“Are there four separate but not equal antagonists, or one antagonist and three minions [in The Devil in Nita Dodd]?”
There’s always only one main antagonist in a classic linear story because you can only have one climax with the obligatory scene of the protagonist and the antagonist facing each other in final battle.
But you can have subplots that the protagonist and (in this case) her team* have to clear out of the way to get to the Big Bad. In the best of all possible worlds, you have one main antagonist and a couple of subplots that aren’t life or death, say family or work. In this case, which I do not recommend, I ended up with five different factions fighting for different things:
So these five different factions at work on the island are represented by the ovals. The boxes cover up the characters who are either part of those factions or who are innocently working within them, unaware of how nefarious their leaders are, and who won’t be a problem, but who do add to the strength of the faction. Some of those characters are part of more than one faction, using one against the other or playing them off against each other for their own ends. The names outside of the circles aren’t part of the factions, they’re just going about their lives but are getting looped in as innocent bystanders (example: Joey). Each one of those factions has one driving force who makes things happen to achieve his or her own ends, but only one of those characters is the Antagonist. The rest are subplots or barriers that Our Gang has to clear out of the way to get to the truth, stopping a lot of bad along the way.
That’s Our Gang in the middle there.
I know all the characters, I know all the goals and motivations, now I just have to figure out how the dominoes fall. The first domino is Joey’s shooting; that’s the thread Nita will pull on to get started on her investigation, but Nick’s thread is Forcas which leads him to Richiel (end of Act One turning point) which takes out the head of one of the factions but still leaves the minions to take out. Faction 3 leads them to Faction 2 and Faction 4, and those in turn lead to 5 and then to 1, at the climax. I still have a lot of plotting to do, but know how these are all connected and how one will organically lead to another means that I at least have a road map.
And I’m never going to do this many antagonistic factions again. I think it’s right for this book, but for any other, how screwed up would a protagonist have to be to have this many groups gunning for her?
*About that team:
It’s Nita’s book, so she should be the leader, but one of the things she and Nick work out early on is that they’re dealing with two different spheres. So if the group they’re fighting is human, Nita’s got the lead; if they’re demon, Nick takes point, until the end when Nita gets the final scene because it’s her damn book and because of a plot point I’m not going to spoil for you. :p