Monday, February 19, 2018

Redeeming Darth Vader

Jan Drexler
When we talk about antagonist we love to hate, Darth Vader has to be at the top of the list.

Who can forget the scene in Star Wars IV when Darth Vader comes striding out of the smoke of the laser fire, the sound of his ominous mechanical breathing adding an unknown power to his imposing figure? Just the sight of him was enough to strike terror into the faint of heart!

Face it. As much as we cheered for Luke, Leia, and Han in that movie, Vader was the one who stole the show. He was unforgettable.

He was the quintessential antagonist.

What is an antagonist?

There are two basic kinds of antagonists in fiction: personal and impersonal.

The impersonal antagonist is a force the protagonist needs to fight against. It might be a major weather event, or a natural disaster. It might be something like a mountain that needs to be conquered or a war that needs to be won. Or it might be the lies that trap the protagonist in a dead-end life.



The personal antagonists are more apparent. These characters are the bullies, the rivals, or the murderers...anyone that the protagonist has to strive against to meet his goal.

How do you use an antagonist in your story?

In my first book, "The Prodigal Son Returns," I had an antagonist that worked well for my character, Bram. A 1930's era Chicago gangster was on the hunt for him after finding out that Bram had been an informant for the FBI. As Bram hides out in his childhood home - the Amish community in northern Indiana - this antagonist is an impersonal threat in the background for most of the story. Will he find Bram or won't he?

But the story needed another antagonist. One that was more personal. One that would force Bram to make decisions that would propel the story forward.

I decided to use Bram's estranged brother, Samuel. In this book, Samuel was the perfect foil for Bram. He reminds Bram of all the reasons why he left the Amish community in the first place. When Samuel appears in the story, he comes across as a bully. Someone who forces Bram to dig deep into a past he would rather forget.

Redeeming the antagonist.

When the book was finished and I had the opportunity to write more Amish stories for Love Inspired Historical, I kept thinking about Samuel. Would he always remain an antagonist?

My August 2017 release, "An Amish Courtship," was my chance to let Samuel tell his side of the story. I had learned a lot about writing between my first book and this seventh one, and I was finally able to turn Samuel into a sympathetic character.

In this book, he starts out in the same place where we left him in Bram's story. Samuel is a bully with no friends, lost in his own self-pity. But he couldn't stay there if I was going to show readers how he was being redeemed. He had a lot to learn, but with the help of a good woman - Mary, the heroine - and his own antagonist to work against, he discovered how to trust God and became the man he always wanted to be.

Like Bram, Samuel had two antagonists. His rival for Mary's affections was one, but the other one was internal. Impersonal. Samuel had to fight against the self-image his dysfunctional childhood had seared into his heart and mind. But his trust in God and his love for Mary conquered the antagonist and Samuel found redemption.



Redemption comes at great cost.

In Star Wars, The Return of the Jedi, Luke saw Darth Vader's redemption, but at the cost of his father's life. George Lucas knew the value in bringing Darth Vader - Anakin Skywalker - full circle, back to the man he had once been rather than the monster he had become.

As the author, you get to choose if and how your antagonist can be redeemed. And that's a story we all need to hear.


Who are some of your favorite antagonists?



I'm giving away one copy each of "The Prodigal Son Returns" (in a 2in1 volume) and "An Amish Courtship" to one commenter so you can read Samuel's journey from antagonist to hero for yourself. Be sure to tell me you want to be in the drawing!





















80 comments:

  1. One of my favs was in a book I can't remember now, but the villain...he had a daughter who had a heart defect that cost a fortune to treat. And in an evil and yet weirdly loving way, this villain would do ANYTHING to get money for his daughter's treatment. It made him so strangely likeable at the same time he'd deal drugs and order deaths.

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    1. I remember that story...could it have been a movie? I think one of the Star Trek movies had a villain like that...

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  2. I watched two seasons of Dexter. I don't know if I liked Dexter exactly but the show was really brilliant at hooking the end of each show and each season. It was hard to jump off that train once it starting chugging along.

