LIAN TANNER

A book needs a great antagonist

June 7th, 2020

I’ve been thinking these last couple of weeks about how a book needs a great antagonist. And how sometimes it takes a while to find the right one.

For the last couple of months, I’ve been working on a new book. And it’s been a slog. I loved the main character, but somehow I just couldn’t get excited about the story. It was hard to get started every morning and hard to keep going.

For a while, I thought that was because world events were so overwhelming and distracting that I couldn’t focus. And that if I could only find more self-discipline, I’d be okay. So I pressed on, even though I was feeling pretty bored with the whole thing. And that’s always a bad sign.

Then, at the beginning of last week, I found myself staring at my laptop, unable to summon the energy to write another word. Which is not how this is supposed to go. Every writer has bad days – even bad weeks, sometimes. But if it’s consistently a struggle, there’s something wrong.

So instead of pressing on, I flipped back through my notebook. I was looking for something, though I didn’t know what. Something that would light a fire under the story. Something that would make me want to write it.

And there, almost right back at the beginning of the notebook, when the story was just starting to take shape in my head, I found it. A different antagonist.

And I remembered that this was the original antagonist I’d thought of, the one who’d made me want to write the story in the first place. But for various reasons, I’d changed my mind and gone with someone else.

Usually, when I make major changes that take a story in a completely different direction, I spend a long time thinking about it first, trying to work out if it’s a good idea. Not this time. I grabbed that different antagonist and started writing.

She lit a fire under the story. She made me want to write it. Instead of limp, wishy-washy scenes that never seemed to go anywhere, ideas sprang from my fingertips, so fast that I could hardly keep up.

So now I’m having fun again. Will it turn into a good book? I don’t know. But it’s got way more chance than it did before.

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