What Have We Learned From This Binge Watch 3: The Antagonist Is Crucial in Building a Team Story

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My biggest problem in writing Nita at this point is not having a clear antagonist. I already knew that my plot was a mess because of that–your antagonist shapes your plot–but until I started considering her team, I didn’t realize that the team’s make-up was also shaped by the Big Bad. Once I thought about it, it was obvious: the make-up and character of the team is defined by the project it undertakes, and the project it undertakes is shaped by antagonist.

Which means I need to learn a lot more about team antagonists. And then find Nita’s.

The protagonist/antagonist relationship works best when it’s a close one, drawn together by strong emotion and clear unavoidable conflict. (See The Conflict Box for more on that.) Both protagonist and antagonist need to achieve their goals, which they can’t do without blocking the other’s goal. That can be fairly simple when you’re dealing with a single protagonist but becomes much more complex when dealing with a team. The team leader is still the protagonist–don’t write a multiple protagonist unless you really like making yourself nuts–but since she or he is tied so closely to the team, those team members have to be as invested in that goal as she or he is.

It was at this point that I realized I had multiple problems (aside from the elephant in the draft which was that I still wasn’t sure which character was the antagonist). That is, I needed to know the underlying parallel/relationship of Nita to her antagonist (I always need that), but also the underlying parallel of Nita’s team to the antagonist’s team. Why? Because this freaking book has a cast of thousands, they’re all on teams, and they’re all going off in different directions, so I had to pick a land, or in this case, an antagonist team. Writing this many characters is like herding ducks. In space. I mean look at this cast list, just so far (not finished with the discovery draft yet):

• Nita, Button and Mort for the humans
• Nick, Daglas, and Rabiel from the law-and-order part of Hell
• Mammon, Max, and Sequins from the anything-goes part of Hell
• Moloch, Brad, Thad, Ashtoroth, Lilith, and Ranger Rich from the greedy-and-immoral part of Hell
• the Rev, William, Renfield, and Dorothy from the Church of Satan on the island (they’re human)
• Marvella, Cecily, and Linda from the Demon Island Historical Society
• Chinamin, Clint, and Frank from the Demon Island police
. . . I could go on, but you get the picture.

Clearly, I need to pull myself and this story together. So looking for guidance, I went back to the worst antagonist of 2016 (outside of politics), Vandal Savage. Okay, he was badly written and poorly acted, but beyond that, the character failed in being a terrible subtextual match for Rip Hunter:

Hunter is a time traveller, Savage has been reincarnated 206 times.
Hunter assembles a team, Savage ostensibly works alone but actually has backers who are using him.
Hunter is trying to save his family, Savage is . . . uh, I have no idea what Savage wants. To conquer the world, yeah, but as goals go that one is in the Top Five Worst of All Time. (Rip’s Family Fridge Revenge goal is up there, too.) Conquering the World has no emotional resonance. How about you just conquer half the world? Is that good? ‘Cause that’s a lot of real estate. No, you want it all? WHY? Oh, because you’re a madman. Uh, no.

It’s okay to have a crazy antagonist but he can’t be screaming and picking things out of the air, he has to be crazy like a fox. He has to have a real reason for why he wants something. Having a mad passion for Hawkwoman and pursuing her through the centuries is actually a fairly decent goal. Men have started new religions and given up thrones for the women they loved, I’ll believe he’s pinballing through time trying to make her his own. Except he’s so damn bad at it. Two hundred and six times and she still hates him. (Every time I see that number, I think of LoPan in Big Trouble in Little China, and Jack Burton saying, “Two thousand years and [you] can’t find one broad to fit the bill? C’mon, Dave, you must be doing something seriously wrong.”)

So he’s not actually pursuing Hawkwoman, he’s trying to take over the world, a little bit at a time, 206 times. Yeah, try to make this guy a coherent antagonist. He’s like an evil whack-a-mole with ADD; every time period they go to, he’s doing some evil, buying a nuclear weapon in Norway, running a mental hospital in Oregon, running a cult someplace I forget, and most of those times he has no idea he’s trying to Take Over The World, he’s just doing this thing because . . . uh, power?