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  3. And my own favorite villain...well, the one that comes first to mind is from my last series The Cimarron Legacy. A WOMAN villain. She was a pretty nasty piece of work.
    The other one I can think of right off hand is Wade Sawyer from the Montana Marriage series.
    I was writing for Barbour Publishing then and I remember telling Becky Germany, after she'd read book one, that Wade was going to be the hero in book three. She just said, "I can't believe it. I hate him."

    But I think I redeemed Wade very nicely.

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    1. {{{shudder}}} That villain in your Cimarron Legacy series was pure evil.

      I think there are some villains that shouldn't be redeemed, and she's right up there on the list.

      Wade, though...perfect. :-)

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    2. I loved Wade! (eventually lol)

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  4. I especially like reading the redeeming of the antagonist in a series. Say book one or two you love to hate them and by book four (or so) the author tells their side of the story. In essence redeeming them in God's eyes and the readers. You can sympathize with him or her and understand more of where and how they got to be the person they were.

    It reminds me of when God's grace gets a hold of someone and completely changes them from the inside, which in turn shows on the outside. Kind of like when He did that for me :-) (or any of us, really!)

    I can't really name any off the top of my head right now, but when an author can take an unlovable character and turn them into a lovable one and do it all with finesse, that's the sign of a great writer in my book!

    Jan, please add my name to the pot for a copy of one of your books you are offering here. Thank you so much!

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    1. Hi Trixi!

      I agree, I love watching God work in anyone's life, even a fictional antagonist. What's great about fiction is that we can show people how God turned our lives right side up by working it out in our character's lives.

      That God. He does good work. :-)

      You're in the drawing! And the prize is both books to one commenter - isn't that great?

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    3. Oh both books....NICE!! I must have been tired when I read that last night as I thought it meant one book to one commenter and one to another (two winners). One winner of both books is even better!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Oh and I thought of an antagonist in fairy tales...how about Beauty and the Beast?? Or in real life...Saul turned Paul?? See now, there is a man who's life was completely changed around by God!! ๐Ÿ˜Š

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  5. I'm with Trixi and Mary... being able to take the antagonist and turn him around (or her, Mary!) is a skillful twist of the pen. Well done, Jan! And I remember taking Seth to see Star Wars at a local "movie under the stars" thing or something like that... and at the end he gripped my hand and looked up at me and said, "There's still good in Darth Vader, Mommy. I can FEEL it."

    :)

    Ah, the hope of children brought alive in George Lucas's plot line, LOL!

    Lovely post, Jan, and I saw you were having a BLIZZARD in South Dakota??? OH MY STARS!!! Hunker down! Sending love!!!

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    1. A blizzard? Wow. It was 71 when I woke up this morning, Ruthy. Though some plants are starting to bud, I'm really hoping spring will hold off for a few more weeks. We could use one more good freeze.

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    2. Spring...I think I remember spring....

      But I do love winter! Even in February!

      And Ruthy - that sweet Seth.

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  6. I think of Saul who was busy persecuting Christians and then changed to become Paul. I never thought about internal conflict being an antagonist. This gives me a new prospective. Thanks Jan! Great insight. I'd be glad to be in the drawing. Thank you.

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    1. Saul is the perfect real-life example, Bettie! What a change God worked in him!

      And you're in the drawing!

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  7. Great post. There is much wisdom and life lessons in Star Wars.

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  8. Redemption is available to anyone who ASKS for it. That's the difference between Judas and the woman taken in adultery, two tax collectors, the Apostle Peter, and the Thief On the Cross. And us. What a great post, Jan. I love this kind of thing. This is especially important in Christian fiction. We HAVE the answer.
    Kathy Bailey

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  9. Good morning, Seekerville and Jan! I've got hot cinnamon rolls, so everybody grab one.

    Jan, you're analogy of Darth Vader is spot on. He was, indeed, a great antagonist. Antagonists are fun to write, but even more fun to redeem. Great post, my friend. Stay warm.

