author john wilkerson antagonistA few days ago, I spent an afternoon with my critique group. We met at the local library, and spent three hours discussing the concept the point of view (POV). As we plunged into the topic, an interesting fact I knew about myself became known to the group.  I have never written a novella, short story, or worked on a novel where I have given a scene to an antagonist.  All of my writings to date are always around the protagonist.

They questioned me on this, and I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I believe I know why I do it; I don’t want to give the power of the book or the power of the scene to what I consider to be the bad guy.  In doing this, I have learned ways to move the plot line forward with the absence of an antagonist POV scene.

I thought I knew why I did this, but after this three hour meeting; where we discussed psychic distance, the multiple stages of POV in a scene, and how we were going to work internal dialogue. I’m sitting in at home considering turning on the laptop in the middle the night to go write something and see if I can write a scene that deals with an antagonist. It seems exciting to do this, but in my mind, it feels like a betrayal to all my protagonist.

I suppose a rationalization I struggle with is so many movies spend too much time building the antagonist. This is my opinion, and I’m sure others will debate the fact with me. This split narrative direction for a movie allows us as the viewer to see both sides of the coin, and make reasonable assumptions for bonding with the antagonist.  A movie has limited time and must tell a concise story in a concise amount of time; does a book require the same manner of discovery? And does the reader need to be led so blindly along the story arc?

One of the techniques I use is confidants and informants that move the bad guy perspective. I find it useful when the protagonist and antagonist meet, to let tidbits of old hostilities pepper their conversation. We are already in POV for the hero, so why not let the reader bond with the hero and choose his or her side because we like them, not because we hate the bad guy.

Another thing I do is I let the antagonist’s minions bump into the protagonist.  In this manner, we learn about the bad guy through indirect involvement instead of looking over the bad guy’s shoulder when he’s trying to do something evil, wicked, mean, and nasty. I try to make these encounters heavy on showing and build up the suspense via short narrative and prickly dialog.

As I write this article, I’m still struggling with the concept of point of view and the antagonist. I’m heavily into editing the Tower book, and am in a prime place to include a few antagonist POV scenes. I’m debating this decision and don’t know I’ll let myself break down this barrier to my writing.

I don’t know if I will ever give the antagonist a POV scene, and it will be interesting to see how this question about my writing develops over the next few years.