We often have frustrated first time novelists on our courses. They are trying to complete a book, but they haven’t thought about plotting. (See The Top 10 Tips for Plotting and Finishing a Book)
But I’ve decided the most common problem for first time authors is their inclusion of an unrealistic, unworthy, or absent antagonist.
Yes, your hero will always be his or her own worst enemy, but you need an antagonist to help your protagonist realise how strong he or she can be. There is no conflict without an antagonist. There is no reason to write a book if you do not have an antagonist. It would be easier to write a diary or an essay. Imagine watching The Matrix without Mr. Smith. The antagonist provides physical and psychological setbacks. He or she introduces points of resistance and stands between the protagonist and his or her story goal.
The antagonist’s function is to try to prevent the protagonist from achieving his or her story goal. The antagonist raises the stakes for the protagonist and causes excitement, tension, and a plot.
Writing Tip: The antagonist is as important as the protagonist. If you don’t have an antagonist you don’t have a plot. (There are some great tips for writing about antagonists in 10 Essential Tips for Writing Antagonists.)
Alfred Hitchcock said that a great story is: ‘life, with the dull parts taken out.’
A plot is not about:
- contented characters who live a trouble-free existence
- an author / character’s interior thought processes
- an author / character’s philosophy of life
- an author trying to send a message
- a character battling the elements, or society, or a life condition
A plot is about:
- characters whose lives have been turned upside down in a negative way
- characters who act and react
- characters who talk, breathe, eat, argue and interact with other characters
- characters whose actions and words show a story
- a character who takes on another character who may represent or personify, society or a life condition
If you are an exceptional author, you may not need a plot. The rest of us do.
Writing Tip: Remember your reader.
by Amanda Patterson