Clarissa Johal: Falling for the Antagonist

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Falling for the Antagonist

Am I the only writer that does this? Invariably, I will fall in love with my antagonist and have the WORST time sending them on their way, back to the Otherworld, or wherever they need to go. It's not that I like evil people or think they’re charming, I don't. It's just from a creative point of view, the complexities that make up an antagonist are the most fun to write. You have to get people on their side somehow--and therein lies the challenge.

Many years ago, I graduated from a high school of the performing arts before I went onto university. I loved acting as much as I loved dance, and always chose to audition for the evil characters. It’s not that I liked being “mean” to my fellow actors. I didn’t. It was the challenge of getting the audience to side with the flawed and/or evil character. That was the fun part. 
And, so it goes with writing antagonists. I take great joy in making them as complex as they come. I fall in love with them. I cross my fingers my readers will love them as much as I do. Without them, there would be no conflict, no story. And when it comes to the point where they must be overcome by my protagonists, it takes me weeks to write my final good-byes, and I’ll be depressed for just as long.
One of these days, my antagonist will win. I’m not sure how readers will feel about that, but we’ll see how it goes.

So, here's a list for you to ponder--My Top 10 Best Antagonist Characters in Literary Fiction. 
I cheered them on, regardless of the fact that I knew they’d lose in the end, as they should. And no, I don’t cheer people on that do bad things. I'm a writer. A well-written character makes me happier than lollipops.

1. Satan from Paradise Lost, by John Milton
Yep, he would be the biggie. A self-indulgent, fallen angel, embarking on a vendetta against his creator. Can’t get any better than that.
2. Peter Pan from Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
“He would thin the Lost Boys out when they got too old or when there were too many of them.” Peter is a very complex character. I’m not so sure that Captain Hook was the true villain in Peter Pan. Go back and read between the lines.
3. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling.
And not just because Alan Rickman played him in the movie. No really.
4. Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.
The character only seems to “come alive” when she talks about Rebecca, a character that is dead. That, coupled with the possibility that Rebecca may be acting through Mrs. Danvers, a possession of sorts, makes for an interesting villain, all around.
5. Lady Macbeth from William Shakespeare’s, Macbeth.
Ambitious and a definite opportunist. Qualities that would be…um, praised in today’s business world.
6. Clyde Griffiths from An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser.
A true work of art. Dreiser shows Clyde’s decline into committing murder and oddly enough, a sad victim of circumstance. The beauty of this character is the way Dreiser writes of Clyde’s rationalization of the act.And you feel badly for him.
7. Jack Torrance from The Shining, by Stephen King
Jack's rant when Wendy disturbs him during his writing? Writers everywhere cheered--we totally felt his pain. The meltdown afterwards? Well...a bit over the top, but Jack was being possessed by ghosts, after all.
8. Marquise de Merteuil from Les Liaisons Dangereuses, by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
Ahhh, what a tangled web we weave.
9. Mr. Hyde from Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
There was so much strife during the writing of this book by Stevenson. Allegories are always fun, especially when the author is writing on the verge of drug-induced madness.
10. Count Dracula from Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Cold and calculating. Once he was done feeding off humans, Dracula had no use for them anymore. Definitely no sparkles or romance here, folks.

There are many others and I’m sure you have some of your own. What’s your favorite?


Anonymous said...

The Phantom of the Opera

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Ah, yes!! A tragic one, indeed ;)

Heather R. Holden said...

I love antagonists, too! I think it's because I love torturing my characters so much,'s the antagonists who really get to do any torturing, so yeah. XD

As for Peter Pan, the show Once Upon a Time seems to be shaping him into someone villainous. I'm looking forward to that!

Jennifer RP said...

I think the antagonist *can* win. Or you can write a story in which there are no good guys. ASoIAF comes immediately to mind. The only true "good guy" is Eddard Stark and look what happens to him. Everyone else is shades, mixed, deeply complex. I would never try to write like Martin, mind...

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Thanks for stopping by, Heather and Jennifer! Good to know I'm not the only one rooting for the bad guys, lol

K. Scott Lewis said...

Great post! Yes, sometimes it's hard to kill of a baddie because you have so much time writing them. Once they're dead and gone... it can be a bit of a loss for the author. I think some of the "bad guys" I've liked are Raistlin from Dragonlance and Strahd from Ravenloft. In sci-fi, Star Trek Deep Space Nine, I really liked the Kardassians Ducat and Garek. In your book _Between_, I really liked Cronan. He was both enticing and menacing, and certainly not simple.

Rhea Rhodan said...

I'm totally with you on Snape, Hyde, and Dracula. Your love of antagonists is a perfect explanation for your excellent handling of the antagonist in BETWEEN.

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Thanks guys! I appreciate you stopping by.

Sloane Taylor said...

You have a dark side, Clarissa. Explore it!

Clarissa Johal, Author said...

Always, Sloane!

James Garcia Jr said...

Hi, Clarissa. I enjoyed your list. I'm only familiar with half of it, and need to read more, apparently. *grins* I'm trying to think of some female antagonists that I might have fallen in love with... Hmm? I know there's at least one out there... Hmm? I guess I'll have to get back to you on that one...


Clarissa Johal, Author said...

That means you'll have to write one, James! Thanks for stopping by :)