This is topic Problems with my antagonist's motivation... in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by PinkFanta (Member # 8863) on :
So, I know it's better to have your characters fully developed and to give your antagonist a goal and motivation as well as your protagonist. However, in my most recent story, my antagonist has evolved as a well-meaning force of nature, someone who tends to control situations and the lives of others as naturally as breathing. She drives her friends crazy, but she's convinced that she knows better than they do and so has no remorse. And, in this particular story, she actually DOES know better than they do, and her actions actually lead to the happy ending, regardless of how hard the protagonist fights against it. As a result, she is symbolic of God, and so therefore doesn't actually need to question her motives, nor have a serious epiphany by the time the book is over.

So what does this mean?

My possibilities:

1. I'm being lazy, and should develop her differently. But I actually really LIKE the God-like personality that she has.

2. I should assign her a different position in the story, and add in an antagonist that has legitimate motives.

3. It's fine the way it is.

4. I'm missing something huge, which is very possible.

Another point: This novel is structured like a romance, with the antagonist in a matchmaker position. I've read that, in romances, it's generally the romantic object that plays the antagonist, otherwise the MCs would be making out by the first chapter. *laugh* But in this scenario the MCs are in agreement in their opinion of the matchmaker's controlling tendencies, and end up like partners fighting against her attempt to match them.

Anyone have any thoughts?

Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
Not every antagonist has to be "The Dark Lord". The best antagonists should see themselves as the hero of their own story. I think you're fine. The key thing is that the interaction of the protagonists and the antagonist creates enough tension and conflict to drive the story forward. Not whether one of them is trying to save the world or conquer it.
Posted by KoDe Nichols (Member # 7884) on :
I'm not sure that you need to do this with the "antagonist". I think that if its written properly, the reader will be able to come to this conclusion themselves. The characters' motivations should be clear by their thoughts and actions, I don't think that its necessary for the author to spoon-feed the ideas to the reader, in fact, it may be taken as "preachy"
Posted by Merlion-Emrys (Member # 7912) on :
I don't personally go for the "antagonist should see themselves as a hero thing" but on the other hand...antagonist is really a very broad concept. Its just somebody who antagonizes. I think what you have going sounds quite interesting and I, personally, wouldn't change it.

Tell the story you want to tell. Don't worry about whether the widgets are in the right whatchmacallits or whatever. Just tell your story. YOU decide what's "supposed to be" in YOUR story.

Posted by PinkFanta (Member # 8863) on :
Thanks for the opinions so far, guys.

I think my issue isn't so much that I doubt my story; I've written most of the first draft and I'm confident in the ability of the conflict and character growth to keep the reader pulled along for the ride. And I'm not trying to set store so much in "the formula;" it's just that "the formula" exists for a reason, and so I find myself comparing my story idea against "the formula" just to make sure I'm not missing something major. But this story is heavily driven by self-denial; in other words, internal conflict. So maybe I should look at it that way.

Posted by Merlion-Emrys (Member # 7912) on :
it's just that "the formula" exists for a reason

If so, I have yet to figure out what that reason is.

As a result, she is symbolic of God, and so therefore doesn't actually need to question her motives, nor have a serious epiphany by the time the book is over.

This is the important bit to me. Not all characters need the same features or thoughts. In particular, questioning of motives etc...sometimes, things really are simple and straightforward. If this character has no reason to question her motives and no need of some sort of epiphany, then she doesn't need these things.

I believe (and based on some passages in "On Writing", Stephen King seems to agree) that a lot of becoming an effective storyteller is letting go off fear and doubt and finding confidence in our own work. If this character feels right to you as she is, then probably that is the case.

Posted by PinkFanta (Member # 8863) on :
I guess I have to agree with you. My whole growth as a writer has centered around learning that storytelling is instinctive for me, and that most "How to write..." types books are only giving labels to things I understood without knowing I understood them.

But I think this is the purpose of "the formula" for the natural writer. An objective, birds-eye view of the writing process, so that you can categorize what's going on in your own head and so learn to wield your own tools more effectively.