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    1. Good morning, Mindy! Now I'm craving a real cinnamon roll, not a virtual one...maybe I should eat some breakfast. ;-)

      I've found that I love writing antagonists. In my Journey to Pleasant Prairie series, I was able to write scenes in the antagonist's point of view, and it was so much fun. Writing the first draft is usually just plain hard work for me, but I always looked forward to writing those scenes!

      Helping Samuel find his way through life in "An Amish Courtship," though, was very rewarding. I loved watching his character grow and change.

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  10. Great post, Jan! I enjoy stories in which the villain is redeemed.

    I brought Ear Grey and chocolate chip scones to share!

    Blessings!

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    1. Earl Grey! My favorite morning tea! Thank you!

      I love redemption stories, too. After writing Samuel's story, I found myself looking for other antagonists to redeem!

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  11. Here in Nebraska (we ARE talking about the WEATHER right?) I woke up this morning, house empty, that's normal My Cowboy heads out to do chores with the sunrise...and there is a note on my bathroom mirrow....it says simply....SHEET OF ICE.

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    1. Yes, we are talking weather!

      A sheet of ice??? Mary, you had better stay inside...where it's safe.

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    2. I just went to check on a noise outside. Our neighbor - a single girl whose family owns an excavating business - is out there with a Bobcat, clearing our street and cul-de-sac.

      No waiting on the city snow plows here!

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  12. In the Wild at Heart series a villain from book #1 is redeemed. Her name is Myra....you're welcome Myra Johnson!!!
    But I figured out halfway through book #2 that I needed to redeem her for a purpose in book #2 so I went back and rewrote her character in book #1. Not because I don't think everyone is redeemable....but because she said and did such unlikeable things in book one. She was really the backbone and the ringleader of her and two brothers. I hanged it so she's more the sulky, jealous kid sister who grudgingly goes along with the bad plans.

    So maybe not for like REAL LIFE...but for the sake of literature...you should plan to redeem your villain...if you're going to...from the start. It changes the way she/talks.

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    1. Good advice, Mary! You don't want your readers to be put off because they totally HATED the antagonist in one book.

      Which brings up something I left out of my original post - The antagonist should be a complete character, not just a stick figure or cardboard character. He/she needs to have a backstory, goals, motivations, and conflicts that drive them, too.

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    2. I didn't HANG it. (my comment says, 'I hanged it') I meant to say I CHANGED it.

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    3. A great villain can be so fun. I loved What's his name the villain in Die Hard/Quigley Down Under/Robin Hood (the one with Kevin Costner) Okay I looked it up. Alan Rickman. He was SNAPE in the Harry Potter Movies, too. Great, great three dimensional villain...but I don't remember him ever being redeemed. :D

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  13. In the Montana Marriages series I always saw Wade as a sort of desperate person, wounded by an abusive father. Desperate to save Cassie from a cruel fate. Wade was lashing out, rather than truly evil.

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    1. Yes, I saw that when you introduced Wade! I could tell there was something more to him than what appeared on the surface.

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  14. Good Morning, Seekerville!

    Like Ruthy said above, we are in the middle of a "major snow event" in the Black Hills! (Last night, with the high winds, it was definitely a blizzard...but the winds have calmed down.)

    We have about 6" of snow on the ground, with another 4"-6" coming today. In this semi-arid climate, that's a lot of welcome snow! Temperatures are cold, though. We have 1° right now, with a projected high of 3°.

    I'm staying in and staying warm!

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    1. Major snow! My family traveled back from Wyoming yesterday--a day earlier than we wanted but trying to get ahead of it and there were some serious white-knuckle moments. Complete whiteout at Sturgis. No surprise there. But we made it fine. Now I get the day off unexpectedly and I look forward to reading and writing and maybe baking. My favorite things to do on a snow day :)

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    2. And I meant to say that was a great post, Jan. I do love a good villain, even though I haven't quite learned to write them yet. One of my favorite aspects of the TV show Once Upon a Time has been seeing characters you've always hated--like the Evil Queen--become more interesting, complete characters that one minute you love and one minute you hate.

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    3. Good morning, Glynis!

