1. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    An Atypical Antagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by X Equestris, Jan 22, 2016.

    With the antagonist of the work I'm currently planning, I've been striving to create a character that readers can sympathize with and find admirable, at least to some degree. This is partially in response to the number of "dark lords" within the fantasy genre, and to villains who have sob stories that seem designed to generate sympathy, while still being pretty unpleasant individuals. I know it really comes down to execution, but I'd be glad to hear your thoughts on what I have so far. Here it is:

    My antagonist, Nomenius Bellator, is a citizen of the Tyrian Dominion--an oligarchic republic run by a mage ruling class that he is part of--which once ruled almost all of the known world. That was about 900 years before the story begins, and the Dominion is now a shadow of its former self. Nomenius is very worried about the current state of his homeland: it's at war with their northern neighbor, slave raids on their southern neighbor are threatening to start a second war, a revolt by the slaves the Dominion is built on is quite possible, and it is a pariah among nations because of its history and the religious practice of human sacrifice, which the Tyrians believe is needed to keep their gods alive. And the ruling class is happy to ignore theses issues and pretend they're still on top of the world.

    Nomenius is a reformer edging on revolutionary, and his attitudes have made him a political outcast. He personally detests the practice of human sacrifice (a result of his father's views), and he's opposed to slavery (one of his wives was once a slave to his family, and him falling in love with her led Nomenius to question the morality of owning people). Despite holding a seat in the Dominion's legislature, he can't really change things on this front, and he's only a little more effective at getting his peers to take the foreign policy situation seriously. Nomenius uses money from the family business to buy slaves and then have them freed through the courts, but it isn't the solution he's looking for. Ultimately, he decides a revolution will be necessary.

    The problem with this is that he has few political allies, and even if he tried to get the slaves to revolt he might not have enough manpower to overthrow the ruling class and hold onto his power. To solve this problem, Nomenius begins looking into the past, and recalls that the Dominion used bound spirits for warfare back in its heyday. The method they used won't work for him, but he comes up with an alternative. Nomenius scours the Outerworld (the place magic and spirits come from), eventually finding a powerful spirit with many weaker spirits that obey its wishes. He offers to let it into the physical world in exchange for its help in achieving his goals. The spirit agrees, but tells Nomenius that it needs an exceptionally powerful mage, far more powerful than him, to pull it into the physical world and use as a host. This will kill the mage in question. Nomenius doesn't really like the idea, but it's the only plan he has that might succeed. He sends out agents in search of such a mage. He also intends to double cross the spirit and bind it and its followers once they're summoned, so they can't run loose.

    His people find only one, a young boy in one of the southern nations. Knowing that nobody from the south would let a Tyrian take their kid to use in some magic experiment, Nomenius sends a few trusted servants and a company of mercenaries to kidnap the child. This is where the story starts, as his people come into conflict with the protagonists, who are members of an order that polices magic in the southern nations.

    Other than the aforementioned kidnapping of a child to use as a host for the head spirit, Nomenius steers clear of doing things most of us would consider evil. He's motivated by love for his family, for his fellow humans, and for what his country could be, and everything he does is through that lens. And even with the sacrifices he's prepared to make for the greater good, he takes no pleasure and wishes there was another effective way. He also tries to avoid violence when possible.

    Basically, I want to get the reader to think about whether or not Nomenius is right that one child's life and the risk of the spirits breaking their bindings and going on a rampage is an acceptable price for ending the slavery and daily human sacrifices that take place in the Dominion. Do you think he has the makings of an interesting, understandable, and perhaps even admirable antagonist?
     
