A Closer Look: Antagonists, Part Two

Should you like your antagonist?  Short answer: Yes.  Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their actions, their ideas, or their lack of moral clarity, but as a writer you need to be able to live inside the character’s head and give their actions as much meaning and importance as the main character. 

Another reason to like your antagonist: you will be living with them for a while, especially if you are writing a script or novel, so you have to be able to “work with them” in order to create an effective story. If you have created a character that you find so morally repugnant and repulsive that you can’t write scenes or chapters with them, then maybe it’s time to change the character or scale back what you don’t like about them. 

If they are in your story, they deserve your time and attention. 

Also remember that the antagonist feels that they are in the right on their side of the story.  They feel that what they are doing is necessary and just as important as whatever the main character is up to.  If they didn’t feel this way they wouldn’t be so strongly opposed to the main character getting what they want. 

All stories are a matter of perspective.

And while you have created a compelling and dimensional main character for us to follow over the course of the story, your antagonist should also be compelling and dimensional.  When you begin to develop this character, ask yourself:

  • What was their life like before the story began? 
  • How did they get to this point in their life?
  • What motivates them?  What are their hopes, dreams, fears, likes and dislikes, etc.?
  • What do they want in the story, and why?
  • Why do they oppose the main character’s goal?
  • What happens if the antagonist doesn’t achieve their goal?

Using these questions as a starting point, you can start to create a more realized and fully formed antagonist for your main character to deal with.  There is always a story behind why a character has evolved into who they are at this point in time when your story begins.  It’s your job as a writer to understand that story and use it to create a stronger antagonist.

On Friday we will continue or exploration of antagonists.

A Closer Look: Antagonists, Part One

Antagonists.  At the very base level they are the character that prevents your main character from reaching their desired target, which results in the dramatic conflict the propels the protagonist – and in turn, the story – forward.  It is for this reason that this character needs to be given some attention by you, the writer, in order to make sure that your main character doesn’t have an easy time achieving their intended goal.

At the root of the word, “antagonist,” is the word “antagonize,” and the dictionary definition of this root word is: “to incur or provoke the hostility of,” or “to act in opposition to.”  Either one of these works in describing the main reason for his opposing character’s existence in your story.  They are there to initiate the change that turns your main character’s world upside down. 

This doesn’t mean that this character has to be some egomaniacal supervillain, especially if you are writing a real-world story.  It just means that this particular person’s actions must be contrary to your main character’s in order for there to be conflict throughout your narrative. 

When you begin to dig deeper into your antagonist, I would suggest using the basic formula presented a couple posts ago, but placing the antagonist in the “hero” spot.  What does your antagonist want?  What is their goal in the story?  Why does the main character oppose what they are doing and what their goal is? 

By giving depth and dimension to your antagonist, you can make them and their goals feel more real to the audience.  Yes, we are supposed to be rooting for the main character, but you as a writer need to get inside the opposition’s head and find out what makes them tick, makes them want what they want, and who they were before the story began.

I feel it’s a cop-out to spend tons of time on your main character and then just toss in an opposing force that is one-dimensional with no real development as a character.  Even if you don’t dig into the antagonist’s backstory in the narrative, you still need to know for yourself why they are how and they are and why they are doing what they are doing.

Wednesday, we will continue this conversation as we explore more about developing a strong antagonist for your story.

A Closer Look: Story Antagonists

Starting this Monday, we will explore the exciting and complex world of story antagonists.  No matter what you call them in your story, they are the primary character in opposition to your main character; the one ultimately preventing your protagonist from achieving their goal.  

Until then, who or what is your favorite fictional antagonist and why?  Leave a comment and let me know.  I look forward to your responses.  

Have a great weekend!

The Basic Story Formula: An Effective Template

Most commercial films, TV series, and novels can be boiled down to one simple formula:

Hero + Goal + Opposition = Conflict, which = Drama

Let’s break this down into its respective parts.

The HERO, Heroine, or Protagonist is the main character we follow over the course of the story. Their hopes, dreams, fears, wants, needs, and desires become ours as we vicariously follow them throughout the narrative.  They are the character with which the writer wants us to identify with, empathize or sympathize with.  They become our avatar, giving us a role within the story through their eyes and experiences.