And none of that is in any relationship to Rip Hunter. Complete antagonist fail.

Then you get to the end of the first season, and you find out the real evil is the Time Masters. As I believe I said before, I mentally threw things at the TV (mentally because the TV in my bedroom is white and the perfect size and I’ll never find another one like that again) because the Time Masters would have been GREAT antagonists. Look at all the connections here:

• Rip is a renegade Time Master, trained by the Time Masters, and now pursued by the Time Masters. He’s not just running from them, he’s the mirror image of them. It’s a good close relationship, and the conflict is heightened by how well the two sides know each other and can anticipate what the other will do. (There’s no relationship between an ancient Egyptian priest and a time traveller.)

• Rip has a small team of misfits and criminals going up against the vast and highly trained fleet of the Time Masters, but the Time Masters are hampered by bureaucracy while Rip and the Legends can maneuver easily without restriction. There’s a relationship between those two team’s abilities even though they’re the reverse of each other. (There’s no relationship between immortality and time travel.)

* Rip wants to save his family; the Time Masters want to save the world from an alien invasion. They both see disaster and want to prevent it, both sides are willing to sacrifice people to achieve that, both sides are sure they’re in the right. (There’s no relationship between wanting to save a family and wanting to taking over the world.)

The Time Masters using Savage as a tool works fine, as long as the reader/viewer knows that they’re the real antagonists by the end of the first act/third of the story. If the reader/viewer knows that, and knows that Savage is an essential piece of the Time Masters’ plan, then all the attempts to take him out now have meaning instead of being a really terrible remake of Groundhog Day. And you can see that in the penultimate episode of the first season when the team realizes that Time Masters have taken away free will, and go gangbusters after them to set themselves and the world free. Those are stakes that matter, stakes worth dying for. Taking down Savage after that is a huge anti-climax because he was never Rip’s antagonist; he even killed Rip’s family on orders from the Time Masters. The Time Masters are huge and powerful and closely tied to Rip Hunter in the subtext of the story; Vandal Savage is a unreleated joke.

Then look at the much-improved second season where Sara is the team leader (so far).

• Sara has the advantage of a team that worked together and bonded and have now chosen to go with her to protect the timeline, but she also has another huge advantage: One of the group she’s up against is the man who killed her sister. If she kills him in an earlier timeline to save Laurel, she could destroy the world (it’s that butterfly flapping its wings thing), but she can make her sister’s murderer’s life hell by fixing all the things he’s doing in the timeline to advance his plan. Her goal is vengeance, but not the clichéd goal of killing him; she’s going to drive him crazy while fulfilling her team’s goal, too.

• The Legends are a band of misfits and criminals who have bonded through shared struggle and loss; the Legion is band of three (soon to be four) master criminals who don’t care about each other at all but share a lust for power. The strengths of one are the weaknesses of the other and vice versa; that’s a relationship.

• And to pull everything together, Sara’s goal not only neatly fits the Legends’ mission to keep the timeline intact, the Legends’ goal neatly reverses the Legion of Doom’s goal to disrupt it. You don’t need a conflict box to see how they block each other: Two teams enter this story but only one will leave.

Based on that analysis, I decided I needed three things to establish a strong central story spine in a team story:

• A Protagonist (Team Leader) and Antagonist (Team Leader) related to each other in some way:
The protagonist and the antagonist should have a subtextual character connection, either as doppelgangers or opposites, to heighten the conflict and unify the story. (Think Finch and Samaritan’s Greer as opposites, one determined to limit the power of an AI and the other determined to unleash it upon the world.)

• A Protagonist Team and Antagonist Team related to each other in some way:
The protagonist team and the antagonist team should have a similar connection, either as doppelgangers or opposites, to heighten the conflict and to unify the story. (Think Leverage’s “2 Live Crew Job” in which the two teams were of the exact same make-up but diametrically opposed morally and emotionally.)

