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I have a problem with ‘a person.’ Sounds terrible, I know, but it’s true. When I was growing up, this kid always caused me grief--locking me up in the makeshift hut he and my other male cousins had built on the edge of my grandparents’ backyard; threatening to punch me if I didn’t do his homework. As we hit adulthood, our views on life were so far apart, the chasm between us was as wide as the Grand Canyon.
But recently, I saw this person in a different light. Almost a month ago, my sweet, sassy grandma went home to be with her Jesus so for the last week or two, we’ve been going through her things, getting her house ready to go on the market. Family and friends have chipped in with the work, doing everything from repainting rooms to holding an estate sale. It was doing one of these work days that I found myself working alongside my nemesis. For most of the day, we worked quietly--probably in fear that we’d say something to set the other off--then one of us would start with some story about Grandma that would have us laughing despite ourselves.
It was in those few moments as the laughter waned, that I noticed it, this pensive expression that would cross his face. Then he’d turn away and quietly go back to work. In that brief moment, he had shared my grief of losing Grandma and I found my heart softening toward him just a bit.
Which got me to thinking about characterization. For the most part, writers make heroes and heroines truly heroic and villains, less than desirable, but how much deeper would our stories become if we gave our antagonist traits that make our readers(albeit grudgingly) feel for them, maybe even identify with them?
No character is all good or totally rotten. They’re a mixed bag of personality quirks or mixed-up beliefs that sway the reader’s opinion of them. Take Scrooge for example. Here’s a character that, on the surface, is unlikeable in every way--he’s greedy, stingy, treats the two people who share his life (his nephew and Bob Cratchit) horribly and self-centered.
Only when we dig deeper do we discover Scrooge’s demons--he was abandoned by his father, sent away to school where he lived without family for most of his childhood, then lost his beloved sister in childbirth. With a knack for making money, he placed his faith in the one certainty that hadn’t abandoned him--gold--when what he wanted most in life was security and love. Doesn’t everyone desire to be loved? Is it any wonder we’re cheering Scrooge on by the time the third ghost shows up?
So how can we make our antagonist more relatable? Knowing their motivation. What makes them the person they are? How does their life experience effect the actions they take? Like our hero/heroine, knowing the motivations behind our antagonist’s actions could give us the key to opening someone’s eyes to the blind spots in their own relationships which will affect the readers long after they’ve turned the last page.
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Dr. Joshua McClain is headed west
First stop: Hillsdale, Michigan, to break the marriage contract his late mother arranged between him and Katie Clark. Years ago, Katie left him behind in Charleston. But after a train crash, he comes face-to-face with Dr. Kathleen Clark, his childhood friend all grown up. When Josh shows up in town, claiming they're betrothed, Katie refuses to consider an arranged marriage. She'll marry for love or not at all. Besides, he's headed for Kansas Territory; her practice is here in Hillsdale. So why are they both finding it hard to break their betrothal and say goodbye?