It Seems My Antagonist Isn’t Good Enough

Sorry for a bit of a hiatus on the blog posts.  It’s still winter break for some, and for those of us on the East Coast, there’s been a lot of snow and a lot of snow days.  My time has been spent shoveling, reading, and shoveling some more.

But something of great magnitude happened this past week besides the unnatural amount of snow:

One of my great Beta Readers for The Sound of Color finally got back with me.  Overall, she gave me very high praise (which felt amazing).  But maybe even better, she gave me some really good insight into what the story lacked.

And what needed the most work?

My antagonist(s).  Both my Main Antag and my Sidekick Antag are characters that we THINK are good but turn out to be evil.  (*cue the menacing laughter*)

But this Beta Reader suggested that I needed to work on them a little more.  You see, I’d never really stopped to think about why my antag(s) wanted what they did.  Sure, power always looks good.  But why?  Why them?  Why would they do what they do?  And just as important, how did they get people to follow them?

In other words, my antagonists read as plot devices instead of characters.  They were an evil force instead of a warped individual.  The result was a fatal flaw in my story.

all my antagonists.jpg

In most of my favorite stories, the villain is someone with a distinct personality, a concrete set of goals, a thought-out plan, and – most importantly – strong motivation.

Part of the issue is that I never took the time to really get to know my antagonist.  I’d never given much thought to his motivation, his personality, his goals.  He pretty much showed up to cause some trouble and then disappeared again.  He wasn’t someone I know very well.

Voldemort, Loki, Darth Vader, Moriarty, the Joker, Saint Dane, President Snow – they are all people that I could describe to you better than I could describe my OWN antagonist.

So here’s to getting to know my Antag.  (I can’t say his name cause it’s a spoiler.)  To adding some scenes that show us his motivation.  To giving him more personality, more life.  To making him the hero of his own story.

If you struggle equally with writing a quality Bad Guy, let me know!  An antagonist always seems like an afterthought to me.  Or, if you’ve developed some tricks and tips to making your antag fabulous, I’d love to hear that too.

eye of sauron jif.gif

 

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Forgetting the Setting

I’ve discovered a great oxymoron of my life: I’m a visual learner, but I hate description.

When I’m in class, I always wish the teacher would shut up and draw a picture.  When I’m reading, I always wish the author would shut up about the picture and tell the story.

I remember things through pictures, but I use my words to make them.

I received a crit today that suggesting I offer more setting — a request I’ve gotten often.  And my reply was “yes, I’m working on it.”  But the truth of the matter is, when I read, I skim the setting.  I don’t care what the heck the forest looks like, just what the trees are saying.  Forget the smell of the cooking bacon, give me characters fighting over it!

And that’s how I write.  Characters interacting, talking, laughing, fighting, swordfighting, doing magic, occasionally observing a tree or some grass.  But that’s it.  I love dialogue.  I write excellent dialogue!  (I’ve been told so from multiple different sources.)  But setting?  Hah, what’s that?

I’m stuck in the oxymoron box, knocking on the walls, trying to figure out how to get out, into the Land of Setting with all its sights and smells and sounds.

How to get out?  I guess the first step is to train myself to stop skimming.  Read the darn descriptions and figure out what I like and what I don’t.  And keep working til I get it right.

What do you skim when you read?  Is that what you skip when you write, too?the-setting-sun-1

Critiquing the Pros? Oh yeah.

This week, I gave a critique on CC for the first time in close to a month.  It was the greatest moment of my day.

This author handled themselves with confidence and grace, balancing action and emotion, suspense and humor (lots of humor), and overall clean, crisp writing.  Sure, there were a few errors – typos, minor craft problems – but overall, this story was a pure joy to read.

As I concluded my critique, I made a point of saying, “I’ve critiqued close to 50 stories here on CC – and yours is one of the best I’ve seen.”