• A Protagonist/Team and Antagonist/Team Goal related to each other in some way:
The goals of the two teams should not only be diametrically opposed, but that opposition should be thematic, too.
(See Leverage’s theme that sometimes bad guys make the best good guys reversed in the “2 Live Crew Job” episode’s other crew just being bad guys; see also PoI‘s protag and antag shared statement of intent–“You are being watched”–and how the last season’s voiceover that explains the story goal changes when Samaritan controls the screen, from benevolent and protective to tyrannical and ruthless, even though both teams are trying to save the world.)

Those three guidelines are draconian (there are many roads to Oz, your mileage may differ, etc.), but I’d argue that if you’re writing a team story, you’re already experiencing so much chaos that a clean conflict between two clearly related entities is essential. It’s all right to keep readers/viewers guessing; it’s not all right to throw so much stuff at them that don’t know what the hell is going on and feel stupid and annoyed. Give them a good strong central plot thread to follow, and they’ll put up with a lot of loose ends along the way, as long as they’re all finished and tied off to the that strong central conflict at the end.

Which brings me to Nita’s story.

• I know Nita’s team: It’s a coalition of Earth and Hell, living and dead; therefore the antagonist team should be . . . probably all human or all demon, the opposite of the rainbow that Nita works with. They can and should use other teams not of their origin as dupes, minions, and stalking goats, but I think the antagonist team’s motto is going to be “Diversity Never.”

• I know Nita’s team’s goal: It’s to keep the island (and Earth) safe; therefore the antagonist team’s goal should be . . . well, not to destabilize the island or Earth, that wouldn’t get them anything. But Nita’s team is blocking them from getting what they want. So they want to use the island for something nefarious and they don’t care who they hurt, human or demon, in the process because what they’re doing is for their Greater Good (flashback to Hot Fuzz there).

• What I don’t know is the first step, the real key in this story, Nita’s relationship to the antagonist team leader. Because I don’t know who the hell the antagonist is.

So what does Nita need in an antagonist? Doppelganger or opposite?

Start with who Nita is: Repressed, angry, an outsider, smart, driven, fearless, outspoken, impulsive, determined to do good and protect her home.

Just reversing all of those gives me a weak character—Nita’s flawed but she’s strong and smart–so I need somebody who can match her, a doppelganger.

So my antagonist team leader is going to be an outsider like Nita. A good antagonist is smart, so that has to go in there, and I like driven and fearless in an antagonist, too.

So Nita’s antagonist is an outsider who’s smart, driven, and fearless. That’s good.

But the antagonist can’t just match or echo the protagonist, he or she has to be stronger, smarter, braver, whatever. If I give the antagonist Nita’s strengths, I can make him or her stronger by reversing Nita’s weaknesses.

So the antagonist is manipulative not outspoken, calculating not impulsive, determined to achieve his or her ends with nothing to protect so unhampered by collateral damage, with the goal of taking power over the island regardless of the consequences.

Which one of my characters is an outsider who’s smart and fearless, manipulative and calculating, and determined to achieve his or her ends regardless of the cost?

I think I know who that is. Not completely sure, I’m still fighting my way through the discovery draft, but pretty sure. And if that turns out to be right, then I know what skills the team will need to combat that person. Huh.

Progress.

26 thoughts on “What Have We Learned From This Binge Watch 3: The Antagonist Is Crucial in Building a Team Story

  1. “don’t write a multiple protagonist unless you really like making yourself nuts” — I’ve been working on the same book for two years. I get to the same point every time and then go back to the beginning and start over. Last week, I said to the one friend who has read what I’ve got so far, “Who’s your favorite character?” She responded, “Hmm, so many good ones to choose from. I’m trying to decide who is actually the main character- very equally developed.” I was hoping she’d pick one so that I could get that character, whoever it was, to their right ending and maybe the others would find their right endings along the way, but no. She told me I have an ensemble cast. What I really have is multiple protagonists, and yes, they’re making me nuts. But thank you for the insight into teams and protagonists/antagonists. I’m definitely going to use that in my thinking about my next book!

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    1. Who’s your favorite character?

