As part of my Guest blog series for authors and fellow bloggers I am proud to present another guest blog spot. Tade Thompson I am very excited andthe author of
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So, About Bad Guys…
by Tade Thompson
Lex Luthor. Darth Vader. The Joker. The Master. Khan. Poison Ivy. Nina Myers.
Iconic pop-culture villains are fine for selling comic books or tent-pole blockbuster movies, but the portrayals are mostly simplistic, with people often motivated by unadulterated evil. Which, meh. If I hear another doomlord wanting to wipe out humanity because evil I’m going to puke. Projectile vomiting if it’s a movie.
For your novel or short story, you’re going to need a lot more complexity. A good antagonist needs to be interesting, complex, and reflect some aspect of your protagonist. ‘Evil’ should be a matter of perspective and the ‘bad’ person rarely sees themselves as on the wrong side.
Your antagonist is a character and should therefore have the basics: goals, motivation and conflict which may be mirror images of what you have for your protagonist. Your evil person’s goals may be your heroine’s conflict. Think of Rocky Balboa’s pre-fight behaviour in Rocky III as compared with Clubber Lang. Balboa is the hedonistic, blow-dried defending champion in a gym that sounds more like a disco, while Lang is hungry and pure in his training on the street.
In House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski the antagonist is the eponymous house. The protagonists, the Navidson family, have just moved into the house and, to put it simply, the building just will not obey the laws of physics. Discovering the how and why sets the narrative in motion.
In Ted Chiang’s short story Division by Zero the villain is uncertainty. Renee, a mathematician, proves that all mathematics is based on a faulty foundation, rendering it void, leading to devastating personal consequences. Carl, her partner, who thought himself empathetic, encounters uncertainty in this area for the first time when he reflects on his reaction to Renee’s crisis.
Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is full of antagonists, all of them with their own perspectives and reasons to oppose Zacharias Wythe. Some end up as allies, others do not, but each appears fully realised, from those resisting Zacharias’ position as Sorcerer (because he’s African), to the resistance against him educating women, to the stoppage of the flow of magic in the realm.
In Ursula Vernon’s Jackalope Wives the antagonist is an ignorant, lustful young man tampering with forces he does not understand. He is the grandson of the heroine.
The villain in Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation is Area X, a part of the Florida coastline which is subject to a dimensional gateway and perhaps an alien presence. A team of women is sent in to explore and understand it, but Area X thwarts their efforts, leading to the implosion of the expedition.
The Winter Men is a graphic novel by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon. The hero, former super-soldier Kris Kalenov, simply wants to be left alone to drink himself to death. Through a series of circumstances he is brought face-to-face with his antagonist, an alumnus of the same super-soldier programme.
And, of course, there’s Victor Frankenstein, arguably the first mad scientist of fiction, and, for my money, the real villain of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He created a human being, but neglected to teach his creation, thereby turning the creature into a monster.
On the other hand, a villain like the Joker holds no interest for me because there are no stakes. He will never be neutralised. His psychopathy continues unabated decade in, decade out. (except in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke in which, I believe, Batman kills Joker)
In Rosewater my approach is different. The battle is over before humankind even realises it’s in a fight. It’s about survival on both sides and I’ve tried hard to make the engagement complex and interesting, while not succumbing to the classic ‘good versus evil’ trope.
The point to take away is this: work on your antagonist at least as hard as you work on your protagonist, whether it’s an actual human or a situation or an animal/monster or the protagonist’s own shadow nature. Read as many narratives as you can to see how others have done it. Learn from the successful ones as well as the clichéd moustache-twirlers.
The bad guys don’t wear black hats anymore.
© 2016 by Tade Thompson
 Fans of ‘24’ will recognise this name.
 This is not a reading that many people will agree with, but I read the book in isolation from fandom (pre-internet) and I came to the conclusion independently. I know that there are others who believe this too (famously, Grant Morrison), but it is not widely accepted. I’m personally convinced by the title, the opening sequence, the Joke that Joker tells Batman at the dénouement, and the final page. Your mileage may vary.
 Or rather, bad guys don’t have a monopoly on black hats anymore. Black is sliming and can look cool.
Tade Thompson lives and works in the south of England. His first novel MAKING WOLF won the 2016 Kitschies Golden Tentacle award for best debut novel. He has written a number of short stories including “Budo” at Escape Pod. His horror novella GNAW will be released in December from Solaris Books. ROSEWATER comes out 15th November, but is available for pre-order now.
Between meeting a boy who bursts into flames, alien floaters that want to devour him, and a butterfly woman who he has sex with when he enters the xenosphere, Kaaro’s life is far from the simple one he wants. But he left simple behind a long time ago when he was caught stealing and nearly killed by an angry mob. Now he works for a government agency called Section 45, and they want him to find a woman known as Bicycle Girl. And that’s just the beginning.
An alien entity lives beneath the ground, forming a biodome around which the city of Rosewater thrives. The citizens of Rosewater are enamored by the dome, hoping for a chance to meet the beings within or possibly be invited to come in themselves. But Kaaro isn’t so enamored. He was in the biodome at one point and decided to leave it behind. When something begins killing off other sensitives like himself, Kaaro defies Section 45 to search for an answer, facing his past and coming to a realization about a horrifying future.
You can preorder here: