Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Creating a Vile, Believable Antagonist

I have probably had more comments and reactions from my character the Wax Man, than any other. He appears in The War Gate, a paranormal romance/thriller. He is actually a sub-antagonist, an assassin hired by the main antagonist. Most of these observations have come from beta readers and direct email, only one popped up in an Amazon review. I'll list it here. It was quite a nice cap feather.

"Thoroughly enjoyed this novel, enough it makes me reluctant to start another book! I want more! Yet I cannot fully explain the hows or whys of how it gripped me... and I've never been 'freaked out' by anything I've read, including years of Stephen King however the Wax Man now reigns as the one who did it for me!"

Any antagonist you create must be a multi-dimensional, faceted and just as complicated and real as your protagonists or main characters. Physical description is one dimension--special skills and intelligence are another, and MOTIVATION is yet another. A little history and back-story doesn't hurt either.To fully draw a believable villain you must humanize them somehow, even if it is some type of monster or mythological creature. You have only to draw comparisons to human emotion and motivation to give us a hint about what possesses this creature or being to act the way it does. 

The best antagonists are the ones that we can empathize or sympathize with--it's not all negative and evil we're after. Batman's Joker is a prime example of a deep, vengeful character. He was betrayed. The antag in The Incredibles was first seen as a young kid who wanted to join the super hero establishment, but was denied. We can feel for him, knowing that we share those same types of desires. Gollem, in the Lord of the Rings, has a terrible addiction to the Ring, which is why he does what he does to the Hobbits in order to repossess it. Gollem is sick and suffering, and he pursues the ring like a heroine fix. It's out of his control. We can feel sorry for him in spite of his treachery. The Grinch was persecuted as a child from his classmates.  

If you're going for pure shock value in an antagonist you will  need to draw that character even more intricately and show some type of personality balance. Your villain might be totally normal and at peace with himself in one setting, but when he meets or comes in contact with the MC, it totally sets him off because of a perceived slight or unjust act. 

Greed and power is a common motivator for most antagonists, but if you can use another, less cliche motivator, explore it and use it. Strive to get outside the box and take a chance with the desires of your villain--why he does these terrible things. Although I can't paste the entire character makeup of the Wax Man, I can show enough of what, who and why he is. His motivation is a cure--he's tortured, unbelievably so by multiple afflictions. 

An excerpt from the storyline, showing PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION:

Drake saw a shadow move across the inner wall of the truck. It was followed by the figure of a human dressed in very dingy clothing. Drake walked closer to get a better look. The figure wore an olive green rain slicker, a filthy orange hat, and what looked like snow boots. The face resembled a smear, still indistinguishable from the distance.

Drake moved closer, stopping within fifteen feet. He could smell something like a wet dog—the odor wafting from the confines of the truck interior. Another odor assaulted him, the cheesy putridness of decay. Closer now, the face within the truck looked wet, so did his hands, the only parts of his flesh that were visible. The lips of the man were gray, cracked in a slight grin that showed teeth that looked like broken cashews. The eyes were either gray, or spoiled with cataracts, it was hard to tell. Drake put the face appliances on, since he had no idea what kind of human stood in his presence. This had to be the Wax Man, whom Auggie had referred to earlier.

“This is Mr. Drake Labrador,” said Auggie aloud, serving as liaison between the two.

“Uh.” Drake extended a hand but made no move to close the distance. He watched the Wax Man take a few steps toward him, the rain slicker waltzing in sway.

Drake got a good look at the face. The cheeks were drawn, the eyes were white voids. Numerous inflamed ulcerations, some of them leaking puss, pockmarked the man’s face. A perceptible heat radiated outward from the body, and with it, Drake could detect more of the strong fetid smell through the mask. Indeed, the face looked like it was made of wax, changing form when the light shifted upon it.

Drake had never seen such a disgusting transient in all his life. He didn’t know whether to call an ambulance or animal control. There had to be a mistake in soliciting this individual for anything or for any reason.

The Wax Man drew an asthmatic breath. “A little warmer here than New York.” The words were a gargle. “Don’t come any closer. You’ll thank me later.” The man turned his hand over in the sunlight, giving the appearance he was bathing it in the heat—testing it. Something resembling yellow varnish hung thread-like from his fingertips. Several drops of the goop plopped to the asphalt to sizzle in the hot sun.