  2. kateamedeo
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    kateamedeo Active Member

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    To answer your question, first I would like to make it clear what an antagonist means. In fiction an antagonist is not 'an evil creature living to wreak chaos and havoc', it's one of the main characters who's goals oppose those of the protagonist. If you chose to write the story from the POV from the boy who is kidnapped or someone who is interested in saving the boy, the guy you described will be an antagonist in this case. The goal of the writer is to get the reader to root for the protagonist, thus, this makes the antagonist unlikable in any case, even if his goals seem 'worth it'.
    With the same luck you could make this guy the protagonist and then the antagonist would be his inner self, for example, the fact that he has to live with the choice he made and to bring this choice of his to execution.
    So, to sum it up, the protagonist is not always a person, it may be the inner self that the character has to fight or a whole regime (like in Orwell's 1984 or the movie V for Vendetta). Or if it is a person, then it is that person who's goals are cardinally opposed to the goals of the protagonist.
    In any case, your antagonist can't be a completely evil creature/person, those do not exist in real world and the reader will smell the rat from afar. He would have some human qualities to him either way.
    I think your question should be a bit different, how to show that the antagonist has these qualities (from the POV of the hero).
     
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  3. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have multiple POVs. Nomenius is one. The boy who is kidnapped is another. Most of the story is carried by Arlise, the member of the Order of Watchers who is in charge of finding and rescuing the boy. She is the protagonist. And there is another Watcher who is a POV character.

    I contest the idea that a protagonist has to be sympathetic and automatically make the antagonist unlikeable. Look at Macbeth. If you are rooting for Macbeth, who is undoubtedly the protag, there may be something wrong with you.

    I think you misunderstand me. I'm well aware completely evil people don't exist. It's why I've bothered to give him deep reasons for what he does. It's a swipe at some of the crappier villains of the fantasy genre, who have no discernible reason for what they do and are often over the top with it. They just do it because they author says they do.
     
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2016
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  4. kateamedeo
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    kateamedeo Active Member

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    I think you did not understand what I meant in the previous post.

    Macbeth is a protagonist that has to resolve an inner conflict, which makes him his own antagonist, making him also the antagonist of the play. He starts out as a hero but his choices bring him to corruption. But he has doubts, he has an inner understanding of what's good and what's bad, and nonetheless he makes the 'evil' decisions. This is a very complicated play and Shakespeare delivers a brilliant protagonist/antagonist. He makes you care about him even though the guy makes the wrong decisions and lets his 'ambitious' side take over. (which he subsequently regrests thus repaying in a way for all he's done)

    And besides, isn't this what you are trying to accomplish with your antagonist? All things in the world have a perspective, there is no absolute evil and no absolute good. I bet Macbeth did not consider himself to be the son of satan for craving power. He knows he is doing bad things but he has a reason. Doesn't your antagonist have one? He does, the greater good, even if he has to sacrifice this boy.

    What I said is that it's not only the thing that the antagonist does and why, it's how you show it to the reader, that should be the issue here. As with backstory, you can have tons of it only to flood the reader in exposition and bore him to death or to introduce it in such a way that the story goes ahead but the reader is aware of all the things you would like him to be aware of.

    You have a reson for him to do what he is doing. The reader will get it only if you present it in such a way that he/she has a chance to understand the motives and the struggle of your antagonist. If you manage to deliver this, then he is an interesting antagonist.
     
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  5. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    Malcolm and Macduff are the antagonists of the play. They're also the heroes, just as Macbeth is the villain. Once the deed is done, Macbeth doesn't suffer much anguish over being a kingslayer. He does regret killing Banquo, but that's later, and it's one of the few foul acts he does regret.

    As for showing, that's something I'm intimately familiar and with taking pains to do. I'm simply telling here because it's a forum post. As I said, I know it comes down to execution.
     
  6. kateamedeo
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    kateamedeo Active Member

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    Well, just wanted to be more clear. I think your antagonist has a good backstory and motives. My fault, for the misunderstanding, as the initial question was if the antagonist is compelling adn causes the reader to guess if he is doing right. I just got carried away with the 'showing it' part. P.s. would love to see how it all works out in the book :)
     
  7. kateamedeo
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    kateamedeo Active Member

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    P.s. we can discuss Macbeth for an eternity. Literature, especially great works of art, are just that, everyone perceives them in their own way.
     
