘antagonists’

When I look back at the first book I wrote, I feel a twinge of guilt for my characters; all five of them to be precise, if I want to be picky and count the minions.

Why do I feel guilty? Because, unforgivably, I neglected to give them a life. I just dumped them on the wintery London streets of Shad Thames and said “Right, off you go and do this.”

To their credit, they did what I asked, but not to the best of their ability, and that is solely down to me, because I did not spend the time in getting to know them. A year ago, I would have sworn different. I would have told you my heroine was an independent woman, owned a bar and lived a relatively normal life with only her handsome neighbour next door for support. The hero, and her love interest, was an actor who was quiet and thoughtful and ……. Oh my God, so boring!!!

Then I met Kristen Lamb. She told me to write a back story for my antagonist, so I did. I proudly wrote four pages and emailed them over to her. Her reply? “Crap, do it again.” I was mortified. How could it be rubbish? (Yeah, ok, you can stop laughing.) But she was right. It was absolute tosh. Oh, how naïve I was back then.

The reason it was rubbish, and it’s so clear now that I cringe every time I think about letting Kristen read it, was this. My first antagonist was a nice, wholesome, little rich girl who went nuts because the guy she liked was in love with someone else. There was no venom about her. She was kind to others, well liked, popular at school – you get the picture. But my reasoning for creating this totally unrealistic girl, who went off the deep end, was because Glenn Close had done it in Fatal Attraction. If a block busting movie could do it, why couldn’t I? The problem was, Glenn Close was not the normal, hard working, successful woman she appeared to be before Michael Douglas slept with her. If you look closely, she was actually a borderline psychotic and her back story would have backed this up with actions, events and certainly haunting issues.

I was guilty of analysing the plot of a story too much and just letting the characters roll along for the ride. Now, however, and much to my husbands annoyance, I analyse and pick holes in everything on TV. Still, men are there for us women to annoy so I think it is a win-win situation. 😀

So, this is what I have been taught, and would strongly recommend to anyone creating a character:

It starts with their creation. They need a look, a height, and a style. Personally, I look for a picture of an actor or actress and go from there. Then give them a home, a childhood, parents, siblings, pets, school proms, jobs, friends, enemies, lovers, fears, stressors.…. you get the picture. What they do with them after that is then up to you. They can use them, annoy them, play with them or kill them. They can go to jail or become President, but their back story must lead them to the moment you start your book. You cannot have, like I did, a nice antagonist who turns in to a crazy, killing machine, because it is convenient to the plot.

If you are stuck, then I would suggest writing your own biography first. Start with where you were born, who your parents were, if you have any siblings. Remember your childhood memories, relationships, good and bad. Jobs you’ve liked and jobs you’ve hated. Gravesides you have stood at. Tragedies you’ve had the misfortune to bear. All these things define who you are now.

Oh, and one really important thing I have learnt is this. Your protagonist does not have to be perfect. Perfect is BORING! Give her a flaw. Make her human. I guarantee your reader will not dislike them for it.

Look at Mel Gibson in the first Lethal Weapon – he was a suicidal drunk. And Frasier, from the TV show of the same name, has serious commitment issues, but do we hate either of these characters? Do we ‘eck. In fact we become more compassionate towards them.

Now, as always, I want to know something. I want to know who your favourite protagonist is and what flaw they have. Hmmmm….. has that got you thinking?

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I want to play a game.

I’m going to say a word and I want to know the first image that comes to mind. Ready?

Sociopath.

What was the first thing you thought of? No cheating. Can I hazard a guess and say you probably thought of a deranged psychopathic killer, probably from one of your favourite horror films?

Now, what if I said you probably already knew a sociopath. Would you believe me? No? Okay, what if I said there was a high probability you may already work with one, live next door to one or even be friends with one. (God forbid you live with one.) Does that scare you?

Academics calculate that sociopaths account for around 5% of the population. So what exactly is a sociopath?

Forget for a moment that you are a nice person and imagine this: You have two friends who, for some unknown reason, have stopped talking to each other. They both confide to you of their sadness at the situation and that each is going to contact the other to make amends. Now, being the nice person you really are, you would eagerly share this information – after all, it’s the morally right thing to do and you want your friends back as, well, friends. But I want you to imagine deceiving and lying to them, convincing them that each is still expressing their dislike for the other. Then I want you to feel very smug and happy in the knowledge that you have singlehandedly kept them from being the good friends they once were.