 There was nothing in the back of the refrigerator truck that resembled a piece of luggage or tote bag. Not even a paper sack. Drake’s next question concerned practical matters. “I can’t tell if you’re packing or not. Are you carrying, or do I need to provide you with something?”

“Carrying?” The Wax Man’s smile broke open like a blister. “I’m carrying just about everything I need, a little bubonic plague, typhoid, rheumatic fever, influenza, tuberculosis, cholera, rabbis, even some hoop without the cough.” He laughed but it tuned into a gag, prompting him to spit.

Drake took a few steps back, staring at the vile discharge on the pavement that resembled a large maggot. Auggie stared wide-eyed over his mask.

The Wax Man held out a trembling hand. “I’m a repository for just about everything that’s wiped out mankind from the dawn of time. Any respiratory or blood borne pathogen has found a comfortable little home right here in this vessel. The Center for Disease Control calls us healthy carriers, but the debate goes on about the ‘healthy’ part in my prognosis. Suffice it to say, I’m toxic to the touch, dangerous to inhalation.” He smoothed the fur of the opossum with a finger. “Judas is the only contact I’ve had with a living organism. He’s immune. Nothing else is. Would that answer your question?”

“Jesus Christ, man,” said Drake, his breath puffy in the mask. “How long have you had this affliction? Are we safe standing here?”

The Wax Man tucked the opossum back under his coat. “I’m from a long line of carriers. They say it started with Typhoid Mary’s lineage. Bullshit. That was just an excuse to gloss over the real facts. My bloodline has been infected for centuries. Since then every new generation has picked up a new pox to add to the soup. I’m guessing it started with leprosy around twelve hundred BC.” He looked at each of the Cyberflow men in turn. “You asked about the risk factor. Always remain at least three meters distant from me. Don’t ever touch me. Always wear protection. Keep your breaths shallow in my presence if you’re not wearing a mask. That’s enough to avoid transference.”


“Then what could you possibly need?”

“I need a cure. That’s the price you’ll pay. I am not talking about some bimbo from Hopkins, Harvard, or Mayo. I need the top epidemiologist or virologist from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. I want Ignatius Struthers, the director. You’ll arrange a private meeting for the purpose of consultation. I’ll take it from there.”

Drake gave Auggie a perturbed glance. “Don’t just stand there. Take this down so you can make the arrangements.”

Auggie scribbled on a pad.

“I’m in agreement with that,” said Drake. “I don’t know if you should get your hopes up. I have no knowledge about your disease or if a cure is possible, but if there is any way to help you, I’ll keep my end of the bargain. To be honest, I expected some other type of payment.”

The Wax Man shuffled backward toward the refrigerator truck. “Do you know what it’s like to walk unimpeded over a park hillside with the sun on your face and the wind in a full head of hair? Do you know what it’s like to feel the embrace or kiss of another, the weight of a child on your lap, a puppy’s tongue on your cheek, the nudge of a kitten against your leg? I have done all of those things many more times than you have—in dreams—visions. I can describe each of those sensations better than you ever could. It’s because you take them for granted. Me, I’ll take them any way I can get them. I’m not alive. Not yet. Maybe one day I will be. The one prayer I have forever asked for is a release from this damnation. Funny, it was never answered.”

Monday, December 31, 2012

Be Careful What You Write

At the forefront of my earliest years of writing and publication I queried quite a few professional authors for advice and guidance. I wanted to know the easiest, less painful ways of achieving publication with full size books. I had a plethora of old-timers and experts from which to gain any hints or tips that would cut through the crap and get me off to a good start. These contacts came primarily from the Science Fiction Writers of American. They had some standard warnings and insider information for me, which has served me in my later years. I was first told that non-fiction books (at the time) outsold fiction 3--1, and if I had anything near a respectable platform, then to produce an informative non-fiction title. I did so--twice in a row--and was rewarded with almost immediate publication, with nice advances and global bookstore presence. I couldn't believe how dead-on their advice was. I was also told what not to write in a fiction or non-fiction format, since the chances of certain types of books hadn't much of a chance of acceptance or publication. I was warned away from several types, and these books are often the target or favorites books of brand new writers. Herein lies some examples with "danger zone" written all over them:

