Years ago, when I first set out writing my trilogy, I couldn’t stand my antagonist. Granted, most people don’t tend to like the villainous character in novels, but I really hated this guy. He’s possessive, obsessive, abusive, and just a downright asshole to my protagonist throughout the whole trilogy. With qualities like that, why would I ever like him, right?
That’s the way I felt for a very long time, and it’s only recently when I’ve started to rewrite the whole series that I’ve had a change of heart. See, while editing and fixing up the plot holes I’ve found throughout my novels, I’ve had to learn more about each and every important character that passes through, including Noah, my horrific antagonist. All of a sudden, there’s love and sympathy for him which was never present before. The reason why? I’ve learned about his backstory.
Character backstory is probably one of the most important things to be super familiar with whenever you’re writing any sort of fictional work. Without it, you have no idea where they’ve come from or what they’ve been through. I think that’s what a lot of new authors forget when they begin working on a piece of writing. Your character’s story may have started being told when you start writing your novel, but in no way is that they beginning of them. They’ve lived a life up until the first chapter of your novel. They’ve been through ups and downs that have shaped and moulded them into the person that they are when your readers first meet them. Without knowing that all-important information, your character is going to come across as two-dimensional and wooden.
This is the problem I saw almost immediately when I started rewriting my trilogy. I knew a decent amount about my protagonist’s backstory – it was relevant to the current plot I was telling so the information was a need-to-know kind of thing. But for Noah, it was as if his life had started on page one of my novel. We never discovered anything about his past, so when he goes and does horrible things, it’s impossible to understand why he’s so mean and the way he is.
It’s only after finally sitting down and letting him open up to me that I discovered why my antagonist is such a terrible person. And in that moment when he finally opened up to me and let me into his life prior to the start of my first novel, I finally understood the reasons for why he is the way he is. Let me tell you, it saddened me. Noah had a horrible childhood, something that no person should ever have to go through, and the choices he makes throughout my whole trilogy all stem from it.
Is he excused for the suffering he inflicts upon my protagonist? Of course not. What he does to her is entirely inexcusable. But I get it now. I understand why he operates the way he does. For the longest time, I thought that Noah just liked to be in control and cause my protagonist pain. I know better now. I know that in his own twisted and messed up way, he believed that he was trying to protect her from the harsh ways of the outside world and keep her safe.
Despite the nature of Noah’s character, he is by far the most interesting and intriguing character to write. I think it might be one of those things where they’re so evil and sinister that you just can’t help but to love them. Reading about him, I see why people are turned off – if I hadn’t created him, I’d feel the same way too. But writing him, it’s exhilarating. I spend so much of my time wondering what he’ll do next to throw a wrench in the works. My protagonist is safe and for the most part, fairly predictable in her behaviour, but Noah, he’s such a loose cannon that anything can happen when he shows up.
In the first book of my trilogy, I never get to visit his mind. I see the whole novel through my protagonist’s eyes. In the second book, things change though, and we get to spend the occasional chapter in Noah’s head. I wouldn’t call his points of view a narrative, but rather a stream of consciousness. The reader is privy to his point of view, but only his thoughts. It’s even different than a first person perspective, where traditionally it’s written with quotation marks, followed by he said, she said – all that jazz. Noah, on the other hand, gives us very little dialogue and instead, gives mainly his thoughts and feelings on what’s happening around him. It’s raw and emotional – exactly how his character is throughout the novels.
Getting inside Noah’s head like this – writing from his point of view – brought another level of intensity to the table that I didn’t think was possible. All of a sudden the floodgates to his mind opened and I was really able to get a feel for what was going through his head in those exact moments. At the time I was writing, I had no clue about his past or anything about his life that didn’t pertain to the plot of the stories, so although I knew how Noah would react or think about something, I had no real clue why that was the case. Now, as I continue to forge forward into my rewrites, and now that I have the backstory I hadn’t been privy to upon writing the first draft, I think I’m able to portray Noah in the way that he should have always been shown. Yes, he is still the villainous character. Yes, I am most definitely still rooting against him. But it’s different now. I feel… something for him.
So maybe it isn’t quite love like I suggested earlier, but rather understanding. I feel sorry for Noah. I wish he could have gotten the help he needed back when he was a child. Maybe things would have turned out differently for him if he had. Maybe things would have been alright for him. Though I guess I should be thankful things happened they way they did. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t have a story to tell.
Please feel free to comment if you’ve ever experienced something like with with one of your antagonist characters – I’d love to hear about others and how they feel about it all. And as always, keep writing!
Until next time.