      I'm so glad you made it home safely yesterday! We were in church, in the middle of the sermon, when the storm hit. The winds shook the building!

      And a good villain is SO. MUCH. FUN. When I was writing "Naomi's Hope," the antagonist would make me so mad...When I got to his comeuppance, writing the scene was pure delight!

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    4. Goodness! I can't believe y'all have that much snow. It's a bit rainy here today but 61 degrees. We were in the high 70's the other day!

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    5. The snow has picked up again this afternoon. I can't see where our neighbor plowed the street anymore!

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  15. Good morning, Jan. Great post. I would love to see how you redeemed Samuel. Please put me in the drawing.

    At the moment I can't think of any example to share about an antagonist. Apparently the weather is today for many of us!

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    1. I know the weather is an antagonist for my dear husband today! He doesn't get a choice of whether he's going to stay home or not...he is an "essential employee," and has to make it in no matter what.

      And yes, he has a 4-wheel-drive truck. :-)

      You're in the drawing!

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  16. I love this post, Jan. What about Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive? And for anybody with mother-in-law issues, what about Maria in Everybody Loves Raymond? That woman can make me shudder.

    Stay safe and warm if you're dealing with snow and blizzards.

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    1. Oh, The Fugitive! What a wealth of characters on both sides of the protagonist/antagonist line!

      And Raymond's mom (I have a hard time calling her by her first name...maybe I sympathize too much with Ray...). She took the antagonist role and turned it into a fine art!

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    2. Tommy Lee Jones in the Fugitive is just the best!

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  17. Jan, what a wonderful post! I'm so glad you described how you redeemed Samuel. As I mentioned last week, I redeemed Victor Wallis, a character from one of my Seeker novellas. He had been a bully when he was a teen and still bullied the hero in the previous novella. When I decided I wanted to redeem him in the Back to You collection, I wish I'd had your post to help me! :)

    This was so helpful. I think it can be a lot of fun redeeming characters. We, as readers, love to believe all people are redeemable. I think it gives us hope in our own human weaknesses.

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    1. As writers, we get to call the shots. I think that's what makes it so much fun...we can redeem the characters the way we want to! Which becomes a great responsibility...We need to show realistic redemption stories, with God at the center of each one.

      And yes, we want to believe all people are redeemable...it hits the "truth button" we all have inside us. And when God intervenes, each person is redeemable. As readers, we love to see God work that way. At least, I know I do!

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  18. Jan, such a good post! Antagonists are so important. I enjoyed reading about how you use them in your Amish stories. I always have the "living" antagonist and, as you mentioned, the inner one as well. That wound from the past that holds the hero/heroine back from living life to the full. Throw in Mother Nature in all her fury and the conflict builds to an exciting climax!

    Sorry about your winter storm! We're rainy and gray today!

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    1. There have been stories where there was only one kind of antagonist (although none of them come to mind at the moment!). But I think it makes the story richer to be able to put a face and name on the opposition, as well as having the protagonist struggle against his inner conflicts.

      And don't be sorry about the winter storm! We're (hopefully) coming out of a drought year - we had very little snow last winter and not much rain through the following months. So we can use every ounce of moisture we can get!

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  19. Prior to publication, I wrote a story where the antagonist was a deadly organism, like Ebola. I soon realized the need for a flesh and blood antagonist as well. Sometimes...often...we learn from our mistakes. :)

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    1. Isn't it wonderful that we do??? :-)

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    2. Debby, that deadly organism can certainly work like a ticking clock! And add lots of dread and conflict to the story.

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    3. flesh and blood antagonists give us something to purse whomp :)

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    4. And then there's always the character who WANTS the deadly strain to do its deadly deed. I'm with Carrie. Purse whomp!

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  20. I love the antagonist that you start to like. Makes me think of the Once Upon a Time show where the evil queen has redeemable qualities.

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    1. When even the evil queen can have redeemable qualities, then she's a great antagonist. In the early seasons of the show, she was pure fairy tale evil, wasn't she? And then her role changed. She was still an antagonist, but she had sympathetic goals...still in conflict with the protagonists, but you could root for her!

