Getting Into the Head of Your Antagonist


Recently, someone posed a question regarding a first-person look inside the head of an evil main character. I think her problem was with how to make it seem real.

Often, antagonists are portrayed at a distance, and we don’t really know much about them, other than some superfluous idea given by the protagonist or his/her friends. What is the antagonist’s real motivation? Why is he/she doing what he/she does? Why does he/she seem to hate the protagonist? We don’t usually get a very good idea. Seldom does a writer delve deeply into the antagonist’s head to learn his/her motivations.

In my recently finished novel, SWEET REVENGE, I’ve done just that, delved into my antagonist’s head. In this novel, Jeff Marino is the antagonist. He wants the main love interest, Genie Lombardi, to love him back, but she can’t. She’s in love with the main character, Mark Wilkerson. Throughout the novel, Jeff causes extreme grief for Mark, and by association, for Genie as well. But, it doesn’t just stop there, a simple case of jealousy. Jeff has issues. By writing this novel is third-person, we learn through getting into his head what Genie really means to him. We learn he comes from a broken, abusive home on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. He needs someone like Genie to bolster his self image. He smokes and drinks alcohol to bolster his courage and to unwind from his stresses. Near the end of the book, his only true friend, Bobby Baker, is killed in a tragic automobile accident. They’d both been doing Meth combined with alcohol and Bobby jumps out of the car on the freeway and is hit by an on-coming car. Jeff doesn’t blame himself, or Bobby for what happened, instead, he diverts the blame to nearly everyone else: Genie for going off with Mark Wilkerson, Mark for stealing his chick, Alan Bennaducci for supplying the drugs that killed his best friend.

Through Jeff’s eyes, grief and rationalization become real, especially when he obtains a handgun.

You’ll just have to read the rest of the book to find out how it ends.

Some day I’m considering writing a short story (I doubt I’ll have enough for a novel) in first person about a psychopath who stalks a girl and murders her. I’m not a psychologist so it may be tricky. But to make his motivations realistic will be a challenge.

The point is, if a writer can get into the head of his/her antagonist, I believe he/she can make the story much richer, with deeper meaning and understanding of what makes him/her tick.

Try it.
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About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Monday, November 24, 2008

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I know, this doesn't have much to do with writing, more musings.

No one has ever accused me of being lazy, but I can remember a time as a kid, carrying in groceries from the car, when my dad said I was carrying a lazy man's load. I wondered what he meant by that. He explained that I was carrying in two bags to his one. And because of that, I was being lazy, not wanting to do more work (i.e. trips to the car) than necessary.

Now, that has stuck with me over the years. What exactly makes a person a lazy person?

In high school, my algebra teacher said lazy people make the best algebra students, because algebra has shortcuts to getting to the answer of the math problem. Now, I'm not sure I totally agree, but I can see what she meant. And I loved the short cuts algebra provided, but I still didn't do very well, grade-wise. Math wasn't my best subject. But then again, English wasn't either, LOL (but I loved writing).

Then, when I was learning to play the French horn and the saxophone the band director taught me alternate fingerings to help my technique. Alternate fingerings helped me to change notes more quickly than if I just used the normal fingerings. I guess I was lazy about that too, because I learned the alternate fingerings quickly and became pretty good at them.

So, my question remains, am I lazy? Or! Is being lazy necessarily a bad thing?

You decide and let me know.
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