Now, that main character wants something.  They need something.  They are after something.  And that something (the GOAL) is what sets things in motion for the character, and in turn creates a series of events that the character must experience and surpass in order to reach the intended goal.

What’s preventing the HERO from achieving their GOAL?  It’s an obstacle, a unyielding force, and foe, a villain, an antagonist…OPPOSITION. Someone or something is causing them problems on their way to reaching their intended goal.  And while there may be a main antagonist for the protagonist to face and defeat, the antagonist will definitely throw plenty of obstacles and other issues the protagonist’s way as they attempt to achieve their goal.

And if you and a protagonist after something and someone or something trying to prevent them from reaching said goal, you will create CONFLICT.  It is through conflict that stories create DRAMA.  All of these elements are important in order to drive the action and events forward in your story, to create suspense, to create tension, and to give your audience a desire to see what happens next.

Pick a mainstream film genre and this formula fits.  Superhero? Yep.  Action?  Definitely. Sci-fi?  You bet.  Romantic-Comedy?  Uh-huh. Western?  Yup. 

I’ll use a recent blockbuster as an example:  Avengers: Infinity War. (SPOILER ALERT!)

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely talked about in an article that Thanos was the true hero of the film. Having that information, and knowing the basic story of the film, we can plug in the following variables:

HERO (Thanos) + GOAL (retrieve all six Infinity Stones to implement final plan) + OPPOSITION (The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy) = CONFLICT (plenty of teams of superheroes trying to stop Thanos from getting all the stones), which = DRAMA (plenty of dramatic and tragic moments befall everyone as Thanos moves toward his goal)

We are following Thanos on his journey.  It’s his character arc that is center stage, and therefore he is the main character of Avengers: Infinity War.  And, as the screenwriters state: “This is the hero’s journey for Thanos,” McFeely explained. “By the end of the hero’s journey, our main character, our protagonist — at least, in this case — gets what he wants.”

So, as you begin to construct your story, try and plug in these basic elements first as a foundation to build on.  Hey, if it works for a film that made $2,046,626,158 worldwide, it’s a safe bet it’s a tried and true formula for creating a strong story.

My Publicity Experience – Part Five

One of the things I liked best about working with Smith Publicity is that they don’t just drop you like a hot rock once the three weeks is done.  If they receive requests for the book after your time with them has come to an end, they forward the requests on to you.  They also gave me a list of 25 media outlets that they sent inquiries to but had not heard back from for me to follow-up with on my own.  I really appreciate this type of service and am glad I chose them for my marketing blitz.

I had my final wrap-up call with my publicity team and received more requests that day and throughout the week. I had also received a request for a review copy of the book from Finland.  Yes, Finland.  I know, I know.  Did I send a copy of the book to Finland?  Yes, I did.

So, at FedEx, to send a copy of my book from the United States to Finland would have cost $156.  I am proud to say that I did NOT pay that amount to send it to Finland.  However, I did walk over to the post office in the same strip mall, and to end it via USPS was only $24.  The Field is now on its way to Finland!

I also got a couple reviews on NetGalley.  One was five-stars; the other three-stars.  What was interesting about the three-star review is that she thought the book was good but it wasn’t her favorite.  I’m okay with that.  My main takeaway was that the reviewer liked the book, and maybe she has a harder star-grading-criteria than other reviewers. 

I’m still waiting to hear back from KRCR-TV in Redding.  I’m sure the producer wanted to read the book prior to doing a story and having me trek up to Redding, so I hope to hear from them soon.  If not, it’s okay.  I have plenty of other opportunities in the works.

And that’s the bottom line with all of this.  A book isn’t a movie that has to make millions its first weekend or the industry sees it as a flop.  With a book, especially one that’s self-published, it takes time to gain traction and get the word out.  The book is now in the hands of over 60 people.  Over the next few months, I hope that even a half or even a third take the time to read it and post about it.  As I said in a previous post, this is a marathon not a sprint. 

