Welcome to Day 5 of NaNoPlotMo. Up to this point, the order in which we developed our stories hasn’t left much room for variation. You could, as some do come up with a great protagonist first, then develop the plot from there. Some call this a character-driven story. I would argue that all you’ve done is use a character as your initial idea instead of some other story element. All stories need plots. All need characters.
But now you have a choice. You can continue to develop your protagonist. He’ll need more goals, a backstory, a dark moment, a big lie, etc. I don’t have time to cover those before November, so I’ll trust that you can develop your protagonist as we progress. In fact, I suggest that you start with your antagonist and his goals before moving on. Why? The antagonist will be the driving force behind your protagonist’s actions. The way to kill a story fast is to have a cliché bad guy. We want an antagonist we can emphasize with. Give him virtues to justify his actions. There are as many ways to develop a character as there are books written on the subject. I like to start with a table of goals as Stanley Williams recommends.
So let’s take a look at our antagonist.
Your choices should spring naturally from your story premise. If your story is about a man wrongly accused of murder and on the run, your antagonist will likely be a single law-enforcement official on his tail. If your story is a romance about a rodeo clown who has fallen for the star barrel rider, your antagonist can be the girl’s father, her manager, a boyfriend. In stories where multiple antagonists can exist, pick the best one who can put the biggest obstacles in your hero’s path. The secondary antagonists become obstacles (add them to your list).
Once you have an antagonist (again, I’m skipping ahead, take all the time you need to create your antagonist), he needs goals. And here’s the key before we move on with any of our supporting characters:
The moral premise should be stated generally enough so that it applies and even directs the defeat or success of all the supporting characters
– Stanley Williams, The Moral Premise
What Dr. Williams is saying, essentially, that every goal for every character in your novel should be directed by the moral premise. You see why that is so key? Remember, your story is like a parable. You, the writer, are trying to make a statement. The moral premise is your statement. So every aspect of your story should reflect whatever truth it is you’re trying to get across to your readers. It’s not preaching, my friends, it’s story telling.
Bad Guys have career goals, too
Back to our antagonist. I want you to list some goals for him. The obvious goal is the main story line. The best antagonist wants the same thing your protagonist wants. In the romance, two men competing for the same woman is always great conflict. In a murder mystery, an antagonist who kills out of a desire for justice, no matter how warped it is, is the best sort. Even ultra-dark villains like Darth Vader sought order in the universe. Hitler sought a perfect society in Europe where all prospered. Our villains should always believe that what they are doing is right and moral.
Example: Darth Vader
At first glance, Darth is a straight-forward evil villain who has a single goal. But closer observation reveals more, and even makes him a little empathetic.
Primary Goal: Crush the rebellion and restore order in the universe.
Career Goal: Complete the Death Star to win favor with the Emperor.
Personal Goal: Defeat Obi Wan Kenobe.
Spiritual Goal: Use The Force and convince his colleagues that is still alive.
See that? We may be able to come up with more, but 3 or 4 goals for your antagonist is typical. You may even recall a moment of empathy when we see Darth Vader’s disfigured head in the first episode. I’d place that story beat (or scene) in line with Darth’s personal goal. We aren’t told that Obi Wan was the cause of the disfigurement, but we suspect a connection, and that’s enough.
Each of these goals should come with three scenes, or beats. I like beats because a scene can, and often should, contain more than one story beat for more than one character. When Obi Wan is struck down, it is obviously the third and final beat of Darth’s goal to defeat his old master, but it is also an important story beat for Luke. In fact, it’s Luke’s 3rd major plot point. That single scene also contained story beats for Han Solo and Leia. There was lot going on there! And you thought it was just a cool light saber battle. More on that later this week.
So let’s list some goals for your antagonist. To help save time, go back and revisit the goals for your protagonist. If your protagonist and antagonist can share a couple of goals other than the main story goal, it helps to maintain tension. Darth and Luke shared a spiritual goal, if you’ll recall.
Tomorrow we’ll talk about the goals of all you characters. Once we’ve established goals, we can create story beats. And that, my friends, will become your outline for November. We’re moving fast, so let’s stay on track!