Monday, February 16, 2015

Hunting the Wild Antagonist

So the premise this week is "Antagonists who aren't villains." I kind of like it. It's got a lot of room for interpretation.

Currently I am writing about a non-villainous antagonist. Of course, I could argue against myself and point out that the antagonists in SPORES (My current work in progress) are all villains and I would be right, but I would also be wrong. Because, really, if you look at last week's articles I've already said that the villains are seldom going to call themselves the bad guys.

In this case I am dealing with an antagonist that might as well be a force of nature. The antagonist has an agenda. The people of the earth are merely in the way, much as termites might be in the way of finishing a back porch. See my point?

There is no conscious desire to hurt the people of earth. they are just another obstacle.

In my current chapter, the heroine of the scene is dealing with something that is infesting and contaminating Lake Mead, while simultaneously dealing with a group that would dearly like to know why she isn't dead after a previous encounter. If they have to pull her into little bitty pieces and examine each and every separate part to understand why she is alive, they're okay with that, because desperate times call for desperate measures and all of that.

There aren't going to be a lot of happy endings in this one, folks. We're talking apocalyptic level events here. But to a very real extent we are dealing with antagonists who aren't villains.

Without going into details ( and I won't) the antagonists of the piece are barely aware of humanity. Even if they were they wouldn't care, but they genuinely aren't.

As for humanity, we are, as I said, dealing on an apocalyptic scale. The kid gloves, as they old saying goes, are off.

What constitutes being a bad buy when you're dealing with survival? Is it wrong to kill one person so that a thousand or a million might benefit from that death? If there's no one else to be the judge of your actions do your peers get to decide what is morally right? There is no government in the area. There are only people trying to survive. So where, exactly, do you draw the line?

I won't kill.

Not even to save your children?

I would never hurt another person.

Even if it was the difference between whether or not your family has enough to eat?

Those people over there, they're all getting along. 

They just murdered fifteen people and took everything they own. They had to, in order to survive. Just ask them and they'll tell you as much. but be careful, because you might've something they need.

Antagonists are easy. We deal with them every day in our lives.

Disease. It's not just a complication in a novel it can be the main source of transformation of character and the main driving force behind every event that occurs. Stephen King and Peter Straub wrote the absolutely amazing THE TALISMAN and the entire foundation of every event in that story is a young boy's desperate attempt to save his mother from cancer.

War. War in and of itself is not  the antagonist, but it can certainly act like one. Doesn't matter which side of the war you're on, or if you're neutral for that matter. When war comes to an area nothing is getting way unscathed. Christopher Golden and I are currently wrapping up Bloodstained Wonderland, a story that takes place in London during the Blitz. NOTHING remains unchanged.

Global Catastrophe. Tim Lebbon's brilliant THE SILENCE deals with an apocalyptic event. The world itself is transformed by the events in that story. Our heroes are one family trying to survive in a world where the rules have just been violently altered.

Poverty. What are the limits that you will go to in order to survive? It doesn't even have to be poverty. It can be a rough neighborhood, a massive storm, a plague that is killing hundreds and thousands around you as Spanish Influenza once did across the US and Europe. Bodies were "stacked like cord wood" on the streets of New York because they were dying too quickly for the survivors to do anything with them.

In the novel FIREWORKS I never had a true bad guy. I had a situation that was spinning out of control and a government organization that was supposed to contain the news and had to deal with a town full of people who were dying, wounded and desperate to get away.

The simple fact of the matter is that not every antagonist has to be evil or even human. Sometimes the thing that gets in the way of living is simply having to deal with life.

Just a little something to contemplate on a night when there are ice storms due in parts of the southeast and while the northeast is dealing with a blizzard of "biblical" proportions.

Keep smiling,

James A. Moore


  1. Mmm, I really like this post Jim. Everyone plays the hero in their own story, it's another's POV that makes them a villain.

    Great graphic too! The black and white says so much.

    1. Thank you kindly, Alexia. I tend to think very few bad guys ever sit around contemplating how bad they want to be. :)