Writing Fundamentals Part 2

Your protagonists want/fear something, whether they know it or not

As we discussed in part one, your characters are driven by desires or fears. The nature of their desires and fears help define the kind of people they are. There is also a simple rule that some people let their fears and desires drive them, and others use their fears and desires as a motivating tool. Some people are unconsciously moved around by their emotions, while others are very aware of their drives and almost harness them to give them the impetus to get what they want. Those kind of people are usually what we call “self directed”. Most people go through life driven by their urges, though we try to have self control over our eating habits and so on. But we often fail. Others are masters of self control. But no one is immune from giving in to their weaknesses. And when they do, it can be telling.

In a story, your hero may not even know he has a desire or fear. It may be unconscious and yet it is like an invisible hand guiding him. At some point in your story, they may need to deal with it and their mastery or failure can be the point of the story. For example, a villain does not have to be a person. It can be the weakness of the hero, like a drug addiction, for example. And the hero overcoming it will be his triumph over the “antagonist” of the story.

Unconscious desires are things people can relate to because we all have them. We sometimes aren’t aware of them until later in life. And a story that deals with this subject can often be one that reveals a truth to the reader they can relate to.

The Antagonist’s desires/fears are in opposition to the protagonist

Your villain/antagonist may or may not be a person. It can be a monster, an animal, the elements, etc. But whatever it is, it is in opposition to your hero. If your hero fears losing some important device, the villain wants it. If your hero wants something, the villain stands in the way.

Every move your hero makes, the villain will counter. He will try to exhaust every option your hero uses until it comes down to the end conflict. The villain of your piece is the counter to your hero in every way, so they can’t be weaker. If anything, they need to be stronger than your hero. Nothing makes a story more boring than a villain who isn’t a challenge.

Story is a argument. Characters are points of view

One way of looking at a story is seeing it as an argument. You are making a statement of some kind. It cannot be totally obvious or that would be preaching. You do not want to lecture or tell people something. You want to show them. You need to convince your reader of the point you are making. Whatever that is.

A big mistake many people make is to find some generic message and use that as your argument. Such as pollution is bad. Drugs are bad. Etc. Most people get that already. The ones who may disagree are going to scoff at what you say if you want to lecture or preach to them. A storyteller does not do that. And a good storyteller does not try to do arguments that have been done to death, or are clichéd.

You need your stories/arguments to be fresh, to make people think. By engaging people’s minds, you are getting them more involved than they would be normally. And they will like you for it.

Antagonists and Hero are opposing arguments

Since your story is an argument, and the protagonist is the champion of the premise. The antagonist is the champion of the counter-premise. The story that plays out pits one side against the other and the argument you are making needs to come out on top. But if you are not fair to the other side, as in, the villain does not make a good show of things, then the readers will feel cheated and will think you did not make a good argument.

There are pros and cons to everything. Villains are the heroes of their own story. They think they are doing right by them. So you have to write them from that perspective.

Read more in my Essay on heroes and villains here.

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