      I ask because a long time ago I was writing a book about a woman named Eve and this con man she met named Davy and it was going nowhere because I kept writing scenes with her younger sister, named Tilda, and then one day it occurred to me . . .

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      1. So interesting. As a reader, hard to imagine that story with Eve being focus. Do like how Eve is layered & fleshed out, but do think Tilda owns it. So funny to learn book didn’t start out that way.

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      2. Oh, I love that! Tilda is one of my favorites but I can see how Eve might have seemed like the main character when you started. And it was a great question for me, because I do actually love my heroine — she’s my favorite character. She’s also the one with the least story, so that’s probably what I should be working on. (Her story to date is just falling in love with the wrong guy, or at least a guy that seems like the wrong guy. Everyone else has got life/death/eternity issues going on.)

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        1. I do that all the time. I love my heroine. I want her to be happy. So everybody else is going through hell, but she’s okay, she’s just fine. At some point, I have to cowboy up and throw a rock at her in the first paragraph.

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  2. So entirely as a point of theory… a lot of people watch Leverage for Parker, Hardison, and Eliot, and dislike Nate. And the show supports them in this identification, especially in that season after Nate gave himself up to Sterling and was in prison and has to work his way back in.

    So, while realizing that this is not the pattern you’re primarily interested in, it seems to me that it’s possible to have a team that’s not entirely centered on the leader. The leader is not the goal, and the goal is more important than the leader. If this is the case, would this make the leader a sort of (subplot) antagonist (in as much as the leader not being the same as the goal results in the leader standing in the way of the goal), or more like another team member rather than being closer to the center of the story, or … ?

    Or is this the path to creating stuff like the MCU, where they say the Avengers are a team but all they ever do as a team is fall apart?

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    1. I think Nate is always the centerpiece. The fact that the kids rebel against him doesn’t mean they aren’t still reacting to him. After all, the first thing they do when he’s in prison is make a plan to get him out and back to them. I’d have to go back and look at that season, but he’s still running all the cons; I don’t think they start to take over from him until Season 5 when it becomes obvious that the three of them are working alone–there’s the job they do in DC without Nate and Sophie–and that the series is setting them up to take over Leverage, Inc. so that Nate and Sophie can retire.

      But that season that you’re talking about (Season Three, right?) is definitely about leadership and connection and the pitfalls of tyranny. Look at the season’s antagonist, the big crime boss who owns the government in San Lorenzo. The whole season is about not just bringing him down, but giving power back to the people, the team, if you will. And that echoes the character plot of the team, Nate not so much relinquishing power as sharing it.

      “So, while realizing that this is not the pattern you’re primarily interested in, it seems to me that it’s possible to have a team that’s not entirely centered on the leader.”

      I don’t think it’s about centering it on the leader as much as it is about making him or her the spine. It’s like Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar”:

      “I placed a jar in Tennessee,
      And round it was, upon a hill.
      It made the slovenly wilderness
      Surround that hill.

      “The wilderness rose up to it,
      And sprawled around, no longer wild.
      The jar was round upon the ground
      And tall and of a port in air.

      “It took dominion everywhere.
      The jar was gray and bare.
      It did not give of bird or bush,
      Like nothing else in Tennessee.”

      I love that poem because it so perfectly captures the idea of one movement creating a new reality. That is, the wilderness was chaotic and wild until he put a round man-made jar down in the middle of it. And that point, the wilderness sorted itself out as something that was around the jar, it became definable as something in relation to the jar. It was not-jar, if you will, it was north of the jar or east of the jar, it was greener than the jar, it was rougher than the jar, but the jar was where everything began, and the wilderness was defined by relationship to it.

      Doesn’t have to be a jar; you can see the same thing in a bush that has one bright red berry on it; what was just a collection of branches becomse the bush that surrounds the berry.

      I think that’s what a team leader does. He or she becomes the person that the rest of the characters define themselves in relation to: this is the person we follow, this is the person we oppose. Legends actually looks at this early in season two when the people from the fifties automatically assume Martin must be the leader because he’s male and the oldest. But the team doesn’t define itself around Martin, he’s not decisive enough, so when push comes to shove, everybody turns to Sara and defines the team around her.

