Monday, 12 September 2011

WIP Update: Day 15 & Conversation With An Antagonist

It's day 15 and the start of week three. So, let's see how I got on:

Total word count:
Word count this week: 7281

Time spent writing: 11 hours
Time spent on writing-related tasks: 4
Time spent thinking about novel: not as much as I would have liked

More things I've learnt in the last seven days:
  • Life will sometimes get in the way; will affect your ability to write. When it does you either have to work through it or cut yourself some slack. Life isn't always easy.
  • Unless you are the kind of writer who wakes up one morning with a fully formed and perfect plot, your plot will change. And that is okay. It isn't a sign you're a weak writer; it's a sign you know when things aren't working.
  • Don't go back to make changes when writing your first draft. Make a note of what needs to be changed, how it will affect the rest of the story, and then keep moving forward.
  • Carrying on from my last point, follow your gut instinct - it is always right. This may seem like a sweeping statement but from my experience with short story critiques, every time I left something in that I wasn't sure about it was picked up by the person doing the critique. It doesn't mean what you've written instead is perfect but at least you've cut what you know isn't.

Conversation with an Antagonist

"Well hello, Mr. Antagonist."
"Yeah. I don't like that title."
"Why ever not? You get to be villainous and scary, and appear rather a lot."
"But the problem is you're making me look all bad."
"In real life people aren't like that. There are reasons they turn bad."
"I mean I might have been dropped on the head as a baby, dumped by the love of my life, and fired from my $100,000 job because I wouldn't sleep with the boss. I'd be bitter. I'd want revenge."
"But nothing like that is going to happen in your novel."
"True. But what I'm trying to say is you have to show reasons why I behave the way I do, otherwise the reader will think I'm cardboard cut-out cliché."
"Okay. I get your point."
"Just one more little thing."
"Go on."
"Could you make me a bit taller? I want to be able to intimidate people with my height."
"Em . . ."

So, how do you ensure your characters are both believable and three dimensional to your readers?

Firstly, you need to remember everything a characters does, says, or feels happens for a reason, whether they are the antagonist or protagonist. Real life might be a series of coincidences but not in fiction. Every story element must make sense. If the antagonist wants to strip away the protagonists power it's because they want power. If they want to murder the protagonist's wife it's because they believe the protagonist was responsible for the death of someone they loved. There must be a reason for every action.

Secondly, every character needs a backstory. Whilst you don't need detailed backstories for every character in your novel, knowing all the key elements in your main character's lives will help to add depth to both the characters and the story. It will make the characters actions more believable. 

Thirdly, your character must undergo a journey or transformation of some kind. They need to have been changed or to have at least learnt something by the end of a story. This does not mean your protagonist ends up bad, whilst your antagonist turns all fluffy and kind-hearted by the end - they might do but that in itself can be seen as a cliché - it means how the character is at the beginning and how they are at the end will make sense to the reader because of the choices they made. 

Those are my three methods for ensuring my characters are believable and are not simply cardboard cut-outs. Do you have any of your own?


  1. I know that some writers try taking on the persona of the character they're writing, just for a while - I'm sure that helps to clarify them and make them three-dimensional.

  2. Antagonists need a teeny tiny spot of 'good' somewhere in their makeup to humanize them, to give the reader a connection. No matter how small.
    good post. Kinda scaring me about your conversation with the voices. hmmm

  3. I also think about what they want, what goals they want to achieve.
    You're making great progress, Ellie!

  4. You're making great progress! Yes, every character needs a backstory, even if it's not used, so the writer knows who they are.
    Hope your toe is feeling better!

  5. Sounds like your writing is coming along really well! Good for you!

    I think it's good to give the antagonist good qualities and the protagonist one or two not-so-good qualities. Makes them more human and livens up the story.

  6. I have to tell you that I'm in love with your progress! You give me hope. And for this slow starting morning, you've given me a boost!

  7. This point: Don't go back to make changes when writing your first draft. Make a note of what needs to be changed, how it will affect the rest of the story, and then keep moving forward.
    Is something I have to start doing because editing back stops me moving forwards. I have picked up my original WIP to day and am make notes on the next chapters to get it moving again.
    I love fleshing out characters. Great post :O)

  8. excellent progress and thanks for the advice!
    i keep a notebook or file with all my backstory for reference while writing =)

  9. Dear Antagonist - think Joe Pesci and James Cagney. Small in statures but you always say "yes sir how high" when they ask you to jump!

    :-) Take care

  10. Loved the read Ellie, I have just finished the first proofs of my new book. All I got to decide on is a design of photo.
    Very time consuming as you can appreciate.


  11. It's easy to forget we all have good and evil in us. No one even the imaginary can only be one or the other.

    Good post. Lots of help.

  12. That is all wonderful advice, so I have a question for you. Do you ever finish a second and third draft and discover it looks like crap to you? And if so, how many times do you normally edit before it shines and you realize critique partners won't rip you a new one? Yikes that's more than one question. :)

  13. Hi Ellie .. well done, but keep going - it will all work out.. cheers to this coming week too - Hilary

  14. Very glad you're making wonderful progress. Keep it up.

    As for building my characters into something beyond a cardboard cut out...I try to give them a hint of good even if they are just dastardly or give them a hint of imperfectioin if they are the hero/heroine of the story. It helps to balance out the extremes that can happen when dealing with the good vs. evil angle.

