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.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely going to expand on this topic again. I hit an all-time high for reads and membership. Just wow. Wasn't aware it was that popular of a topic.