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Guest: Thea Harrison Discusses Antagonists

Hi friends! Today we’ve got fabulous Thea Harrison visiting with us, and discussing a rather new topic for us… the people you love to hate! Or… you know. (Read and find out!) Ms. Harrison has also just hit the bestseller lists – on the NYT extended and USA Today with Lord’s Fall so remember to congratulate her in the comments!

What Makes a Good Antagonist?

Antagonists, or villains, can be the trickiest part of the writing process.  They can be, at least for me, the hardest character to identify with, and yet they are so vital to the overall success of a story.

I can’t pretend that I am as strong on this as I would like to be, as I feel that I am always working to improve this particular aspect of my writing.  The following are a few points about writing villains that I have heard, read or been told:

Don’t make the villain too simple.  A more frightening and believable villain is one that has one or even a few traits that a reader might connect to.  This makes the character more complicated and unpredictable as well.

Don’t make the villain too evil.  You run the risk of creating a hand-washing “Mwa-ha-ha!” villain, or a caricature, which is ultimately less believable and therefore less scary.

This isn’t as easy as it might sound, is it?  Especially if you WANT to focus more on the hero and/or heroine’s journey, and you actually WANT to have them defeat a serious challenge or an evil.

I think the bottom line to this challenge is to try to reach a balance, especially so that the writer—and therefore the reader—does not descend into a story that comes across as cartoonish and full of clichés.

Some villains I’ve attempted have been:

Urien Lorelle, the Dark Fae King, from Dragon Bound.  Writing Urien was fun, because writing that whole book was fun.  Looking back on his character, though, I think there are a few things I do differently if I were writing him today.  I would try to give him one or two traits that would make him more well rounded—perhaps a quirk, or someone he cared about.

Naida, from Storm’s Heart, and Rhoswen, from Serpent’s Kiss.  I felt more of a connection with these two characters, because their motivations weren’t too simple and dark.  In Storm’s Heart, Naida had a strong sense of mission, and a belief in her husband, although both things got twisted by her own ambition.  And as she acted from her more twisted emotions, she was capable of great harm.  Likewise in Serpent’s Kiss, Rhoswen had a deep love for the heroine Carling, but neither her love nor her character were healthy, and she acted from the darker emotions prompted by that—jealousy and anger, and resentment.

One of my favorite (to date) antagonists was in Oracle’s Moon.  I actually had two antagonists in that story.  One was a much more simple character.  Without getting too spoilery, I shall simply call him a terrorist.  The other was much more interesting to me:  Soren, the hero Khalil’s father, who wasn’t a bad man, but he was a very dangerous one, especially so to the hero and heroine.  His motivation stemmed from a desire to protect his son from what he saw was a fatal—and therefore tragic—decision.

In Lord’s Fall, I attempt an entirely different kind of antagonist—a tragic one, Amras Gaeleval, who had many aspects of nobility.  Again, without being too spoilery, I got emotional a couple of times writing that character, and I felt conflicted about him.  I’m hoping the same richness of experience will be there for the reader.

Question:  readers, which villains have you read that you think are powerful characters, or that have affected you in some way?

Thea (via her publisher) is also offering one US winner a mass market copy of his/her choice of Thea’s four previous books: Dragon Bound, Storm’s Heart, Serpent’s Kiss or Oracle’s Moon. So yay giveaway!