Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Mystical Antagonist

by Nicole Petrino-Salter

Literary novels differ from thrillers. Mysteries differ from cozy mysteries. Fantasies can differ from supernatural stories. Romances actually differ from love stories, although the distinction is rarely made. Two things they all have in common are protagonists and antagonists.

The diversity of protagonists can be from golden child to one who is close to villainous. Their range is unlimited. Nearly perfect to deeply flawed. A misfit, a perfect fit, a no-fit because of their peculiarities which place them in the protagonist’s role.

The antagonist, now here’s a dilemma. Keeping him or her out of the stereotypical evil role is one of the most difficult of challenges. After all, the purpose of this antagonist is to defeat the protagonist, the villain v. the hero. And few readers actually desire the villain to win, unless of course the author has written such a despicable and intolerable hero we could care less how he meets his demise which would be an epic failure by the author of both hero and villain.

But here’s what prompted my weird title of this post. Recently I read a novel where the antagonist was not human. It was emotional. Grown from deep pain, it produced actions generated and conflicted by this silent, invisible, but carefully constructed antagonist. Without fully realizing this factor while reading the well-written and interesting story, it didn’t surface until discussion opened it up to me. Now here’s the kicker: this is, generally speaking, the kind of antagonists I use in my stories. Up to this point I hadn’t converted that realization to conscious thought.

Most of you probably don’t consider this any kind of “deep” realization in which case you can view me as a total flake or your description of choice, but it was a revelation to this writer. When you write contemporary love stories like I do that are primarily character studies, the great villain usually isn’t a factor. The circumstances, temptations, and perhaps misunderstandings, etc., are the antagonists usually represented by peripheral characters creating trouble or demands on the protagonist’s life. But the truth is the internal struggle can work to defeat the hero as well as any external force. Simple, right?
Some things we writers do are automatic. Those of us who run on passion and emotion rarely calculate and analyze the whys and wherefores, but many authors know precisely the mechanisms they use to produce their stories. Maybe this lack of analysis is peculiar to me. I absorb most of my critical thinking regarding story writing. I’ve read the instruction books, taken the classes, but, for me, the understanding and gut epiphanies come from reading the beauty in a good novel and the blessing of enlightenment from the Holy Spirit.

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. She lives south of Seattle with her family, horse, and dog. Devoted to Jesus, family, friends, and pets, you can find her here most days or off in la la land.  Raw  Romantic  Redemptive