I was supposed to finish up the series on the book The Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker, but I finished reading it and didn’t find a whole lot more to share. The ending of the book is fun for personal reading, but doesn’t lend itself to a blogpost: it’s case studies where the authors lay out a case and have the reader try to profile the UNSUB before the answers are revealed. Lots of fun, but not worth writing about here. So consider that series finished.
On the same note, though, I’ve been surfing Kristen Lamb’s blog and found some great stuff about antagonists. She calls them the Big Boss Troublemaker, or BBT. Head over to her site to get the full scoop. I want to share the highlights I found useful.
She quotes David Corbett’s The Art of Character: “Characters want something, and the deeper the want, the more compelling the drama. Desire is the crucible that forges character because it intrinsically creates conflict.”
Awesome protagonists have something they want. The antagonist is that force which keeps the protagonist from getting what he wants. Antagonist doesn’t necessary mean “bad guy.” It depends on your story structure. Sometimes the antagonist can be within the protagonist. Sometimes it’s nature. Sometimes it’s another person.
Technically, each scene in your book should have an antagonistic force, something that keeps your protagonist from getting what she wants. It doesn’t have to be huge or even personal. It could be the guy who sideswipes the hero on the way to a crucial meeting. It could be a temper-tantrum thrown by a beloved child that ruins the protagonist’s goal. It could be a windstorm that knocks out power when the main character is working on a computer project.
The primary antagonistic force of the story, though, is the BBT. He must appear early in the book, by page 50 (according to Kristen) so the reader has a face to put against the protagonist. You don’t have to name him, like if you’re writing a murder mystery, but the reader needs to know he’s there. The other key element is that the BBT MUST BE defeated by the protagonist at the end of the book (unless you’re writing a tragedy or a horror–then it’d be okay for the BBT to win). No fair making it a tie, either. The protagonist must be strong enough, in the end, to overcome and achieve his goal (or maybe realize the goal he’d been going after was unworthy of his attention and he changes his goal, which seems to be the formula for romance books, but I digress…). That reminds me, the love interest CANNOT be the BBT. Since the BBT must be defeated by the hero, it wouldn’t work out for them to then get married after the final battle.
If you’re writing a series, it’s no fair leaving the BBT’s defeat to the end of book eight. Each book should have it’s own BBT (who works for the Main BBT), with each book’s BBT getting bigger, badder, meaner, etc. Think of Harry Potter. Voldemort was the BBT. But in book 1, Harry didn’t face off with Voldemort. Each book had a slightly stronger BBT for Harry to face and defeat.
In summary, here are the rules Kristen came up with for BBT’s. You can break them, but you should understand them before you do that.
1. BBT (or his proxy) must be introduced in Act 1. He should be responsible for the inciting incident.
2. The love interest CANNOT be the BBT.
3. BBT MUST be defeated at the end.
Kristen has a lot to say about BBT’s, and I love her teaching style. Please check her out (follow the above link) and type “BBT” into the search engine. You’ll come up with all sorts of good stuff and lots of examples.