Big and hairy, green teeth dripping with goo. You get the idea. It’s a villain.
No matter what he, she or it looks like, a bad guy’s primary goal is to shut down the good guy. The protagonist needs to make forward motion and for whatever reason, the villain disagrees.
In good fiction, the bad guy isn’t obvious or at least has some believable reason for a twisted point of view. People are complicated and it’s no different for an effective antagonist.
My laptop is open without interruption for the first time in several weeks. From my perch at the kitchen counter, I look around the house. The one that welcomed lots of celebrations. I could pack away Christmas and restore post-holiday order while eating few more pecan pralines.
But I need to write.
Today, I plow through the angst of choosing a career with no concrete list of orders each morning (unless I make one) or time-clock (unless my alarm counts), and where success eludes me if I don’t move myself forward.
A blank screen is intimidating, of course. But something more sinister lurks. As diabolical as a genetically-designed Godzilla in Jurassic World, it’s tailor-made to shut me down. It comes to devour my journey. This villain has studied me, knows my quirks, failures and mistakes.
But unlike some monster creeping in the shadows, this villain is me. At least until I decide to resign that role.
My writing is a journey. It unfolds as I move forward. It evolves through surprises, plot twists and lots of conflict. It won’t end until I decide to stop.
Like the protagonist in my favorite novel, I may be unaware of how formidable that bad guy can be. And what the stakes are if I give in and quit.
Villain-talk goes something like this:
My last query got rejected fifteen times. It must be a sign. Wrong career.
I’m staring at a blank screen. It’s a sign. I have no more fresh ideas.
I’ve written myself into a corner as a fiction writer. It’s a sign. Toss it out the manuscript.
There are big structure problems in my novel. It’s a sign. The whole story is flawed.
Another day without writing? No big deal.
A week without writing? Better quit. Too hard to take it up now.
My writer friends are multi-published. Where’s my success?
(Remember that adding It’s a sign gathers a weight of the ages on already tired shoulders.)
The surest way to foil a crafty bad guy is to understand his tactics, to discern his mode of operandum. Does he gather other bad guys to help? Does he undermine confidence, slander reputation or isolate with shame? What tactics do I use against myself on a bad day?
Opposition doesn’t have to work against me. It can stir me to persevere, to hone my craft by learning and investing more into my journey. It can make me shine.
Pressure can uncover a well in me that isn’t dry after all. Or prove that I’ve learned good instincts after plowing through all those conferences, critiques and evaluations.
The crux of a great story always has a villain. It just shouldn’t be me. Or you. Because without us, our stories go nowhere.
Resolve to be your own best champion. Join us at the WWSW conference on Labor Day, 2018 or at our Writer’s Intensive in May.
You’ve got a great story. Keep writing it!
A former high school English teacher, Laurel Thomas has written for magazines such as Guideposts, Mysterious Ways and others. In addition to her foray into fiction with her first novel, Laurel has ghosted six books and edited others. In her position as general administrator of Write Well, Sell Well OKC, she heads an amazing staff of volunteers.
Laurel holds degrees in English and Counseling. She is a chaplain for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations, as well as being a lay pastor at Church on the Rock, Oklahoma City, OK.