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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Charactetization Dilema

   
Author Topic: Charactetization Dilema
ForlornShadow
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I'm trying to figure out how I can get readers to 'care' for a character that seems to be the antagonist. Throughout most of the story he's portrayed by other characters as an evil monster, bent on destroying people he doesn't necessarily care for. However at the end of the story readers find out that he not only isn't bad but he's just been a puppet the whole time. Being led around by a character called Father who is the real antagonist of the story.

I want readers to have conflicting feelings about him. Any ideas how do so?

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Natej11
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When it comes to making you like the bad guy, you can't find a better source than anime. They manage to turn the vilest monsters into sympathetic characters. How do they do it?

According to Ender, you can't fully understand someone without loving them.

So if you want readers to sympathize with a villain, all you have to do is 1. help them understand him deeply and 2. give him some redeeming quality they can hold onto.

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Meredith
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Does this character ever have any POV scenes, or is he only portrayed through what others think of him?
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extrinsic
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Two characteristics create reader empathy for villains, nemeses, and antagonists, develop for the character an empathy-worthy want or problem wanting satisfaction and an at times noble, self-sacrficing tendency in addition to a sinful self-serving agenda. Have other characters notice those characteristics too.

An antagonist is a character or persona who is both changed by and incites change in a protagonist and is not necessarily a villain or nemesis.

[ February 16, 2013, 04:34 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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genevive42
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I'll second what's been said already and add that it helps if you make the character interesting. Don't let him be a cardboard villain. Give him his own agenda and wants and desires, and while those may be contrary to the protagonist, they don't necessarily have to be bad.

Also, if your character is a puppet, I have to ask what kind? Is he mentally or chemically controlled by Father? Or is Father manipulating him by say, holding his family hostage if he doesn't do certain things? It makes a difference if he has a choice. If he has no choice, there's a sympathy point right there, but it makes him rather pointless unless he defeats the control somehow, but then he's no longer so much of a bad guy. If he has a choice and decides that it's okay to kill thousands of people to keep his wife from being tortured to death, well that's a more interesting dilemma.

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Grumpy old guy
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My first question is, do *you* like your villain? If you do, what is it that you like about him, and can you show it to other people?

All too often, the villain of the story is off-stage, so to speak. There is little opportunity for readers to see things from the antagonist's POV; and most writers ignore delving too deeply into the antagonist's persona. The starkest example of this is Sauron in LotR.

The most complex villains are those who think what they are doing is right, and that the protagonist is a simple fool who'll make things worse, or put the things the antagonist holds most dear in peril.

Phil.

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genevive42
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If you want to see someone take an evil character and make them sympathetic, read Joe Abercrombie's, First Law series. There's an inquisitor, who tortures people for a living, that he makes quite interesting and by the end of things, I dare say you'll probably even like the character. It helps greatly that we regularly see things through this character's pov. That's what I plan to do with my big villain that's not-quite-a-villain, as well.
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Owasm
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Have he/she do something nice to something or someone. It's easier to show a conflicted person if they have a point of view, but have them do something out of stereotypical character so the reader has an inkling that this person might be redeemable under the right circumstances.
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rcmann
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Like Meredith said, no one is evil in their own eyes. Show the world through his eyes.
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MAP
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If you haven't seen the animated series Avatar, the Last Airbender, I think you need to see it (not that horrible movie, but the cartoon).

The main antagonist Prince Zuko goes through this exact type of character arc, and it is brilliantly done. For the most of the series he ruthlessly chases the good guys, but the more you learn about him, the more you like him and want him to redeem himself. Seriously, it is amazing. Prince Zuko was my favorite character,and I LOVED all the characters.

Really, like others have said above, you just need to the make the antagonist a real, three-dimensional character, with fears, insecurities, wants, goals, dreams, etc.

It also helps to make him funny. [Smile]

[ February 17, 2013, 01:02 AM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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ForlornShadow
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Thanks for all the feedback. It's great.

To answer this question:
quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
Does this character ever have any POV scenes, or is he only portrayed through what others think of him?

He does, just not a lot of them.

To answer genevive42's question about what kind of puppet. At first he really loved Father, but as time goes on Father is becoming more and more abusive both mentally and physically. But because of what he is he has nowhere to go.

Thanks again to everyone. I really like this character and I don't want him to be hated by readers.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by ForlornShadow:
I'm trying to figure out how I can get readers to 'care' for a character that seems to be the antagonist.

Short answer: sent the MS to Dr. Bob... ;-)

Long answer: the first step in getting readers to care about a character is to make him what I call "relatable". If the readers understand a character's world view and how that informs the character's actions (and *justifies* them in that character's eyes), you're most of the way there. A judicious sprinkling of what Blake Snyder called "saving the cat" (having the character do some small thing which readers will see as honorable or admirable) might put the character over.

But the save-the-cat gambit doesn't work unless we understand what make the character do what he does. If you portray him *entirely* as an antagonist it won't work.

You've got to something like one of the following: (a) let us into the character's POV. (b) Drop hints that the opinions of the other characters isn't the whole story. (c) Give the character an advocate everyone agrees is admirable.

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by MattLeo:
quote:
Originally posted by ForlornShadow:
I'm trying to figure out how I can get readers to 'care' for a character that seems to be the antagonist.

Short answer: sent the MS to Dr. Bob... ;-)
Matt,

1. I suspect you mean "send" since I received no manuscript.

2. I'm curious. May I ask why you made this suggestion?

In any case, I agree with your answer. Here it is essential for all characters to possess qualities, have experiences, or behave in a manner the reader can relate (or reason that they may behave similarly in similar circumstances) if the character is to have depth/reality.

In addition, recall "For there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" [Ecclesiastes 7:20], and this is true in reverse for an antagonist.

Having characters who wear "gray" hats at times creates a moral ambiguity that strengthens the tale--i.e. the hero who overcomes his flaw elevates the impact of his(her) triumph; while the villain who displays a moment of lovingkindness before defeat deepens his(her) tragedy.

Just my two shekels.

Respectfully,
Dr.Bob

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MattLeo
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Dr. Bob -- I was thinking about the way that the irredeemable character of Diana in my novel *The Keystone* stuck in your craw. Everyone else took it for granted that she was a complete loser, but you kept on objecting that with a unanimous Sanhedrin, something must be fishy...

That stuck in *my* craw, because my instinct too is to make the villain sympathetic. But in movies of the genre I was satirizing, the screwball comedies, it's an unalterable convention that the romantic rival is either a drip or a phony.

Your objection made me think about why that was, and I settled on this. Screwball comedies are fairy tales about a spurned, eccentric lover rescuing his or her beloved from choosing a life of suffocating conventionality, represented in the figure of a rival who is rigid, emotionally tepid, and (it is strongly implied) sexually frigid. What matters in the story is not the reason the rival is this way, for the rival is presented as-is. Changing the rival undermines the story. The reasons that matter, the ones that have to be overcome, are the beloved's reasons for making such an appalling choice.

However a novel has to have more texture than a movie necessarily has, so your objection made me go back and arrange a happy ending for Diana, one not so blissful as Kate's ending, puts Diana's conventionality to better use than entombing someone who is a free spirit in a "proper" marriage.

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