Up Your Antagonist’s Ante

Everybody loves to hate the bad guy—but aren’t you ever curious about what makes him tick? Shining a light on the root cause of your antagonist’s bad behaviour or cracking his armour with a sliver of good can actually make him more compelling. Unless you have a specific reason to inflict a non-human adversary on your protagonist or create over-the-top comic book villain malevolence, your story will be more powerful if you make your antagonist relatable.

Your antagonist should be every bit as well developed as your protagonist. Start BEFORE he hits the pages of your novel by exploring his backstory. Write in first person so that you can slide right into your antagonist’s skin and get to know how he views the world. Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Woundedness often lies below the surface of bad behaviour. What happened to your antagonist to make him an adversary? Compelling incidents spark empathy in readers. Even a small sliver of compassion toward the story antagonist can inspire conflict between rooting for the good guy and wanting the bad guy to find his way—and that increases story tension. At the very least, letting readers know how your antagonist was wounded helps them to understand why he behaves the way he does. Consciously or unconsciously, readers always ask WHY.
  2. A truly convicted antagonist is a hero in his own eyes. A conviction that what he is doing is right empowers him to go to any lengths to gangster-539993get it. Consider religious fervour, for example, so deeply grounded in conviction that it becomes powerful and, if misguided, dangerous. In Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the police inspector—Javert—holds an unwavering belief in the system of law that sends him on the ruthless pursuit of Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who has transformed his life and helped many others.
  3. Give your antagonist a fatal flaw—the one characteristic that can bring him down. For example, everyone has something they are afraid of and does their best to avoid. What terrifies your antagonist? Let your protagonist use this fear against him.
  4. Don’t forget to add some good traits. Perhaps the antagonist is a passionate advocate for animals, or in love with one of your main character’s friends. A delightful sense of humour or incomparable charm increase an antagonist’s complexity, compounding the struggle the protagonist faces. In the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Severus Snape is fascinatingly complicated, cold and sarcastic, but those qualities hide deep anguish and an undying love and loyalty toward Harry’s mother.
  5. Intelligent antagonists keep readers on the edge of their seats just waiting to discover how he will get around the protagonist’s advances.
  6. Sometimes the antagonist isn’t really a bad guy, but someone who wants or needs something so badly for a higher purpose that he’s willing to do anything to get it—even bad stuff. For example, if your main character needs to win the race in order to support his new born daughter and the antagonist needs to win the race to pay for his mother’s medical bills, both characters have compelling reasons to be first to the finish line.
  7. Even when the primary antagonist is non-human antagonist—like a particular setting, the weather, a ferocious beast or supernatural forces—the impact of that antagonist can be increased if you offer a parallel threat through a human character. For example, social injustice is personified in The Hunger Games through the character of President Snow. In The Help, Hilly Holbrook gives flesh and blood to racial bigotry.

Once you’ve figured out how to up your antagonist’s ante, ensure he exerts a powerful presence over your manuscript by adding notes about his or her POV to your outline or draft. If you don’t let yourself lose sight of his impact on your story, your readers won’t be able to put him out of mind either.

Deborah is the author of three books for young people and a wide array of non-fiction articles. She serves as the editorial director for Rebelight Publishing Inc. and the director of news services for Mennonite Church Canada.

Writing in an Authentic Voice

During a session at a recent conference, I was asked how I write authentically from the point of view of a teenager? My novel, Empty Cup, is told in EC cover onlinefirst person from the point of view of a seventeen-year-old girl.

“I remember being a teenager like it was yesterday,” I responded, and then expanded by mentioning that I easily tap into the emotions of that time in my life. When writing Raven’s story, the main character from Empty Cup, I had to really think about how a teenager makes decisions, remember that her life experiences aren’t as vast as those of an adult, and although the story is not autobiographical, I had to relate to feelings of fear and unknowing, remember the exhilaration and terror of taking a risk, feelings of anger, betrayal, and broken trust had to come to the forefront in order to relate to Raven’s experiences to assure authenticity.

In the July 2015 issue of The Writer magazine, a reprinted an article from the July 1987 issue called Lowry’s guide to memory, Lois Lowry, author of The Giver, writes, “For me it is all there, and I can call it back. If that were not so, I could not write for children.”

At our recent meeting, I asked my fellow Anitas if they too could recall their childhood and teen years. A unanimous yes, but with exception. The conversation turned to writing from the point of view of the opposite sex. My current work in progress is from the view point of a sixteen year old boy. So how do I write accurately in that situation?