  15. You point out a lot of good things. I've heard from many successful writers all of the points you touch upon...especially regarding the transformation of the protagonist. I just wish life worked that way cause my life doesn't ever seem to change.

  16. Hi Ellie I have read your post and the other's comment's to me you are making good progress. i would not know the first thing about writering a book. I am looking forward to the next step.

  17. I also make sure my characters have flaws--they aren't perfect either externally or internally.

  18. Awesome word count!! Rock on! And LOL about your protag conversation and him wanting to be taller :) So true about having depth and proper motives.

  19. I'm with Mr Antagonist, most people do bad things for a reason that seems perfectly excusable to them.

    I have also wondered about characters in books I have read, some of their characters who just pass through seem to have enough backstory to write a whole novel just about them. In fact one or two authors have done just that, presenting the novel from three or more POVs. Maybe Mr Antagonist could have a solo career in another book.

  20. 16534 is a fabulous word count. I am envious, Ellie, but also very glad for you.

    I also believe in character growth: a character should have grown, not just two inches wider or got a few more gray hairs by the end of the story. The growth should be an emotional one.

  21. Great post Ellie! I'm reading a book about these details. The journey, transformation is key to carry the story along, otherwise it will fall flat.

  22. Love seeing your progress.

    I try to imagine myself as the character, flesh out their deepest desires, fears, greatest temptations, preferences for food, music, scents. If I can really get inside their head, then it's easier to make them real on the page.

  23. Great methods for creating a lifelike character - and I whole heartily agree! :)

    I have a couple of blog awards that I want to pass along to you. You can check them out here:

  24. Hey Ellie, you have an award over at my blog. Keep up with your hard work :-)

  25. one obstacle i had: everyone spoke, more or less, the same way... BIG mistake!

    members of one family MAY; everyone else has their own way[s] of saying things, and way[s] of thinking....

  26. I love that conversation! And great advice! Thanks so much!

  27. I have methods to make my bad guys seem believable... Some more successful than others. I've tried making the bad guy start out seeming like a good guy, that way at least the reader doesn't start off thinking this is a bad guy. I don't know, it might not be the best thing I've ever done, but I think it's helped.

  28. Congrats on your great progress!

    I love playing around with the (fictional) baddies. It always fascinates me when we see people on TV - shocked because they've discovered their neighbour is a killer - describing said killer as one of the nicest people one could wish to meet. I enjoy playing around with my characters and seeing just how far they need to be pushed to commit murder. Even the good characters need flaws too. Sadly, most of us aren't perfect. :)

    Keep going and good luck!

  29. Looking forward to your picks for the blogfest on Monday!

  30. You are making great progress for sure :)

  31. I think the every character, even evil ones, should have flaws. Everyone in the waking world has flaws and we like to relate to others who have them. Imagine having a flawless character? Boring! Great post!


    Can Alex save Winter from the darkness that hunts her?

    YA Paranormal Romance, Darkspell coming fall of 2011!

  32. Great conversation with your antagonist - and very true. You can't have a believable bad guy if s/he isn't bad for a REASON.
    And good job with your progress!

  33. My methods are the same as yours, namely to remember the 'villain' probably doesn't think of himself that way. And if you can't make the antagonist sympathetic, make him so fascinating you can't look away.

    I'm doing a 30 Loglines in 30 Days Blogfest during October in preparation for NaNoWriMo, and writer-blogger-friend Margo suggested I ask if you could help spread the word a little. I'd really appreciate any shout-outs you could give. Thanks so much!

  34. My methods are pretty much the same as yours. I prefer knowing my characters above having a perfect plot laid out.


  35. Good advice, Ellie. I always try to give my characters agendas--placing the protagonist's against the antagonist's. From my screenwriting days.

  36. It's October Ellie. Where have you been?

  37. Such a great post! Love visiting your blog!

    Lola x

  38. Hi Ellie! Just stopping in to say hello. It's been way too long since I've made it all around the earth to your part of the world! Have a wonderful weekend!

  39. You make a very valid point about your characters not just doing things for the sake of it. People don't just exist like that. People need motivations and beliefs. A great reminder, thank you.

    Loving your word count numbers, you are doing great!

  40. Love your positive attitude! Sounds like you're making great progress. I couldn't agree more about the antagonist having a bit of good. In some of the books I've read the bad guy was waaaaaay too bad, a turn-off.

  41. Love it! This is a great way to get some roundness to the characters. Hope the writing and all is going well.

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  42. Congrats! on your Nano word count. I've gotten a little over a thousand so far. But I'llpick up the pace this week.

  43. hey there... little miss riding hood... how have you been?


  44. hope is still okay... missing your wit.

  45. If anyone has heard from Ellie, please leave a comment here. I'm really concerned about her. I've e-mailed her, as I know others have too, but haven't heard back. Thanks.

  46. i am back again... i hope all is well, are you stuck in the matrix or in the grid... i have been missing you and your smiles...



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