      The MCU has a completely different problem: Its sources. There is so much back story from decades of comics with different teams shifting members constantly, that there is no real leader. They even lampshade that in Ultron (I think) when somebody refers to Tony as the leader, and he says, “I’m not the leader, I just pay for everything.” So Cap is the leader, until Tony objects in Civil War, at which point they have two teams and two leaders. But even in the chaos, people know who defines them.

      So I think, yes, you need a leader. I’m not completely sure the leader needs to be the protagonist, but I am sure that the character of the leader defines the team.

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      1. Thank you for giving me a lot to think about.

        The jar in the wilderness is a really strong image. But I look at it and wonder if it’s an image of a team? (Maybe it’s just not my favorite way of looking at a team, and it’s all a matter of perspective?) I think I see a team as more of a many to many relationship, like a garden, where each plant has its place in the design. Or if there is one thing, then I feel like the team identity is the metaphorical jar, or the team goal is the jar, and neither of those depend on Nate except in that they need Nate to come up with plans that let them act as a team — but without Nate, they still know what kind of team they want to have. Though I can see that the team using his plans gives him some relationship to the team that’s functionally different from the relationship the others have… It’s interesting to think about a team with a substitute Nate like they had a substitute Sophie for half a season…could the team identity stand up to a mastermind who didn’t share their goals? Like they got Tara to act more like a member of the team as she worked with them, because they had a team ethos. Could their certainty about what kind of a team they are have influenced a different mastermind to gradually come up with plans that were a better fit for their team ethos, even if it didn’t start off as a perfect match?

        I feel like maybe, if the mastermind didn’t have totally conflicting goal, if the mastermind did in fact want to work with them and be a good substitute Nate (even if the mastermind perhaps wasn’t the kind of person who would want to do this kind of thing long term), that could have happened, because they had such a strong idea of who they were as a team they could have conveyed it to an outsider, even one who didn’t share their goals, if that person was willing to listen and adapt. But maybe not? (It would have changed things for sure…but Tara changed things too.)

        On the other hand, I can definitely see the strength in having a team leader who does represent in one character the team goal or the team identity or the team’s capacity for action and decisiveness. I wonder if it’s more necessary as the team is forming (or reforming), and becomes less necessary if the team lasts together for a long time, like many seasons of a tv show like Leverage.

        re: the MCU, ha. I totally agree that the comics are a problem for the MCU, but it’s not a straight adaptation and they don’t have to pick any specific story from comics to make into their movies, so anything they bring in is something they choose to bring in. And with their team movies, they’ve chosen not to ever do a functional team that sticks together for an entire movie with everyone committed to the same goal, so far as I can tell. Whether that’s a conscious decision on anyone’s part, or a consequence of the kinds of story templates they’re following, or fallout from having team movies and individual movies in the same universe, or just a function of them thinking this comics story or that would be cool and then the chips falling from that, I don’t know.

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        1. I think a change in the team leader changes the team, even if the goals are the same. Sophie would have run the team just fine in Nate’s absence and in fact does while he’s in prison, but the team changes. When he comes back, he has to adapt to Sophie’s more inclusive leadership style because the kids won’t go back to the old way, but they still return to a top-down system because that’s how they define a team headed by Nate. It’s not Nate forcing his leadership style on them, it’s them recognizing that he’s the leader and falling back into a Nate-shaped team. And I think you can see it however briefly in the final scene of the series, where Parker is sitting in the mastermind seat saying, “We provide Leverage,” with Hardison and Elliot standing behind her. That’s the same team, but it’s going to change now that Parker’s the first among the three. They’ll have a much more collaborative team, but she’ll define it. I think she took on that role in the DC episode when it was just the three of them defeating the virus. She’s the one who took the briefcase off the train and solved the problem, and she didn’t consult them first. She’s the mastermind now. And Hardison and Elliot will define themselves in relation to her.

          That sounds so absolute, and I don’t think it is, I think a good team collaborates, but I think for unity and definition, there has to be a first among equals, the one everybody turns to when it’s time to make the next move. Otherwise, your plot is just herding ducks, which pretty much sums up most the first season of Legends.