Of course, then I was curious.  How many critiques had I actually given since I started on CC?  I went back and counted.  One, two, three… forty-nine, fifty, fifty-one… sixty-nine, seventy.  I’ve given seventy critiques.  Wowzer.  Perhaps that’s why I’m now suffering from CSCS.  What’s that, you ask?

Critiqing the Pros

Well, check out this Poll that was on CC recently.  I found it fascinating because it addresses a phenomenon I’d discovered a few months ago.

I’m calling it Can’t Stop Crit-ing Syndrome. That’s CSCS for short.  If you are actively writing, editing, or critiquing, you are in danger of getting this.  Unfortunately, there is no known cure, but there are things you can do to address the symptoms.  First, let’s look at what some of the symptoms are:

* Flinching when you catch a typo in a published book

* Groaning when a published author breaks a “rule” for no reason (ie, when they info-dump, use passive voice, or forget a comma)

* Automatically correcting your friends’ and family’s grammar, despite the fact that your own grammar isn’t always perfect

* Not being able to read articles in the Washington Post Magazine anymore without wanting to yell at the author, because OH MY GOSH, DONT YOU KNOW WHAT A RUN-ON SENTENCE IS?

* Looking at a sign in a store that says “Get You’re Flowers Here” and asking to speak to the manager

While there is no official cure for CSCS, there are some suggestions for those suffering from it.  These include:

* Zoning out when around people who frequently misuse grammar

* Focusing on what magazine writers did well, not what they messed up on

* Not forcing yourself to labor through books with so many issues that you get yourself worked up

* Telling yourself that not everyone can be as good at English as you

Despite these negative symptoms that can sometimes inhibit your reading (and living) enjoyment, it can be helpful to look at the few positives that come with CSCS:

* Editing your own work is easier – I mean harder – I mean you catch more of your own mistakes

* If you suffer from long-term CSCS, you may even get to the point where you make less mistakes in your rough-drafts, because the thought of seeing those mistakes in your own writing is enough to make you poke your eyes out

* You become a better critique-er for other peoples’ stories – at least I hope

Do you, too, suffer from CSCS?  Leave me a comment and let me know I’m not the only one.

The Power of Critiques

Sometimes, turning a good story into a great one is as easy as getting a critique.  As easy and as hard.  Critiques are powerful tools, not to be taken lightly.

The things I’ve been taught by critiques — too many to count.  How to slay passive voice.  How to deepen POV.  What parts of my writing really stink.  Practical ways to show instead of tell.  Grammar refreshers.  Awkward sentences to fix.  Places that lag.  Generally, how to write better.  Sometimes it hurts, but it’s always good.

I love Critique Circle because each chapter I put up gets 2-4 (or sometimes more) critiques from people who all have different backgrounds, experience, expertise, and things they look for.

For a while, I even had a “crit partner”.  We got to the point where we knew each other’s stories well, and knew each other a bit, so that we could yell at each other when we messed up.  I loved it because he wouldn’t let me get away with things.  He’d say, Beth, I know you can do better than this.  Now go fix it.  And he loved it because I was meticulous at catching his grammar errors and making sure his story improved.

Critiques have taught me so much of what I know about writing.  And you know what?  They’ve put fuel in my tank to keep writing and keep improving.  People that enjoyed a chapter of my story.  People saying “I want to read more.”  Those are lifelines to an author.  People saying, “You know what, I wish I could write dialogue like you.”  And even sometimes, “This totally stinks, but keep you head up and keep writing anyways.”

Now, there is a hidden, sometimes overlooked value in critiques: what you learn by giving them.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve been giving a crit and said, OOoooh, that’s a vile thing to do.  Wait…. wait, I do that too.  Oh crud.  So then I can go fix it.  ANNND, it’s trained me to be a much more meticulous proofreader of my own writing.  And every piece of writing I come across.

WARNING: being a writer and giving critiques may make you paranoid about all writing.  You may be reading magazine articles, published books, children’s stories, etc, and feel the need to critique them.  I know I certainly do.  But the pros of Critiques far outweigh the risks.  🙂