Guest: Thea Harrison Discusses Antagonists

Hi friends! Today we’ve got fabulous Thea Harrison visiting with us, and discussing a rather new topic for us… the people you love to hate! Or… you know. (Read and find out!) Ms. Harrison has also just hit the bestseller lists – on the NYT extended and USA Today with Lord’s Fall so remember to congratulate her in the comments!

What Makes a Good Antagonist?

Antagonists, or villains, can be the trickiest part of the writing process.  They can be, at least for me, the hardest character to identify with, and yet they are so vital to the overall success of a story.

I can’t pretend that I am as strong on this as I would like to be, as I feel that I am always working to improve this particular aspect of my writing.  The following are a few points about writing villains that I have heard, read or been told:

Don’t make the villain too simple.  A more frightening and believable villain is one that has one or even a few traits that a reader might connect to.  This makes the character more complicated and unpredictable as well.

Don’t make the villain too evil.  You run the risk of creating a hand-washing “Mwa-ha-ha!” villain, or a caricature, which is ultimately less believable and therefore less scary.

This isn’t as easy as it might sound, is it?  Especially if you WANT to focus more on the hero and/or heroine’s journey, and you actually WANT to have them defeat a serious challenge or an evil.

I think the bottom line to this challenge is to try to reach a balance, especially so that the writer—and therefore the reader—does not descend into a story that comes across as cartoonish and full of clichés.

Some villains I’ve attempted have been:

Urien Lorelle, the Dark Fae King, from Dragon Bound.  Writing Urien was fun, because writing that whole book was fun.  Looking back on his character, though, I think there are a few things I do differently if I were writing him today.  I would try to give him one or two traits that would make him more well rounded—perhaps a quirk, or someone he cared about.

Naida, from Storm’s Heart, and Rhoswen, from Serpent’s Kiss.  I felt more of a connection with these two characters, because their motivations weren’t too simple and dark.  In Storm’s Heart, Naida had a strong sense of mission, and a belief in her husband, although both things got twisted by her own ambition.  And as she acted from her more twisted emotions, she was capable of great harm.  Likewise in Serpent’s Kiss, Rhoswen had a deep love for the heroine Carling, but neither her love nor her character were healthy, and she acted from the darker emotions prompted by that—jealousy and anger, and resentment.

One of my favorite (to date) antagonists was in Oracle’s Moon.  I actually had two antagonists in that story.  One was a much more simple character.  Without getting too spoilery, I shall simply call him a terrorist.  The other was much more interesting to me:  Soren, the hero Khalil’s father, who wasn’t a bad man, but he was a very dangerous one, especially so to the hero and heroine.  His motivation stemmed from a desire to protect his son from what he saw was a fatal—and therefore tragic—decision.

In Lord’s Fall, I attempt an entirely different kind of antagonist—a tragic one, Amras Gaeleval, who had many aspects of nobility.  Again, without being too spoilery, I got emotional a couple of times writing that character, and I felt conflicted about him.  I’m hoping the same richness of experience will be there for the reader.

Question:  readers, which villains have you read that you think are powerful characters, or that have affected you in some way?

Thea (via her publisher) is also offering one US winner a mass market copy of his/her choice of Thea’s four previous books: Dragon Bound, Storm’s Heart, Serpent’s Kiss or Oracle’s Moon. So yay giveaway!

13 thoughts on “Guest: Thea Harrison Discusses Antagonists

  1. I just want to congratulate Thea on Lord’s Fall hitting the NYT and USA Today list!!! Great and informative post…thanks for sharing Thea!

  2. I have read a lot of books but I think the most powerful villain for me was the whole Baja Cartel in Don Winslows “Savages” books. In addition Omega (Black Dagger series) and Dragos (Midnight Breed Series) are mean contemporaries as well.
    I also want to congratulate you on Lord’s Fall hitting USA Today and the NYT list =)

  3. I was really torn with the idea of Lord’s Fall and your revisiting Pia and Dragos as the h/h main char. But it worked wonderfully :-D thanks for the great read!

    Peggy

  4. Here are some villians that stick with me long after I have finished the book….and I still think about them and cringe. Lash…from J R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood…and Pestilence/Respeth …from Larissa Ione’s Lord’s of Deliverence…. and finally the clown from Stephen King’s book It. Thea I love your series…can’t wait for more!

  5. Hi Thea, I have not read your books but know I have to check them out. The villain that I hated was Captain Jack Randal from Outlander series he was seriously sedistic and just mean, and you loved to hate him. I couldn’t wait till he got his just ending.

  6. quite often the villians are unknown for much of a story so they don’t often stick with me, but you gotta have them and the really good ones add so much to the story,

  7. Oh, Captain Jack – Kelly found a great one there. I love me a complexly bad guy. Really, they all just want love! Or something.

    Huge congrats to Thea on the raves for Lord’s Fall! I can’t wait to read it.

  8. Hi everybody!

    E, thanks so much for having me on your blog. I really enjoyed writing this post.

    And thanks to everybody for your kind words and congratulations… I’m very happy this week!

    Great examples of antagonists. Some of them just stick with you, don’t they, long after a story or movie is over with?

    Today I’ve been trying and trying to remember the name of a series, and after a bit of hit and miss Googling, I’ve finally remembered it: The Coldfire Trilogy by C. S. Friedman. I thought Ms. Friedman did an outstanding job in this series, not only of creating a power that needed to be defeated, but she also created two very interesting main characters, one of whom had many characteristics that one might find in an antagonist. He’s more of an anti-hero in these stories. At any rate, if any of you are fans of classic fantasy, you might want to give this a try. :)

    Happy reading, folks.
    Thea

  9. Hmm… I think the most memorable villains are ones who are so truly convinced of their rightness but they’re just a hair off from reality so they end up being complete wackos who know they are perfectly sane…

  10. Wow I agree with flchen1 above. The villains that appear sane but are just a half-a-bubble off center. I can’t give you specific examples right now because the stress in my life right now has me in a state of swiss-cheese brain. I agree with Lash from Ward’s BDB and I just saw the end of of X-Men First Class on TV, Magnito is a good example of someone who starts out with good intentions but get’s twisted along the way.

  11. Congrats!!

    Villians are such a hard character. I know there are a bunch that I love to hate and that the stories wouldnt be the same without them. But right now I cant think of any. Must be too much turkey.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!

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