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Monday, November 26, 2018

Brainstorm Your Antagonist's Plotline Earlier

Over the last few weeks I have actually started brainstorming and even outlining my next novel. I still have a lot to figure out but recently, I was reminded again how effective it can be to consider your antagonist's plotline early in the process.

Most of us have a rough idea of what our antagonist is or does by the time we really sit down to brainstorm. At minimum, we at least have a notion. After all, we need an antagonistic force to have conflict for a story.

But it's very easy and very tempting to put all our focus on the protagonist. It's absolutely necessary to spend plenty of time discovering and nailing down our protagonist, but it can be extremely effective to really consider your antagonist quite early in the process.

This is because (obviously) the antagonist will be what your protagonist is up against.

Often we might focus only on the protagonist's view of the plot, thinking about what sorts of obstacles, conflicts, and resistance they will meet and need to overcome and what will be interesting.

However, the antagonist has a very different view of what's going on, even if it doesn't all make it on the page. He or she or it will be "fighting" against the protagonist. The protagonist reacts and battles the antagonist, but so does the antagonist react to and battle the protagonist.

If your antagonist is a person or society (as opposed to nature or self) you should consider how their plot would play out. What would they do next? How would they respond to the protagonist's efforts? What is the cleverest way they would handle this situation?

When you take the time to consider the antagonist's story early, you will be able to brainstorm and map out a more powerful story for your protagonist.

Beyond the protagonist and main antagonist, it's also helpful to take some time to consider what the situation looks like through other characters' perspectives (as long as you don't get too carried away). How does the love interest view what is playing out between the antagonist and protagonist? What about a close family member or friend? Like the main antagonist, it can also be very effective to look at the plot, conflict, or issues from any other antagonistic forces.

For example, in the project I'm working on, the protagonist has to team up with a gray character who is an antagonist-sympathizer. Though he's not the main villain, I have found that I can brainstorm a better story when I take time to think about his view, actions, and reactions, early in the creative process. What this does is give my protagonist more powerful or significant conflicts. I have better quality ideas, and my protagonist needs to deal with them in clever ways. In other words, it produces a better story quicker. I have better ideas in brainstorming.

This sort of approach is also a great way to help you create strong side characters, because it ensures you are creating a plot where the side characters don't only exist for the sake of the protagonist.

When we are learning to plot for the very first time, we are often asked to consider what try/fail cycles and obstacles are keeping the protagonist from reaching his goals, and then trying to brainstorm what those are and how he overcomes them. Then we might go back and see how the antagonist can make those obstacles happen, or what kind of antagonist we need. Then, we might start fleshing out and filling in the side characters to populate the story.

When it comes down to it, I don't really believe there is a "wrong" approach to coming up with your story--you have to find what works for you. But when you are next brainstorming, try taking time to consider your antagonist and supporting cast earlier and see if that helps you actually develop a better plotline for your protagonist.

We talk about the antagonist as a character a lot, but perhaps not enough about his or her or its own actions and reactions when brainstorming.

Here are some benefits to doing this:

- Your story will feel more authentic
- It will be "bigger" than what's on the page
- You'll see elements you can play with that you may not have noticed otherwise
- It helps the plot itself from feeling flat; it adds dimension
- You'll come up with ideas you haven't thought of and would not have come up with otherwise
- Your protagonist will have to work harder to deal with his or her conflicts
- The antagonist and side characters will become more rounded

And that's the tip for the week.


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