          For the MCU, the big problem is too many characters. I loved the airport scene as much as the next guy, but I never felt emotionally involved in Civil War or Ultron for that matter, not the way I did the first Avengers, and definitely not the way I did in Winter Soldier. I think the Thor movies are flawed, but they nail the emotional relationships because it’s Thor and Loki in a tight conflict. (Jane, I could do without; there’s no emotional investment there at all because she basically thinks he’s hot and that’s it.) So you can look at individual relationships–Stark and Banner, Cap and Widow, Thor and Banner, Stark and Cap, etc.–but they’re all free-floating connections, there’s no center to the team after the first one. The first one, though, it’s Stark: he’s the one who hacks the computer and finds the weapons, he’s the one who tells Cap to put on the suit, he’s the one who takes the hit for the team by flying the warhead into whatever the hell that thing was in the sky. And his snark pretty much defined the way the team worked, although that was also just Whedon (the Hulk hitting Thor, Widow saying “How is this a party?”, Reindeer Games). Of course, take into consideration that I thought both Ultron and Civil War were hot messes.

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          1. Oooo, interesting. I always wondered what it meant that Parker was the one talking about the new Leverage at the end, and why Parker, because I didn’t pick up on her taking leadership in the episode with the three of them, but now I’m also connecting the fact that she’s the only one who got an episode just for her in the last season… but it could be sort of a proof of her decision-making abilities?

            Oh wow, it had not occurred to me that Stark was the leader in the original Avengers movie. I didn’t identify anyone in particular when I watched it myself (unless it was Fury, who wanted them to be a team, but wasn’t really part of the team except in that he tried to protect the team from the interference of outsiders) but post-movie the consensus seemed to be that Cap was the leader. And he did do stuff like specifically invite Clint Barton to the fight, i.e. asked the guy who’d just been brainwashed to still be on the team with him…

            And actually, it’s Steve who dinged Tony on not being a team player / not being willing to sacrifice for the team, and because of that I think maybe Tony defines himself in terms of Steve (I really don’t think Steve defines himself in terms of Tony, at least). But after Tony diverts the missile into the portal, he says something like “See, I can sacrifice myself for the team.”

            Fair enough re: Ultron and Civil War. Though I think they’re both pretty clever in not being even more of a mess than they already were.

            But now I’m wondering if basically the problem with the idea of the Avengers as a team isn’t anything more complicated than “Tony Stark is not a team player.” When they addressed that, got Tony to prove that “No, look, I am a team player,” then they got a team. It actually looked in his individual movies like his character arc was moving more toward give and take too. But then in Ultron and Civil War he was just like “Okay, my way.” And the team (two different teams, one of which wasn’t even his team because he left the team after Ultron) fell apart around that.

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          2. Tony was also the one who got the one-on-one with the antagonist Loki. Remember that scene where Tony puts on the bracelet suit and tells Loki that he’s facing all of them, and if they can’t save the Earth, they’ll sure as hell avenge it? That’s your this-is-the-story-in-one-line moment.

            There are other clues, too. Cap’s running things down on the street, but Tony’s calling the shots from the air. And then as you said, he’s the one who goes up with the warhead knowing he’s going to die to save the team and the earth. Avengers is pretty much his movie, albeit with massive subplots and supporting players.

            I think that’s why the later ones just don’t work for me. Whereas Ironman I and III are two of my faves (and I like a lot of II). It took me awhile to warm up to the first Captain America because it seemed so slow, but now I like it, and Winter Soldier was fantastic. Ant Man was a lot of fun, and Guardians of the Galaxy was amazing. It’s just those overstuffed tentpole movies that leave me feel meh. Without that central figure to act as catalyst/jar in Tennessee, it’s all just sound and fury and wilderness.

