Sunday, June 14, 2015

Apostate 2.1

     I shall not comment on the 'outline' method in Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants! To do so, will be to give it all away. If you want to know, buy the book.
     Libbie's method is, to my mind, not an outline. It is a structured way to conceive a character-driven book. There are other ways, but Libbie's way is good.
     What I choose to write about this time is


     "How do you determine your [main] character's key antagonist? His external goal will reveal the antagonist to you. The antagonist is always the person who is most heavily invested in achieving the same external goal." --Libbie Hawker, Take Off Your Pants! (LH, TOYP!) (italics in the original)

     I swallowed that whole for two seconds, but it came back up in a heartbeat. Counter-examples flooded into my mind. Within a few lines, Libbie contradicted herself.

     [In the book Lolita] "Humbert's goal is to possess Lolita. Lolita's goal is to achieve and maintain autonomy." --LH, TOYP!

     Humbert's goal is not the same as Lolita's goal. Libbie herself sees that:

     "The conflict between them is clear . . . ." --LH, TOYP!

     Your protagonist and your antagonist need not have the same goal. Likely they will not. But their goals must conflict and not a little. A lot. To the point that achievement of one precludes achievement of the other. Maybe to the point that achievement of one requires someone to die.

     Anyway, Libbie got me thinking. What makes the antagonist? Not an antagonist, but the antagonist.

     The antagonist is the one whose goal conflicts with and precludes the goal of the protagonist.

     Okay. What makes a 'good' antagonist?
     Let me think about this a little. Or maybe a lot.
     Start with the protag. I want a protag that the reader can identify with and empathize with. I want the reader to feel he walks in the protag's shoes as the story moves forward.
     How does that help me define the antag?
     I want an antag that the reader can also identify with and empathize with. I want the reader to think 'There  but for the grace of God go I.'
     My go-to source for examples of what works and what does not in fiction is  Stargate SG-1. I shall cite to it again and again in this post. I shall cite other works, too, but Stargate SG-1 provides on-the-nose examples of everything right and wrong with protags and antags.
     The first thing I can think of when I think about antags is that the antag has to want something. If the antag does not want something, who cares?
     SG-1 tried this to some degree with the Replicators. The Replicators debuted in Nemesis (season 3 episode 22). The Replicators want to consume everything in order to make more replicators. The protag does not want to be consumed. I think the conflict is simple. And thin. It does not generate a lot of complex relations. You destroy the Replicators or they destroy you.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with Replicators. Can you?
     Perhaps more to the point is the movie K2. It is a man-against-nature story. A bunch of guys scale K2. They deal (or not) with their interpersonal problems along the way but man-to-man interactions pale beside the struggle to stay alive. Who is their antag? The mountain. What does the mountain want? Nothing. And the film fell into a crevasse at the box office.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with a mountain. Can you?
     Or let's take Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea. Man against the Fates, with the Sea standing in for the Fates. Who identifies with the sea? No one. I read this once. Once was enough, Nobel or no.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with the sea. Can you?

     Thus --
     1) The antag must have a goal he strives for, and that goal must conflict with the protag's goal so much that the achievement of one precludes the achievement of the other.

     Is that enough?
     Even if all the members have the same goal, nobody can do antag by committee.
     SG-1 tried to do antag by committee with the Ori. The Ori first appeared in season 9 and by season 10 they succeeded in killing the show. For the same reason, Stargate Atlantis (SGA) started from the get-go with shackles on its feet. The antag in SGA was the Wraith, a race of beings who were, in essence, vampires. I never saw enough difference from one Wraith to another to distinguish the two. They were not separate beings. They were clones.
     Antag by committee did not work for SG-1 and did not work for SGA. Antag by committee does not work ever. I cannot identify with nor empathize with a committee. Can you? The antag can have minions who do his bidding -- Sauron in The Lord of the Rings had thousands -- but "in the end, there can be only one."
     Antagonist is singular, not plural.

     Thus --
     1) The antag must have a goal he strives for, and that goal must conflict with the protag's goal so much that the achievement of one precludes the achievement of the other; and
     2) The antag must be an individual, not a committee or a group.