Memoirs and Autobiographies 

Writing is expression and passion put to paper. It's an outlet that can convey frustration, deep, inner feelings, conflict, anger-rage, concern and even accomplishments and joy. One of the first attractive stories a fledgling writer is apt to gravitate to is a story about themselves. It could involve growing up in a difficult or dangerous family setting, overcoming a divorce or job change, the formative teenage years, battling cancer, sexual abuse and domestic violence, the death of a family member or pet, a stint in the armed get the idea. What often happens in the prose department is that stories like these become blatantly self-indulgent, egocentric, rife with personal opinion, spiritual or religious in nature, politically motivated or even preachy. And this is the worst kind of author intrusion you can commit. They usually end up with entirely too much "I,I,I," and "me, me, me." Almost always, First Person POV is the default writing style. And it seems everyone n terra firma has a story to blow off their chest.

Your biggest obstacle here is platform and notoriety. Common folk, like you me, are apt to write the same boring story, and the only thing that might be different is the byline and plot. The themes have been thrashed to death--man against man--man against God--man against nature--and man against himself. You're nobody, really, and why oh why should your story be any more relevant than any other? Unless you're an A-list actor who has gone through rehab, a serial killer that needs to confess, a star athlete with a checkered past, a past president, a madame that has a little black book, or one of the other socially exciting figures who everyone has heard of, swallow a couple of aspirin, go into a dark room, lay down and wait for the feeling to pass. You will get rejected more times than you thought possible.

Granted, in just the last three or so years, memoirs and autobiographies have seen an upsurge and comeback, even from some perfectly unheard of authors. Opra's Book Club might have had something to do with this--but there be dangers, toils and snares there too since some recent titles have been fabrications and tagged frauds. I wouldn't suggest that you bury your notion about writing your personal memoir, but you better be damn certain there will be a likely market for it. And there just aren't that many publishers looking for them, which will hamstring you from the starting gate. A good question to ask yourself: what are you famous for and how many people already know about it?


There is a very small market for this type of writing. The markets that do exist pay very little or nothing, other than a contributor's copy or two. There must be a 100 million poets out there that first began their adventure in this style whilst in high school. If you don't have any poetry credits, say, some literary clips, you're not likely to impress a publishing house that is serious about poetry. Oh, and did I day it doesn't sell? Poetry is very difficult to master and there are several styles. If you insist on writing it, master the styles that teach you rhythm, beat, tone and nuance. Poetry is a great teacher of emotion and extended narrative where words are used to paint and describe. There's nothing wrong with writing poetry for your own enjoyment and satisfaction. But beware that it's uphill battle and the competition is fierce. Money? There is none. Did I say that?

Short Story Collections

Lots of writers start out writing short fiction and end up trunking most of it. It's difficult to write, since it requires lean, mean prose where every word counts. You have to read tons of it in order to learn how to write a pound of it. The competition is staggering. Unlike poetry, though, there are thousands of anthologies, journals and magazines looking for the stuff. We're talking about single, standalone short stories. If you can sell a dozen short stories to some the of the semi-pro and pro markets, you stand a slight chance of landing a deal with a publishing house that might take your collection to print. Might. And there's only a few such publishing houses out there for collections from unknowns. I think I could name them on one hand. So odds are very much stacked against you. Compared to novels and nonfiction books, SS collections are terrible sellers. Submitting them is hardly worth the effort unless you're a brand-name author in one of the popular genres, like science fiction, thriller, horror and fantasy. The best short story collections for the new writer are probably horror, what with the recent popularity of vampires, werewolves, ghosts and zombies. We're going through a zombie phase at the moment--they can't seem to get enough of the stuff to the readers. 

Nonfiction Books

You better have a platform here, or have precious writing credits in the field in which you write. That includes degrees and working experience. If you're writing about science or health, make sure you are a master in the field with lots of experience and years to your credit.. The only other job vocation that might help you, is if you're an award winning journalist, TV commentator, or top-notch reporter. There you can objectively report, as long as all your facts and research is inline and spotless. Because you will be fact-checked. You might be responsible for your own artwork and photographs, in addition to some celebrity blurbs, an extensive table of contents and footnotes up the wahzoo. Non-fiction books that explore any facet of the core sciences are horrendously difficult to write and get right. The money is very, very good here, though. Chances for publication are very high, with good advances and distribution. Even niche or regional titles do surprisingly well. 

Stop and think before you lay fingers to keyboard. Know the risks and pitfalls. If you can't be deterred from writing any of these types of books or collections, I bid you good luck and God's speed.