            As for Parker, I think it’s because they’d trained her in a multitude of skills. Remember the first season when the did the Juror #6 job and Sophie began to train her to manipulate people? And in the first season when the bad guy made a pass at her and she stabbed him with a fork? But by the last season, she was vamping that thief in the Girls Night Out Job with no problem whatsoever. Sophie had pretty much trained her to be the next Sophie, and Nate had trained her to be the next Nate (that was the Broken Wing Job in the last season). She did that last job all by herself. The other two choices were Eliot who has two speeds, fast if he needes to hit somebody and slow when he considers his options. He’s essential and he’s not dumb, but he’s not a leader, he’s a hitter. And Hardison overthinks; remember his game theory episode, the one with the gold buyers? Nate was training him, too, and he crashed and burned. He’s very smart, but he likes theory and complexity, and as Nate tells him in that episode, you look at what you want and you plan for that. Nate let him run the con in that one because he knew that while they were singing and dancing in Hardison’s con, there would be so much distraction that he could just walk in and steal the gold. Parker has focus and skills, she’s charming as all hell, people will trust her because she looks so pretty and sweet, and she’s absolutely ruthless when she goes after what she wants. Add to that she loves both Hardison and Elliott, and that they’ve trained together for five years, I think she’s the no-brainer choice for the mastermind.

            I’d have loved to see them do Leverage International with Parker at the head and Eliot and Hardison, and then bring in two new people. Maybe another grifter (I vote Nicole Beharie). And Sterling.

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  3. I am finding so much good stuff here about teams that will be useful even if it turns out the group in my WIP is more of a community than a team. Regarding the combination of Nita’s strengths mixed with the opposite of her weaknesses to build the antagonist: couldn’t the antag also be an insider? Driven and smart like Nita, calculating vs. impulsive, but also smooth-talking instead of outspoken, manipulating things from inside the seat of power. Insider status would make him/her more difficult for outsider Nita to fight.

    Just a thought that has more to do with my own character ruminations than your story, which you will write in just the right way ;-).

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    1. I like the idea that the antagonist is an outsider because it means that they’ll both have trouble building and attaching to teams. Nita will obviously do that by the end of the book, but I think that’ll just be beyond the antagonist who won’t see the point of it since he or she can just manipulate people to achieve the goal. And that’ll be the fatal flaw.

      The way the first scene opens now, Nita’s alone in a car with somebody she doesn’t know: “She pulled her black hoodie closer around her as she sipped the coffee that the stranger in the driver’s seat had brought her,” and at the end of the scene, she offers the stranger, Button, a way out: “This is a good time for you to drive away. You can request a new partner in the morning. Nobody will be surprised.” When Button stays, that’s the start of the team, and the very beginnings of Nita moving from outsider to team leader/insider. I’m about 90% sure that the good guys win in the end because Nita has attached and the antagonist couldn’t or wouldn’t or both. So Nita wins because she changes and the antagonist loses because he/she can’t.

      I think.

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      1. Some of this insider/outsider definition is semantics. Team Machine, for example, is a team of prickly outsiders, who nonetheless care about saving people because people are worth saving. Their enemy, John Greer, is the ultimate insider, manipulating government connections and impressionable teenagers alike, but ultimately unattached to humanity.
        For that kind of conflict, the triumph of attachment is about the authenticity of it, quality over quantity, rather than insider/outsider as defined by social norms.

        A fellow outsider antagonist actually seems difficult to do, because a strong enemy with more power than the protagonist usually got it by playing the institutions of it. Even when Spike was sticking a vampire boy into a cage to murder him, he had Drusilla as a real connection. Even quintessential outsider Faith initially charmed the Scoobies with sordid tales of alligator wrasslin’.
        Root comes a little closer to the mold, as the misanthropic manipulator. But also, Root is an outsider by choice whereas Reese and Shaw default to socially awkward. Root has the ability to be an insider, and does so to infiltrate, but feels it beneath her to play social games outside of another goal.

        The only other outsider antagonist I can think of that also has troubles with a team/attachment, is the crusader, the blood knight type. The loner with a vendetta. And that kind of character is usually a secondary antagonist and foil, rather than the actual Big Bad who is, once again, the insider with institutional power. Root goes from antagonist to ally when Decima shows up.

