Tag: antagonist

antagonist

In fiction as in life

 Yesterday, I posted about authors getting into shape. That got me thinking about the physical fitness habits of fictional characters. “Person versus nature” is a classic literary theme. A character engaged in an outdoor activity like backpacking, skiing, or trekking might find themselves combating nature’s fury in the form of a landslide, earthquake, or avalanche. A character might undergo physical training as preparation for battle against their antagonist. Even if you’re not a fan of sports films or boxing, when someone says, “Rocky,” you imagine Sylvester Stallone’s triumphant run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Dr. Strange” features several scenes of Benedict Cumberbatch enduring physical as well as magical training. Superheroes require physical toughness to fight the forces of evil. Two my favorite movies, “Stripes” and “Private Benjamin,” present the rigors of military physical fitness as both a literal antagonist to overcome and as metaphorical antagonist for the characters’ battles against themselves and others who are betting on them to fail. Christine Sneed, one of the authors interviewed for the article, “How the bookish stay in shape,” (William Hageman, Chicago Tribune, November 11, 2015) includes college athletes and distance runners as characters in her novels. Author Philip Brewer wrote a 2013 blog post, “Fictional characters getting in shape,” describing how he enjoys scenes showing the protagonist engaged in fitness activities. He lists Man on Fire, Wise Man’s Fear, Critical Space, and, of course, “Rocky,” as examples. Commenters on the post mentioned the Travis McGee, Doc Ford, and Elvis Cole series as others. What about you? Are you a fan of physical fitness in fiction? As a plot device to put a character in jeopardy? As preparation for the ultimate battle? As a metaphor for a battle against self-doubt? Or as a way to show that characters are as human as we are? Leave a comment on the blog or come over to Facebook to share and discuss. 

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Winter Storm

 Winter’s got me in a slump. Short days, long nights. Subzero temperatures. Ice storms that shut down cities. Layers and layers, so many layers, of clothing. Enough, already. Bring on Spring.
Writing’s tough for me when I’ve got the winter doldrums. My brain wants to hibernate from November through mid-March, not devise intricate plots and perilous situations for my characters to overcome. Winter is my antagonist.
Which makes me think—can the season or the weather act as a character in a story? I answer my own question—sure. Person versus nature is as classic a battle as person versus person or person versus self. In Murder on the Orient Express, winter weather stops the train. Snow is as much the bad guy as the killer. Snow makes another appearance as an opposing force in J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery in White. The title of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter leaves no doubt the season plays a role in the plot. Peter Hoeg’s Smila’s Sense of Snow hinges on the protagonist’s knowledge of the frigid stuff.
Writing this, I notice novels featuring winter-as-opposing-force come to mind more readily than novels where spring, summer, or fall weather drive the plot. Probably because, to me, weather is the most malevolent of all seasons. But I can imagine situations where a spring thunderstorm or summer drought might figure as integral parts of a story. Fall’s harder. A body in a leaf pile, maybe? What are some other stories where the weather is the star?  Comment here or start a discussion on Facebook.
 

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Don't Mess with Mother Nature

 I spent the weekend the way I imagine most of the rest of the country spent it—watching or reading about the horror unfolding in Houston and other parts of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey. Unprecedented flooding, hundreds of highways closed, cutting off escape, untold numbers of people trapped or displaced, billions of dollars in damage. Images and stories of destruction reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Nature kicking humankind in the ass, reminding us it’s more powerful than our built environment, telling us our high-tech gizmos can’t save us. Forcing us to rely on human ingenuity and grit. Nature as antagonist is a common theme in stories. Movies like Volcano and Twister tell viewers upfront who—or what—the hero will have to overcome to save herself, her friends, the neighborhood, the planet. Every good story gives the hero a worthy antagonist is the mantra you learn in writing workshops and guidebooks. But an antagonist—the force that opposes the protagonist, the obstacle between the hero and her goal—doesn’t have to be human. Wo/man can face opposition from technology, society, animals, surroundings, weather. The force of weather can turn an otherwise mundane, familiar, bucolic setting into a strange, terrifying, menacing hell. Greater Los Angeles becomes a volcanic fit. The Great Plains become a tornado factory. New York City becomes a frozen wasteland. California becomes an earthquake-ravaged pile of rubble. Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city, becomes a swamp. On one level, the hero’s struggle against nature may serve as a metaphor for struggles against the self or as a cautionary tale against human arrogance, greed, and carelessness. On another, they serve as thrilling tales of the fight for survival against an opponent that acts without fear or mercy or discrimination or human limitation. Several human vs. nature stories, fiction and non-fiction, come to mind as I write this: The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air, San Andreas, Dante’s Peak, To Build a Fire… What are some of your favorite stories that feature nature as the “bad guy”? Donate to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation 

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Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…

 Another confession. I’m crushing on men who don’t exist. No, I’m not delusional. I have fictional crushes. It’s a thing. Google it. I watched Father Brown, the BBC series streaming on Netflix, last night while doing my taxes. (Filed ’em at 11:55 pm–all hail the Queen of the Last Minute.) By the time I hit send in the e-file program, I realized (read: admitted) I had a crush on Inspector Sullivan and Hercule Flambeau. An odd dichotomy to crush on–a by-the-book law enforcement officer and a ruthless master thief. But they have something in common. They’re both Father Brown’s antagonists. Inspector Sullivan reminds me of Inspector Javert. Not actually a villain, but a man so dedicated to law and order he’s sometimes blinded to the greater cause of justice. Flambeau, on the other hand, is an antagonist along the lines of Professor Moriarty. A criminal mastermind, he’s Father Brown’s true nemesis. What, aside from the skill of the casting director in choosing talented, attractive actors, makes antagonists on-screen (and in-print) crush-worthy? Or at least appealing? Unforgettable? What draws us to the Dexter’s, Jokers, Moriartys, Voldemorts, and, yes, even Lucifers of the fiction world? I doubt there’s a single answer. Each reader and viewer has their own thoughts about what makes a good bad guy. Someone told me they preferred villains who behaved badly because some past experience damaged them. No bad-just-because allowed. I like antagonists who either aren’t villains–the single-minded or overzealous or rigid cop who opposes the unorthodox sleuth but ultimately wants the same thing, to see justice prevail and order restored–or the bad guy who offers some hope, however tiny, of redemption, the villain whose dormant (but not absent) conscience flares up occasionally and spurs them to do the right thing. Some like antagonists who are so well-crafted and fully developed they generate a visceral reaction, even if the reaction is to the completeness of their evil. What do you think makes a bad guy oh-so-good? Do you go for the villain who feels remorse? The one you hope to  (vicariously) save? Or the one you love to hate?

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