Great question!

face-73401_640I think emotions are emotions. Boys and girls both have similar emotions during similar situations, be it fear, humour, sadness. The differences are how they respond to those emotions. While I write my new story, I often think about how my seventeen-year-old son would respond. I’ve also based my character’s best friend off of a character from a TV show, he was a class clown type of personality, so I ask myself how he would respond. Sometimes I think of what the boys in my school did in response to different situations.

The other Anitas agreed and commented that having access to children of various ages is certainly helpful. And not just a little bit of contact, really getting in and around them, listening to how they talk, what they talk about… obviously do not stalk them! 🙂 I’m suggesting that if don’t have access to children in the age range that you’re writing about, then perhaps you have friends or family with children and you could arrange to spend some time with them.

Submersing yourself in your own memories of childhood is imperative for authenticity, but keeping in contact with kids of today will help to keep you current.

How do you keep your voice accurate for your characters?

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

Writing an Amazon Review

I wrote my first Amazon book review recently.  I’m wondering if formulating reviews might not be an excellent way to keep track of the middle grade and young adult novels I’ve been reading in my attempt to try to learn as much as I can about the craft of writing for the middle years and teen age group.  Compiling a review forces me to summarize succinctly what I’ve learned from reading the novel.

Preliminary coverThe first review I wrote was for Melinda Friesen’s young adult novel Enslavement.  I was impressed with the way she didn’t make it easy for us to pigeon-hole her characters.  Even the antagonists exhibited some good qualities and the protagonists had a number of characteristics that weren’t ideal. I want to try to include characters that aren’t easily labeled as good or evil in my own writing.

Friesen also does a great job of throwing us headlong into the drama of the novel from her opening paragraph.  She reminds us how important it is for a writer to engage readers right from the first page.

Enslavement raises some great questions which would make for excellent discussion starters with teens.  Although I know a good writer shouldn’t ‘hit readers over the head’ with moral platitudes and life lessons I want my writing to provide my readers with challenging questions to think about.

Finally I think the novel would be a good fit for use in high school classes and it is meant to the be the first in a series.  Looking realistically at the market for middle grade and teen novels any aspiring writer realizes that if they want to make any kind of profit they will need to sell their book to school libraries. If their novel is a hit they will also benefit financially from writing their book in a way that makes sequels possible.

I tried to summarize all the writing lessons I got from Enslavement in my Amazon review.  Check it out for yourself to see how you think I did.

Other posts…….

Art Tours Inspired by Books

A Flood of Books

Have You Met Mark Twain

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?


MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

The Five Commandments of Manuscript Submission

Manuscript Submission Five Commandments (2)So you’ve finished that manuscript. You’ve popped the champagne and celebrated, and now you’re ready to move on to the next step–publication.

I‘ve said this before on Vast Imaginations, and I’ll say it again. Writing is an Art; Publishing is a business. So here’s some tips for making your art shine in the business world.

1. Thou Shalt Put on Thy Business Hat. Submitting isn’t the time for touchy feely with your agents and editors of choice. It’s time to show you’re more than just a hobbyist , that you’re a professional. You need a top notch query letter that sells your story and you as a writer, and a gripping synopsis (you might even need a couple as submission requirements differ between companies. See Commandment #4). No pink stationary. No loopy fonts. No GIFs. You wouldn’t do that on a professional curriculum vitae, would you?

2. Thou Shalt Not Submit Thy First Draft or Thy Second Draft. Some people are under the impression that you vomit your story into a Word document and send that steaming bag to a publisher or agent and the editor will take care of editing it. Wrong. This is not how it works. You want your manuscript to be as close to publishable quality as you can possibly get it. When I first started querying Enslavement, I sent out my fifth draft. After rejection after rejection, I realized the manuscript wasn’t ready. I spent the next four years on roughly 20 more drafts. It’s now published–after I bled for it.

3. Thou Shalt Do Thy Research. This covers several areas. First, You need to know your manuscript inside and out, and it is up to you to determine what its target age group is and what genre it falls under. People, we have Google. These answers are easy to come by. When you submit, you need to make it easy for the editor/agent to determine your novel’s classification. And no, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. If you don’t have a target audience, your manuscript is not ready for submission.