Are you horrified? Could you ever see yourself acting in this way? Of course not, but that is probably because you have a little thing called a conscious. You cannot act in a bad way because you would feel appalled and guilty. A sociopath does not have this luxury. They feel nothing. They are crafty and deceitful, selfish, and manipulative. They will take what they want and do as they please and not experience the slightest ounce of remorse or regret for any of their actions. They will hurt a ‘friend’ just as easily as they would hurt a stranger and they will do it with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.

A staggering 1 in 20 people are sociopathic which means that 5% of the population lacks any shred of a conscious, and worse still, these people can be very difficult to spot. Contrary to the belief that all sociopaths look like the Yorkshire Ripper, they do in fact, look just like you and me. They will charm you on first introduction and the majority of people will be blinded by their manipulation. But these people are cold. Maybe they are rapists, or domestic abusers. Maybe they are not violet at all but will think nothing of scamming or stealing from you. Unfortunately, the majority of people find out when it’s too late. Sociopaths are excellent at spotting your vulnerability and will use it against you to get what they want, using every trick in the book to succeed. But sociopaths are very jealous people and if you dare disagree or go against one then watch out; they will happily bring down upon you a reign of misery.

The only way to deal with a sociopath is to dissolve all contact and remove them from your life. Do not try to argue with them, or attempt to out smart them. Remember, they are sociopaths and do not ‘feel’ like the other 95% of the population. You have to protect yourself and you are not doing this if your time is consumed with making them pay.

Protect yourself and live your life. As Dr Martha Stout says, “Living well is the best revenge.”

So, now I will ask…..Do you know a sociopath?

For more on this I recommend reading ‘The Sociopath Next Door’ by Clinical psychologist Dr Martha Stout, Ph.D.

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I thought it would be fun to see if it was possible to write a story in no more than six sentences. This is what I come up with…

The Wrong Path :

He stood at the crossroads at the tender age of seventeen where, as predicted, he had received his first criminal record. He could have walked to the left and stayed on its disastrous path, ending up just another statistical drain on today’s society. But he chose the path to the right, working hard to reclaim his dignity and self respect. He cherished this path, gaining a rewarding job, loving girlfriend and loyal friends. He awoke on the day of his 22nd birthday not knowing that today he would be honoured a hero. Today he would rescue the life of a young child from a burning building, sacrificing his own life in the process.

NOW, it’s your turn. I want to read your 6 sentence stories. Good luck!

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Being as it was Halloween ‘an all, I had planned to write a blog last week about the creepy village I live in, but I changed my mind when I watched Halloween Resurrection on Saturday night. Now it is no secret that Michael Myers rates number 2 on my list of things I fear the most, right after spiders, which I find totally alien (there is absolutely no justification why they need eight horrible, hairy legs). Anyway, I snuggled under my duvet and, with hubby snoring next to me, I watched the whole movie. Anyone who has seen ‘Resurrection’ will no doubt agree with me when I say it doesn’t hold a torch to the original Halloween film. In fact I have no idea what number in the franchise this one is and, to be honest, I don’t care enough to spend the two minutes needed to Google it, but my god, does Michael Myers scare the crap out of me.

 A little piece of information you should know about me before I continue. Not much will frighten me. If I hear a noise during the night, I will go and investigate. Yeah sure, I thought I was going to have a heart attack while I walked alone (walked you hear, and I rebuke all rumours that say I nervously edged my screaming self round) the House of Horrors in LA’s Universal Studios, but the adrenaline rush was amazing!

Well, after the film finished I wanted to go to the loo (that means ‘toilet’ to my American friends) and, as always after I watch Michael Myers for 90 minutes, I was scared to leave my bedroom.

This got me thinking. What was it about his character that scared me so much? I’ve watched all kinds of horror films and none of them have this effect on me, Vacancy, Wrong Turn, Friday 13th, The Crazies, and Tremors. Ok, I am kidding with the last one, although will admit to loving it. I thought it could be because there are many Michael Myers out there for real. No? How many stories do we read in newspapers of people being butchered in their own homes or knife wielding maniacs dragging women off to their death? Way too many to mention on my small and mere blog, I can tell you. Then I watched another film called ‘The Strangers’. For the entire film my heart beat so hard against my chest I actually questioned whether this is what it felt like before someone died of fright – I kid you not! But why had this film also scared me to such a point that I would think this?