     2001: A Space OdysseyColossus: The Forbin Project;  Star Trek: The Motion Picture; and Alan Dean FosterThe Mocking Program. What do these movies (and one book) have in common.
     The antag is a machine.
     In each case, the machine fails to satisfy as an antagonist. Have you heard of The Mocking Program? Did you enjoy Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Will you pay to see Colossus again? Even 2001 is not known for its antag but for its visuals. What did you feel when Dave overcame HAL? (BTW wanna know where HAL came from? For each letter in HAL, take the next letter in the alphabet. *;) winking) I was a kid when I saw 2001 and I felt nothing when Dave took out HAL. Not triumph, not excitement, not elation. Nothing.
     But wait, you say. What about The Terminator? you say.
     Good point. In fact, great point. Great point because the Terminator started with a human form and ended with a machine form. When it had human form, I identified with it when it busted up that biker bar. When the lights went out on the machine under that hydraulic press, what did I feel? Nothing.
     I cannot identify with nor empathize with a machine. Can you?
     Which leads back to SG-1. In their native state, the Goa'uld are short extra-terrestrial rattlesnakes. In their native state, they are dangerous to each other and little more. But once one inhabits a host, he is dangerous to all the inhabits of the galaxy. The Goa'uld are The Puppet Masters. In appearance, the Goa'uld are no longer short extra-terrestrial rattlesnakes. In appearance, they are their hosts.
     SG-1 began its two-hour pilot with Apophis (Peter Williams), a Goa'uld system lord. Before the pilot was over, Apophis became the antagonist for SG-1 and remained so for two seasons. Yeah, during those two seasons, there were episodes in which Apophis did not appear (for examples, EmancipationCold Lazarus), but even when he did not appear his presence loomed over SG-1. I knew SG-1 would return to the fight against Apophis.
     Peter Williams's portrayal of Apophis was masterful. Handsome, charismatic, disdainful, powerful, and evil. He cared not at all for others. Do not underestimate the point that Apophis was handsome and charismatic. Given these traits, I saw why some would follow him. Peter Williams played a god and looked the part. He inhabited the role.
     Peter Williams made SG-1.

     I cannot identify with nor empathize with a short extra-terrestrial rattlesnake, but I can identify with and empathize with the inhabited host.
     We have a winner.

     Could SG-1's antag have been done differently?
     They tried. All other attempts failed. (That the writers tried other means after they succeeded with Apophis tells me that they were jackpot-lucky the first time. They did not know what they were doing or why it was working, so they did not know why they failed.)
     After the writers killed off Apophis, they tried antag by rotation: here a Goa'uld system lord, there a Goa'uld system lord, everywhere a Goa'uld system lord. Male and female they tried, skipping from one to another each week.
     Didn't work.
     Then they tried the faceless menace of Anubis. Even the Goa'uld feared him. Or so it was said. Me? What did I think? He was a faceless bogie-man in a hoodie.
     Didn't work.
     Screw him. I've faced scary things on the streets of Oakland.
     Once they tossed Anubis onto the trash pile of forgotten nemeses, the writers descended into the pointless insanity of faceless evil by committee, the Ori. I doubt that Apophis himself could have saved the show once it covered itself in that abomination.
     Didn't work.
     Farscape did much the same thing. When Crais defected to Moya I knew the show was dead. I just did not know how long it would take for the rot to become apparent.

     Thus --
     1) The antag must have a goal he strives for, and that goal must conflict with the protag's goal so much that the achievement of one precludes the achievement of the other;
     2) The antag must be an individual, not a committee or a group; and
     3) The antag must show a handsome human face. 

     This lays open the question 'Can the antag be a woman?' 
     SG-1 tried women as the antag time and again after they offed Apophis when they were doing the round-robin nemesis-of-the-week bit. 
     Didn't work. 
     I cannot think of a single franchise in which the antag was a woman. Star Wars, X-Men, Batman, Mission Impossible, Hannibal, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. Even when there was a woman baddie (Poison Ivy in Batman), she never carried the load of evil alone. There was always a male antag to share the load. 
     Protags are another story. Lots of women protags. But that's another post. 

     Thus endeth the reading from the Book of Antagonists According to Antares. 

Stay tuned.

Happy trails.

Links to the posts in this series:
Apostate 2.0
Apostate 1.4
Apostate 1.3
Apostate 1.2
Apostate 1.1
Apostate 1.0
Apostate 0.2
Apostate 0.1

Links to the books:
Rachel Aaron; 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better
Libbie Hawker; Take Off Your Pants!

Links to the authors' websites:
Rachel Aaron
Libbie Hawker

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