I’m just excited to finally be on the journey and am grateful to Smith Publicity for helping me get the word out about my novel.

If you have any questions about my experience with Smith Publicity or want more details about anything I talked about, please feel free to leave a comment. 

My Publicity Experience – Part Four

Each week during the media blitz, Smith Publicity would send me a report detailing whom they had heard back from with requests for a copy of my novel.  This was great because there were some I had missed given the number of emails coming in and I was able to add and then send those people copies ASAP.

The final week of the blitz was underway, and my team send press release inquiries to media in Redding, California where the book takes place.  As I mentioned before, the book is inspired by true events that took place when I was abducted in Redding when I was 13.  Early in the week I heard from The Redding Record Searchlight and KRCR-TV in Redding!  I had once worked for the paper and knew KRCR-TV well, so this was exciting to hear that they were interested in my story.

I sent out copies to them that day.  The reporter from the Record Searchlight and I emailed back and forth and she asked me a series of pre-interview questions including if I had a police report about my abduction.  I didn’t, my parents didn’t, but I knew who probably would: The Redding Police Department.

After an initial phone call, they found the police report dated May 1, 1993.  I got some other basic info and found out that the file was on microfilm and had not been digitized.  I requested a copy of the report. 

I sent the info I had on to the reporter who was unable to pick up a copy of the report just a copy of the call log from that day.  Luckily, this had enough information to legitimize my story as being true, and the interview went on as scheduled.

So, on Thursday morning of my last week of the media blitz, I had a phone interview with Michele Chandler from The Redding Record Searchlight. The interview lasted about an hour, and I talked about what I remembered from the day of my abduction, what happened after, and about my book and its theme of friendship.  It went very well.

That evening, the article was up on the Record Searchlight’s website (you can read it here!). The next morning, it was on the front page of the paper!  I was very excited about this as were my family, friends, co-workers, and my team at Smith Publicity.

It had been a busy and productive three weeks for me and my book, The Field.  Tomorrow, I’ll write about the week after the media blitz was over and some final thoughts.

My Publicity Experience – Part Three

By Monday morning of Week Two, I was getting review copy requests in my Inbox.  This was pretty exciting to say the least!  And one of the first was from The New York Post!  Holy cow! I rushed over to FedEx with a copy of the book – press release folded and placed behind the cover – and decided, in my excitement, to send it overnight.  Now, for those curious about how much it costs to FedEx a copy of a one-pound novel from Los Angeles to New York overnight…it’s $93!  Now, keep in mind that the adrenaline was pumping and I was excited to have a name as big as The New York Post interested in my novel. So, I did the rational thing and sent it overnight for $93. 

Flash-forward:they ended up passing on reviewing the book, so lesson learned.  And FYI, if I had sent it via FedEx to New York and had it take 4 days it would have cost $15.  Face-palm!

Needless to say, the rest of my FedEx mailings took a bit longer but were much cheaper in the long run. 

So, the first week I was sent many, many, many review copy requests, which was great!  I advise anyone who does this to create a spreadsheet to track who you’ve sent to and when, when it was delivered, the date you followed-up, and what the outcome was (interview, review, dead silence, etc).  I also recommend sending an email to the recipient the day it was sent letting them know to expect the package soon.

I made two trips to FedEx the first week, which was a really good sign.  A lot of bloggers, some podcasters, and magazines were interested in my book.  To me, it’s all good since people throughout the country are now reading the book and copies are all over the place.

What I didn’t anticipate was how many mailers I would blow through sending out copies.  True, I should have planned ahead and ordered a bunch on Amazon or from Office Max, but I didn’t.  This led to a couple days where both Targets in my area and both FedEx Office locations were out of the size mailers I needed.  Luckily, one of the Targets re-stocked and I bought all they had.

At the end of Week Two, I had sent out 15 copies of my book and the NetGalley list had grown by a dozen more people.  Tomorrow, I will write about my busy final week with Smith Publicity.

My Publicity Experience – Part Two

After my initial call with Smith Publicity and deciding on what program to use (I opted for their three-week media blitz), I was emailed an in-depth questionnaire about myself and my novel.  The information I provided would aide them in crafting an official press release for the novel to send out to potential reviewers and interviewers.