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        1. An outsider is always defined by who the insiders are. So once you establish your story world, you automatically establish insider/outsider status.
          Welcome to Temptation was the most obvious one of mine: Phin was the ultimate insider and Sophie was a complete outsider.
          In a dating game where looks are key, people with body issues are outsiders (see Min and Cal).
          In a corporate hierarchy there are the executives and the drones. Drones do not use the executive washroom.
          It’s really just another approach to the Other, although that one goes deeper than insider/outsider.
          So in one way, Nita’s an insider; her family’s been on the island for over a century. But in most ways, Nita’s an outsider: on the police force, socially, even within her family, she’s always the weird one. Her only real connection is with Mort, and that’s because he’s her twin. One of the reasons she rejects his demons-are-real theory is that she wants to belong, she does not want to be seen as weird.
          Nick’s an outsider, too; he’s a dead human who’s going to rule hell which is 99.9% demons. The fact that he’s going to have all the power doesn’t change the fact that for the populace, he’s an outsider.
          There are a lot of advantages to being an outsider: You can see situations more clearly, you aren’t bound by loyalties or traditions, and you have nothing to lose within the ommunity. But there’s one big disadvantage: You’re always alone and you’ll never belong. I think that tends to make outsiders not just independent but rebellious, revolutionary even.
          So when two revolutions collide . . .

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  4. I am still working through the backstory of this whole Nita thing 🙂 but “Diversity Never” seems like a great antagonist motto. And my devil’s advocate side (har) says this could maybe be a case where a primarily demonic antagonist team would team up with one or more humans (necessary evils) in order to achieve the state of lockdown or lockout or segregation or monopoly they are after. Both the demonic side and the human side would derive some nefarious benefit. But the human antagonist would either need to be overly trusting, or have some kind of hold over the demonic antagonist because otherwise D.A. would just set her on fire once D.A. gets what she wants. … The antagonist team building could be purely mercenary. Bad guys tend to have bad motives, and teams of bad guys are often held together by nothing more than a threat matrix.

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    1. I kind of like the idea that it’s the humans using the demons. But I haven’t got any of this worked out yet.

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      1. I’m thinking about how Nita could have a relationship with the antagonist. I think it would be crushing to Nita if it turned out to be a mentor, who taught her everything and who was smart and driven, doppelgänger-ish. Do you have anyone like that in the book?

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        1. Nope. The whole idea is that Nita is alone at the beginning of the book. She has a brother and sister who love her but don’t understand her, and the rest of the family is the same way. They all love her in their own way, but she doesn’t fit.

          The idea of a relationship isn’t just a literal relationship. If the protagonist hates fire and the antagonist loves it, that’s a character relationship. If both characters desperately want to save the whales, that’s a relationship. So if both the antagonist and the protagonist are outsiders, have made their peace with never belonging while repressing a lot of rage about it, then even if they’ve never met, that relationship is there, and it’s going to draw them together during the conflict. They’re going to understand each other better than anybody else because they have the same experience, the same rage, the same need. They’ll attack the problem differently, but they’ll recognize each other.

          I need to find a better word than “relationship” because it does imply that they know each other and are at least fairly close.

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          1. “Affinity” is closer, I think. It doesn’t imply a real-life connection.
            “Parallel” is close, too, but it’s not right. I need something that implies “connection.”
            Maybe like “connection.” Argh.

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  5. This is so fascinating, even to a non-writer like me. I am totally sold on “I’m about 90% sure that the good guys win in the end because Nita has attached and the antagonist couldn’t or wouldn’t or both. So Nita wins because she changes and the antagonist loses because he/she can’t.” because this is the kind of thing that makes a book so satisfying.

    And just as an aside, I now can’t stop saying “Ducks….. in spa-a-a-ce” like the muppets “pigs in space” which I am finding very entertaining. Yes, I’m a cheap date.

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  6. Oh, wow. So many things have clicked reading this! Thank you, Jenny! The McD class definitely taught me the importance of the antagonist, but something about your analysis here really helps me think about how to shape the antagonist. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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