  8. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    No problem. Misunderstandings are easy in pure text.
     
  9. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Honestly, you might be going too far. If Nomenius is defeated in the end and his cause is completely crushed, I'd probably throw the book across the room.
     
  10. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    His cause isn't crushed, though he himself is defeated. However, the social order of Tyria is rapidly coming apart at the seams, just like he predicted it would. And just like he feared, short sighted raids to gather more slaves have drawn the Dominion into a war with the most powerful nation in the world. That last one is actually a plot point. So in the long run, his ultimate goals may be accomplished, even if he himself is unable to achieve them. But I haven't planned that far ahead, as it's outside the scope of this particular book.
     
  11. WriterMMS
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    WriterMMS Member

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    Solid antagonist, continue your story.
    Do not dissapoint me.
     
  12. Samurai Jack
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    Samurai Jack Active Member

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    I think he is interesting, I understand his motivations, and I could definitely respect what he is trying to accomplish. I also hope he personally loses. He's trying to prevent the spread of a forest fire by detonating a nuke to destroy the forest, with the best of intentions of course, which is probably exactly why the Order of Watchers exist: to prevent the good intentions of noble people from destroying everything. So hey, you have me thinking.
     
  13. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    To a certain extent, though their formation was more in response to the self-interested motivations of power hungry people. Not to mention unintelligent but magic related beings. The Watchers are tailored to counter the many advantages magic can give a person or being.

    No pressure, huh?
     
  14. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I like your antagonist. My only worry is he is too good. I'm guessing his army kills people under his orders? Because otherwise one boy and a risk of some destruction of some kind is not a necessarily condemnable price for major reform. Sure, I always prefers non-violence myself, but it's very understandable.
     
  15. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd hardly call his people an army. With the expedition sent to capture and return the boy, he has perhaps a dozen trusted individuals, plus the mercenaries, who total about a hundred, but aren't concentrated the entire time. They do indeed kill some people, almost entirely Watchers.

    The larger issue is the very real possibility of Nomenius losing control of the spirit he intends to bind, whether it breaks free on its own or Nomenius' opponents, who are quite skilled with magic themselves, manage to take control of it.

    To really comprehend the danger, I suppose I need to go into a little about the nature of magic and possession in my setting. When a mage is possessed by a spirit--or demon, as anyone from the southern nations would call a spirit that wanted to possess something--their strength is added together, and will continue to grow as long as it is in existence. The resulting creatures are called Terrors, and almost always eager to cause destruction, as they feed off of negative emotions. Many such creatures occur when attempts at binding spirits go wrong. The worst recorded Terror in history killed nearly 10,000 people before the Watchers put it down. So when one adds the boy's abnormally strong abilities to an extremely powerful spirit, we're talking about something that is far beyond that record holder.

    And it's not just this powerful spirit Nomenius is summoning, but all of the weaker spirits that follow its desires. He only has this powerful spirit bound, and is counting on the weaker ones to just follow the commands he relays through their boss. So if it breaks free, or his opponents find a way to take control, he'll be letting an army of spirits loose on the world. In the worst case scenario, he puts them in the hands of the people he's fighting. Ultimately, this is something Nomenius is willing to chance, as he sees no other choice and is confident in his abilities.
     
  16. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    But wouldn't be commanding the Terrors to overthrow the government, killing hundreds more as well? That's what I meant by his army. I think what he does by intention is more accountable to him because he's intentionally trying to avoid the losing control outcome, while as his plan is what he's trying to make happen. Sure, you must take responsibility for your mistakes, but it sounds like there are plenty of ways it could fail without his fault anyway. And here's an important question; what are the protagonists like? What acts do they commit and what are their behaviours/personalities? That affects who the audience will sympathise with. As well as what happens with his plan and how he behaves.
     
  17. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nomenius never gets his spirit army. His plan would kill plenty of people in Tyria as it gets torn apart in a civil war, but if falls through before then thanks to the Watchers beating him before he can take the boy back to Tyria and move on to the next phase.

