I don’t know about you, but I’ve discovered that when a story idea pops into my head, the first thing afterwards to take form is the protagonist. Sometimes even, the idea begins with a protagonist. And if you’re like most writers, the initial thought of your protagonist portrays him/her as superman, or least has the heart of superman. By now, of course, you know that in good fiction, that’s completely unacceptable (after all, even superman has a weakness called kryptonite). On that note, I’ll go ahead and say that this is the reason a lot of protagonists/stories are typical, because they follow a typical pattern. You, the writer, may think your story is cute, and your protagonist, absolutely adorable, and so you wonder why the rest of the world can’t see that. “Is there a conspiracy against me,” you might ask. In case you’re actually wondering, no, there isn’t. But there’s a reason for the reviews that accuse your story/protagonist of being flat. Your stories are …
How then do you create one that’s not?
One way is to deviate from the typical pattern that your brain follows when chewing on a fresh story idea. The method I’ll suggest in a minute is one I created and call, The Antagonist Route. In other words, you MUST intentionally create your antagonist before anything else.
As I said before, the normal behavior of a writer’s mind is to create a perfect protagonist, first. It’s later on, and with deliberate effort, that the writer infuses the flaws that will make the character realistically acceptable to a reader. And typically, it’s after this task is done that a writer starts to rack their brain for a suitable antagonist. In other words, the antagonist is typically the product structured in accordance with a protagonist’s weaknesses and strengths in a deliberate manner that will cause the antagonist to lose, and the protagonist to win. Please, do yourself a favor and check out most heroes and villains, and see if what I’m saying isn’t true. The hero is naturally wired to win, and the villain wired to lose.
That being said, what if the opposite were the case? What if a protagonist is structured after the antagonist? This could be a bit tricky, but if you follow this process, you’ll come out with a story so brilliant and unique, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. But before we begin, that story idea in your head, put it aside for a minute. Don’t touch it. Don’t do anything with it until I say it’s time. Got it?
Here we go …
Antagonist → Original Problem/Disaster → Protagonist → Solution → Story Journey
… And in that order.
Antagonist. Craft your antagonist with the same passion you would your protagonist. Create their feelings, fears, emotional state, strengths, weaknesses, hobbies, quirks and favorite foods to the last dot. Find a way to harmonize their personality with their intended evil, and let it make sweet sense. This is the reason why some antagonists are loved. For example: Loki, of the movie, Thor. Catch my drift?
Don’t joke around with this, as this could mean the difference between the unique story you’re trying to create, and the typical lot that’s out there. For instance, I personally believe that Michael Scofield of the TV Series, Prison Break, was crafted after the antagonist/problem. Either that or the writer is brilliant beyond compare. How else did he manage to make Scofield’s journey so difficult and superb at the same time (will talk more about this when discussing original problem/disaster and solution)?
Another reason I insist that the antagonist be the first is that usually, after a protagonist has been crafted, subsequent characters are created with less passion and zeal. Now I don’t know if this is as a result of exhaustion or something else. My point is, it’s a pattern, and we’re trying to break pattern. If you create your antagonist first, because you love your protagonist (a little bit more than you do your antagonist), you’re bound to still create him/her with equal passion and zeal, as the writer inside of you will NEVER leave your protagonist lacking in any way. Also, when finally structuring your protagonist, you’ll have a better understanding of your protagonist and his/her role, and so will build with better direction.
Original Problem/Disaster. As always, every good story starts with some action that is called the hook. And let me say again, this is NOT the time to think about your protagonist. Keep him or her locked up somewhere before you start this process. At this point, your antagonist is still fresh in your brain. You know him/her like your diary knows you. This is the time to create the original problem/disaster that will begin your story with a bang. Usually, a story pattern is like this: story setup, followed by first problem, second problem, third problem, and then, The End, with the second and third problem being the result of the protagonist trying to make things better only that they become worse. That first problem is the Original Problem/Disaster, and this should be the one that has your antagonist’s DNA all over it. This is the part where you craftily harmonize the human with the evil, so that the evil is very personal to the antagonist. Back to Prison Break: the antagonist at the end of the day was the General. His tool was Scylla, and the original problem was arranging for Lincoln Burrows to suffer the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit. Every other problem that sprang out afterwards was as a result of Scofield trying to make things right. Catch my drift? Hope so.
Protagonist. Take a deep breath before you begin, because at this point, you know your protagonist has got his work cut out for him. This is the time to pull out that fantastic idea you had in the first place. If you take a step back and look, in reconciling your idea with your antagonist and the original problem, you discover that your idea doesn’t look the same anymore. It’s matured along with your intended protagonist, even though you haven’t worked on them yet. That’s a good thing. Now pound away at your protagonist. Build, build, build until you can build no more. Like I said before, because you already know your antagonist SO WELL and even the problem at hand, you already have a map/GPS to build an absolutely incredible and unique protagonist.
Solution. Let me say why this is the next in your writing process: Because your solution is best built out of the thinking process of your protagonist. Remember Scofield? His ingenious ideas were just that because, well … it was Scofield. Okay, let’s step away from Prison Break for a bit and take a look at another TV series … 24. Remember Jack Bauer? Every solution that ever came out of Jack Bauer’s head was incredibly rogue because that’s who Bauer was. No human being in their straight mind would ever agree with him. Yet, this was the element that made this TV Series so successful. I personally believe 24 is a classic. Dispute that if you want, I don’t care. There was nothing like 24 before it, or after it. 24 changed TV … FOREVER! Just in case you’re wondering, I’ve watched ALL nine seasons. If a tenth one came out, I’ll watch it, too. If you think I’m crazy, sue me.
Bottom line? You’ve passionately created a protagonist equally as you did your antagonist, and you know them both so, so well. Just as the evil is very personal to the antagonist, the solution is a product of the way your protagonist’s brain is wired to think. So the best time to create a solution, is after you’ve successfully crafted your protagonist.
Story Journey. The last stop, but the real work. Because you have your original problem and solution, as well as your protagonist and antagonist, you already know how the story’s going to end. Story Journey, therefore, is the in-between. This is the part where you plot everything that happens between point A and Z. In other words, how your protagonist will arrive at that solution that you created, is the Story Journey itself. Make it work, and make it good.
Now tell me a unique story will not be born after all this. Happy writing!
Do tell, what’s your opinion of the Antagonist Route? Do you believe it will work for you? what other writing ideas do you suggest?
**Antagonist Route and How (Or Another Way) to Write/Develop a Unique Story first appeared on To Be A Person**
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