I’ve pondered over this for a while now and this is what I’ve finally come up with. In both Halloween and The Strangers, all the killers are wearing masks. You cannot see their faces, only the blacks of their eyes. These masks stop me from seeing any emotion shown on their faces, hence I have absolutely no idea what they are thinking or planning to do next. This to me is utterly frightening.

My husband cannot watch paranormal/ghost films, heck he struggles to get through an episode of Supernatural, and yet these films do not scare me. Why is that? Why does one film scare me and another scare someone else?

So, as an experiment, I want to know who or what scares you and more specifically, why.

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When I write magazine articles, one of the first things I do is jot down a list of key topic points I want to include. So, when I decided to write my first novel, it seemed obvious to use the same formula throughout the initial plotting stages. I already had an idea for the story, knew which characters I needed and had a rough plan how I wanted it to end. From there I bullet pointed each scene and then each action within that scene. Voila! Easy peasey. I now had a template to use when writing my story.

So why didn’t it occur to me to do the same thing with my characters? Characters are the core of any story. It doesn’t matter how good your novel idea may be, if your characters are weak, boring and unrealistic then you are not going to hold your readers interest. Characters need to be exciting and giving your protagonist flaws and making them argumentative or even a little nasty doesn’t mean they will be unlikable. Look at Bella from the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyer has her vampire loving butt flitting back and forth between Jacob and Edward, almost playing them off one and other. She pouts, she moans and she never listens to anyone and yet the fans love her. Why is that? Is it because she is strong willed and willing to fight for those around her? It’s certainly not because we are told to like her. Readers are clever and will make up their own minds about what they like, even if they are swept up in the sea of phenomenon that is Robert Pattison.

One of the most resourceful things I’ve learnt, and therefore apply before plotting any story, is to thoroughly create my characters. They are, after all, what we are going to be writing about for the next 6 – 12 months so it makes sense that we should know them better than the back of our hand, right? Of course it does.

Now, let me ask you a question. If you were to write your own autobiography, where would you start? At age ten when you took your first piano lesson? Think again. You would start from the moment you were born. Second question: Would you write only about yourself? *Shakes head*. You would include your parents, siblings and relevant friends, wouldn’t you? Say ‘yes Donna’. It probably seems obvious when you are thinking about yourself, but maybe not so obvious when you are thinking about your characters. Be nice, give them a past and bring them to life. You’ll soon see they are no longer untouchable but have in fact become a real life living person.

Now thrashing out your characters is no quick process, although you will get quicker as time passes, and it is vital that you keep them consistent. If you are inventing a villain with a lisp, keep him as villain with a lisp. If you are writing about a sociopath with absolutely no conscious, don’t suddenly make him feel sorry for the neighbour’s dog when the owner beats it for barking all the time. Think about all the characters you’ve either read about or watched on the television. In the good movies they’re all consistent. How many times have you seen Michael Myers about to kill someone only to have second thoughts at the last minute and guiltily break down? Never (well apart from one of the sequels where he hesitates in killing his niece, but that was rubbish so it doesn’t count). He is a killer and his back story supports that. He killed animals as a kid and famously killed his sister. He is a psychopath and has absolutely no conscience. On the other side we have our heroes. Let’s look at the well loved Dean Winchester from TV’s Supernatural. He is strong and tough and scared of nothing. He fights and kills demons, vampires and witches without any hesitation, but does all this killing make him a psychopath too? Hell no! Dean has a conscious for a start plus he loves Sam (his brother) and even sacrifices his own life to bring Sam back from the dead. He is conflicted. He wants to experience what a normal, loving family could be like and yet knows he has to continue being a demon hunter to protect mankind. He can be arrogant, flippant and a womaniser. He drinks and won’t let anybody touch his car. But do we hate him? Do we heck. No, we love him even more because every flaw is counteracted with an emotion. We’ve seen him cry and struggle with death and loss. He is that real person we either all want to be or all want to know. And why is this? Because right at beginning, before the pilot was even written, the writer sat down and worked out who Dean was going to be. Plus he is easy on the eye, which always helps. It worked for Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond as we finally saw the hard nosed spy with a heart and that is how we like our heros to be.

Having said all that, tell me who your favourite character is and why?

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