Second, there are hosts of people out there ready to take advantage of new writers with promises of money, publication, and fame. Do your research. Editors and Predators is great site for doing a background check on agents and editors. Use it. And as with everything else in life–if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Third, agents/editors represent/work with specific literary areas. You need to do your research and only submit to those professionals that represent your type of work. This is where knowing how to classify your novel comes in. It is a waste of your time and theirs, to submit high fantasy to someone who does not accept genre fiction. They will not say, “Oh, wow, this one is so good that I’ll make an exception.” Not going to happen.

4. Thou Shalt Read the Submission Guidelines. This seems simple, but it’s often missed. Submission packages are not one-size-fits-all. Each agent and publisher will have their own set of guidelines, ignoring them will result in a rejection. Why? If you can’t follow simple guidelines, why would they want to work with you on something as complex as a novel? Read them. Follow them. No matter how weird they sound.

5. Thou Shalt Query Widely. This is a tough business. It’s not if you get rejection, it’s when. Be prepared because they will flow in like water through a ruptured damn. The key is to keep going. Every editor/agent has different tastes, different contacts, different holes in their lists. What one hates, another may love. It’s highly subjective, so keep going until you find someone who loves your work.

By following these commandments you give your manuscript the best possible chance of acceptance.

Do you have your own set of submission commandments? If so post them in the comments to help other writers. Have a question? Post them. This is a safe place to ask and get some answers before you wade into the deep waters of publishing.

For more about the submission process see:

Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

My Submission Sabatical


Enslavement (One Bright Future #1)Melinda Friesen writes novels for MG, YA and NA readers. Her first YA dystopian/sci-fi novel, Enslavement, has been met with fantastic reviews. Find it on Amazon. She is currently editing the sequel to Enslavement and querying her MG adventure fantasy, Snodgaard and the Mustache of Power.

Melinda Friesen authored Enslavement, a young adult dystopian novel, released by Rebelight Publishing. When she’s not writing, Melinda works as marketing director and acquisitions editor at Rebelight Publishing Inc.


benjamin-moore-paints-chip-color-swatch-sample-and-palette712-x-358xIn other words…Colours. Here’s something to help with colours in writing.

I recently read the first chapters of someone else’s work, by the end of which he’d repeatedly used the word ‘brown’ to describe the horses, the whatchamacallits, the whozits and the thingamagigs. He hadn’t noticed til I pointed it out. And yet he is a writer of considerable imagination and descriptive power.

Yes the dinglehoppers were brown, but why not toss in a little chestnut, or say the thingy was ‘of a shade resembling dried cow dung?’ Give your reader a chuckle.

It is true in many cases that men see colours in more conglomerate tones. There is medically proven-some difference in the receptors blah blah blah. Where most women break down purple into, eggplant, mauve, lilac, aubergine, plum, lavendar, mulberry, even dusk, men will puzzle their brows for a moment and if they’re lucky, a light bulb will float above their head and they’ll say, “Oh! Purple!” Again, I generalize.colors

So, addressing colours in writing. We don’t want to litter our writing with ultramarine, ivory, maroon, heliotrope, lemon, flame, wisteria, azure,cardinal, celadon, cerulean, chartreuse, goldenrod, indigo, mazarine. . . I could go on ad nausem. But neither do we want to flog ‘brown’ to absolute death.

How to deal?

1–Use a basic colour name when you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to something, but just want to paint a basic picture for the reader.

2–If you want something to be noted more specifically, tag a good adjective in front of the basic colour (avoiding clichés like ‘flaming red’), or use a step-2 colour name like mauve–a little above basic and universally known.

3–At this level you want something to stand out. When you want to imply something indirectly. For example, a lady walks into the room. “Her silver heels sparkle out from under her trailing aubergine gown, shimmering dusk in the ambient light, as does her jet black hair, looped gracefully along her neck.”

I could have said, “Her silver heels showed beneath a long purple gown”. . . Snoring. . . Instead, the first description also sets the mood in the room and gives us an impression of the woman without relaying any physical description.

Word of caution before you wax eloquent with colour descriptions: Using the variant of brown above, “a shade resembling dried cow dung,” don’t use it to describe the hair of your fianceé. And don’t use “lemon yellow chiffon” to describe the pus from a zombie infection. No reader will be able to eat lemons again.


Here’s a couple of links for fancy-pants colours to help you paint the writing town red Alizarin crimson:




Christina’s motto is:
“Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” (George Bernard Shaw)
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