    As for the protagonists, that's a complex question, and hard to condense into a forum post of a reasonable length. They never do anything even approaching what Nomenius does. The main character, Arlise, is something of an atoner, due to actions a decade in her past. I'll link the thread I made on her past. Edit: here's the link: http://www.writingforums.org/threads/evaluating-whether-protagonist-backstory-is-too-unsympathetic.142944/

    Because of that incident, she really doesn't like people doing evil in the hope of good coming of it, especially when the risks are as high as they are in Nomenius' plan. In her confrontation with him, she even states that she would find him admirable if he were using other methods, but she can't let him effectively murder a child and risk bringing horrific destruction on the world at large. For Arlise, letting him go ahead with his plan would be a betrayal of her duty, and it would mean that she isn't a better woman than she was during the incident she is trying to redeem herself from. The conflict basically boils down to two mostly good people who can't budge from their principles.
     
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  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    So it sounds like your successful in making Nomenius feel like a normal antagonist. But still leave people with the question of how wrong he truly was. That's good. That seems to be what you're aiming for. And that's what a particularly good-willed antagonist should do in my opinion. They're the most effective way of questioning moral dichotomy and supremacism, which I hate. I definitely like this.
     
  19. Samurai Jack
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    Some destruction. That depends on perspective, maybe.

    The sum total of all slaves imported into the United States was something between 380,000 and 450,000, getting to a population of 3.9 million by 1860. 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, about 1/5 of the total number of soldiers who fought, and National Debt ballooned from from $65 million to $2.7 billion. The Southern economy was obliterated. The entire concept of the United States of America was altered forever.

    Or...

    Saddam Hussein is responsible for a low of 250,000 to a high of 2,000,000 deaths between the Kurds, putting down rebellion, and the Iran-Iraq war. The U.S. led invasion is responsible for around 500,000 deaths. The pull out is responsible for a full on civil war. There's another 70,000 dead, and whether or not there is an actual Iraq after it's all said and done is a question worth asking.

    Slavery is wrong. Saddam Hussein was evil. But when I think about releasing a violence I'm kinda-sorta certain I can control over very relevant matters of equality and human rights? There's a very real possibility I could make things worse, a very real possibility I could end the world in the name of humanity. Is a dead planet better than slavery? Is a dead planet better than genocide?
     
  20. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    I wasn't making any particular judgement on the character. I was simply raising concerns. And I already said I've decided the antagonist does work.
     
  21. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, that's exactly what I'm shooting for.
     
  22. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like him... not intrinsically evil, but 'the end justifies the means' sort of guy. And yes, the law of unintended consequences can bring about a lot of disasters. He will probably die, convinced to the end that what he did was the best possible thing at the time.

    As a very ascerbic Naval Science prof once said in a leadership class: "Expediency is like pissing in your boot to keep your foot warm." I can see him regretting EVER having summoned those spirits who seemed so controllable at the time, but all the way to the end, thinking of new ways to control them, each of which just makes things worse.
     
  23. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    He does indeed die believing he was doing the right thing, though he never finds out whether or not he'd be able to keep control of the spirits/demons, since the plan falls through before making it to that stage.

    What you and the others in this thread are saying matches what I was aiming for, so I'm feeling fairly confident in he'll be effective.
     
  24. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    A good way to create a tragic antagonist (or really any character, for that matter) is to give it a central flaw or weakness or some blindly accepted lie, and then have the character's actions governed by it. Or maybe have a powerful internal conflict; either choice of the conflict is bittersweet, and the antagonist must ultimately choose.

    Another tip is to turn what initially seems a strength into a weakness. For example, the antagonist's intense ambition to succeed has become an obsession leading unto personal destruction.
     
  25. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Why does the villain have to be wrong though? As the author said, you don't find out if it would work, and me I vastly prefer that. A well-meaning villain should usually, not always but usually, be there to offer an alternate but equal morality. After all, morality is subjective, neither good nor bad is inately more logical and there are many shades of grey.
     

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