Posted by Merlion-Emrys (Member # 7912) on :
Yes, you're right. Those formulas did arise naturally, to begin with. Its just that now, some try to impose them on everything, whether they fit naturally or not. I just try to encourage other storytellers to follow their hearts and minds as much as possible.

But sometimes, we don't know for sure and thats where interaction here with our colleagues does make for a useful balance and check point to keep ourselves on track.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited August 17, 2010).]

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
One of the simplest definitions of "antagonist" is "the character who puts obstacles in the way of the protagonist achieving his or her objective," and an antagonist can do that by being evil, wicked, and/or nasty (at one end of the spectrum) or by being even more honorable and righteous than the protagonist but having objectives that are at cross-purposes to the protagonist's objective (at another end of the spectrum--there may be more than one end, by the way), or by doing any number of things in between.

Did that make sense?

Edited to add: Okay, well, maybe not the simplest....

[This message has been edited by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (edited August 17, 2010).]

Posted by J (Member # 2197) on :
. . . but definitely one of the more functional.
Posted by PinkFanta (Member # 8863) on :
Thanks, guys.

I guess I'm just struggling with motivation in general. I'm having a hard time finding a description of "motivation" or "goal" that doesn't make it sound like it's absolutely critical that the protagonist have a tangible goal that he's striving for. But, in my story, the tension is derived from the fact that the protagonist feels like she has no freedom to stop the meddling antagonist whatsoever. There's nothing she can strive for, she can only endure it until it ends.

Can a "goal" be a choice to endure something horrible for a set amount of time? Something that gets progressively more intolerable?

[This message has been edited by PinkFanta (edited August 17, 2010).]

Posted by TamesonYip (Member # 9072) on :
I haven't read your story so, this could be totally off base, but the problem with not having motivation is you run the risk of having an overly passive character- an observer in her own life. This can potentially be extremely annoying to a reader- lots of shouting dang it just do something already! Not that it can't be done, but just something to watch out for.
Posted by MAP (Member # 8631) on :
What does your character want? If she had the freedom, what would she do? That is your character's motivation or goal. She has to want something; everyone wants something.

And yes people can choose to endure something horrible. Just make sure she does something, because passive characters can be frustrating to read about.

Posted by JSchuler (Member # 8970) on :
I had the same problem in the book I'm writing: The character's motivation was to survive. It wasn't enough, so I found a supporting character that was more interesting and made him the main, and demoted the other to supporting.
Posted by tchernabyelo (Member # 2651) on :
"But, in my story, the tension is derived from the fact that the protagonist feels like she has no freedom to stop the meddling antagonist whatsoever."

Well, there's your character's goal rigth there. She WANTS that freedom.

Posted by satate (Member # 8082) on :
You antagonist already has a very obvious flaw. She's controlling. She thinks she knows best and she's going to make sure everyone does it. It doesn't matter if she's right. A non-controlling person would just step back and say fine do what you want. She sounds like my mom. It used to drive me crazy that my mom would tell me which streets to drive to get somewhere and it didn't matter that she was only trying to help and that she right.

To figure out your protagonist's goal just ask yourself what she would do if she had her freedom and could escape the meddling. It doesn't matter if her goal isn't realized. Or perhaps her goal is to not fall in love, or go to school, or have a career, or fall in love with someone else. How is the antagonist blocking her?

Posted by PinkFanta (Member # 8863) on :
Okay, I finally thought of an example that illustrates my MC's "motivation." If anyone has ever read "Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler, and I'm sure many of you have because OSC mentions the book a thousand times in "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy," you will see how my MC has to interact with her world and the antagonist. In Wild Seed, Anyanwu is completely controlled by Doro and her overarching goal through the novel is more of a mood than anything: to protect her descendants from him. But, by and large, it's about a woman trying to learn how to live in a world she didn't choose. And yet no one would call her passive. The story is completely different from mine, and yet analogous in all the points that matter for this discussion.

[This message has been edited by PinkFanta (edited August 21, 2010).]

[This message has been edited by PinkFanta (edited August 21, 2010).]

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