It was a lot of questions, and after a week I submitted the completed questionnaire and the work began.  And that work began with a quick call on the first day of week one with my publicity team to go over any question I may have before we got into it. 

And the adventure began.

By the end of the afternoon my book was posted on NetGalley.  NetGalley is a site where book reviewers, educators, librarians, and booksellers can request eBook versions of you novel and review it.  They then post their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, NetGalley, etc.  By the end of the week, over 30 people had requested and been sent an eBook to review. This was a good start!

As the first week progressed, my team and I went back and forth revising and fine-tuning the press release that would be sent out to people over the next two weeks.  By Thursday it was done and ready to go, and my team sent out an initial flurry of email queries for the book.

On my end, I printed out 30+ copies of the press release to include with the review copies I had on hand in preparation for sending them out ASAP.  The wheels were now set in motion and it would be only a matter of days before I would be making multiple trips to FedEx and the Post Office.

More on Week Two tomorrow!

My Publicity Experience – Part One

Publicity and marketing. All of us know something about those topics.  We are inundated by marketing and publicity campaigns for upcoming movies and TV series on billboards, bus stops, and buildings.  Not to mention YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and traditional media like TV and radio.  This multi-million-dollar campaigns are a huge gamble for studios and production companies hoping that you and I will see these ads and be enticed to go and see or tune into watch the product being advertised.  And, for the most part, it works.

But what if you just wrote your first novel and don’t have millions to spend on publicity?

Well, that’s the position I found myself in with my novel, The Field.  I had a published novel in both eBook and paperback form but no way to market it to the young adult audience it was intended for.  This was a big problem. 

I had made the investment into getting the book out for purchase, but I had no real way to make people aware on a large scale that book existed.  Yes, I was on Twitter and had created a website for the book, but I was only reaching friends, family, and co-workers. 

I knew what I had to do.

Now, there are videos and blogs about how to market your novel for free, and I commend those who do that.  I think if you can successfully sell your book and get the word out inexpensively that’s a great plus for you in the long run.  The problem I faced was unlike marketing to adults, my target audiences was teens thirteen and up.  I don’t know anyone in that age group, so I had to outsource my marketing to people who could reach them.

Enter Smith Publicity.

I mentioned them in a previous post where they made me realize that I had initially pretty much done all the wrong things when I thought about publishing my book (not on social media, no hard copy of the book, and no Author Photo).  All of those things were fixable on my end, but I inquired about using their services to get the word out about my book.

After careful consideration, I decided on one of their plans, and in the next post I will talk about what happened the initial week of my team-up with Smith Publicity. 

Writing Tip #10: Writing Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Writing is a process. It takes creativity, time, energy, and a lot of thought to bring story and characters to life in a coherent and compelling manner.  And while ideas may come quickly at times, the art of breathing life into those ideas and making them into solid and dimensional stories can take a lot longer than we sometimes realize.

When it comes to writing a novel, a screenplay, a TV pilot, or a play, we sometimes have to remind ourselves that the creative process is a marathon and not a sprint.  It can take weeks, months, even years for a story and its characters to gel and come together in a way that you’re satisfied with.

Even with outlines, character bios, and other notes, a story that you know backwards and forwards can take a lot longer to formulate and write as a 300-plus page book or a 110-page screenplay.

Rushing to get a first draft done is fine, but when it comes to fine-tuning and really generating quality work that you’re proud to show to others, that’s when the marathon truly begins. 

The key to good writing is to give yourself the time and the pace you need that works best for you, especially if you are writing for yourself.  Obviously, if you are being paid to write, it’s best to meet the deadlines and pace of the person who hired you.  But if it’s all on you, don’t pressure yourself into rushing out your final product.  Make sure it’s your best work; something you are proud to show the world.

In our world of instant gratification, it can be hard to sit down day in and day out and work on the same story over the course of many months or years.  But just know that at the end of the day, thanks to your patience, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best work. 

And readers and audiences will be grateful for the time you invested by investing their time into your future creative endeavors.