      That's a great example!

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    2. I never saw that show but heard good things about it! I've always heard that villains should have goals, something that motivates them to make them more well-rounded.

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    3. Sharee, I loved Once Upon A Time! The problem was having to keep up with the series each week. If I missed an episode, I was lost for at least half of the next episode trying and figure out who was doing what.

      Great example!

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  21. Great post, Jan. I have never considered having two antagonists in a story. Often, I have an impersonal one. I like the idea of having a personal one as well. :)

    I have heard antagonists need to have some likable characteristic about them. The only antagonist I can think of off-hand is the guy in Mission Impossible 3. I can't remember his name right now, but he was pure evil. He seemed unbeatable, until Ethan Hunt is able to outsmart him. He had nothing likable about him.

    So...let me think of one who might be more likable. Oh, Javert, in Les Miserablรฉs had the opportunity to be redeemed, but he chose to hold onto the law rather than accept grace. Sorry, this is the best I can do today. :)

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    1. Good morning Jeanne! Are you having the same weather we are? It's coming toward us from the southwest this morning.

      The key to having two antagonists is to have them affect the protagonist in the same way. Both need to make the hero strive toward his goals, and both need to inspire the hero to take action toward change.

      And Javert...what a great example! He showed that not everyone embraces the truth of God's grace. He was a wonderful antagonist, but also a tragic character. Victor Hugo was a genius. I need to read that book again.

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    2. I have to admit I've never read Les Miserables. Must do so!

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  22. One of my least favorite antagonists becomes one of my favorite heroes - Vance Everstone from Dawn Crandall's The Everstone Chronicles

    great post, Jan!

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    1. Now I have another series to read! I haven't read the Everstone Chronicles before, but I just popped over to Amazon to read the blurb for the first book...

      It just might have jumped into my shopping cart. ;-)

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    2. oh yay! You won't be sorry! One of my faves!

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  23. An interesting post, Jan! In my story League of Thieves all my characters are each others antagonists, but I've just introduced the antagonist to all their antagonists that actually makes them have to work together and become allies rather than enemies.

    I often think about my antagonists and yet I'm always left wondering if I consider them enough.

    One of the best villains I've probably ever seen is Loki.

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    1. Ah, Loki! Mischievous in mythology and downright villainous in the Marvel movies! Great choice!

      So it sounds like each of your protagonists will be joining with the others to fight against the big antagonist! That move works so well in stories!

      My husband and I have been watching "The Shannara Chronicles" on Netflix (my husband loves these kinds of stories). Those characters are similar - antagonists when seeking one goal, but then coming together when they need to fight against a bigger antagonist.

      When you think about your antagonist, don't forget your genre. Some genres need an antagonist that is all evil, because he's representing an evil force in the story. That's the kind of antagonist that won't be redeemed.

      Back to Loki, though...in the movies, it seems like he has some redeeming qualities. His relationship with Thor is brotherly, even though they are antagonistic. He's a complex character. :-)

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    2. Loki is the best (except for in mythology then he's just plain bad) a very intriguing antagonist.

      That's true, the genre I write more often than not has pretty bad guys. Most of my bad guys are irredeemable. They kill a lot of people (he antagonist I just introduced has already killed five people- yikes!), but I still try to give them a motive behind their evilness.

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    3. You're right on track, Nicki! Even though your antagonist is evil, he shouldn't one-dimensional. And he has to have a weakness that the protagonist can exploit!

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  24. Great look at antagonists, Jan! I have recently decided to redeem one of the antagonists in my current WIP and make him into my hero in my next book. I had not decided if I wanted to do that or not, not until I was a ways into this book. In fact, I originally planned not to redeem him. But once I saw how broken and yet redeemable he was, he threatened to take over the book! I had to remind myself to focus on my current hero and make this antagonist wait for his own story to be told in the next book. :-)
    Most of my villains are not redeemable, but I know I'm going to enjoy redeeming this one. :-)
    Thanks, Jan.

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    1. Don't you love a character who thinks he can shape his own destiny? I can just imagine you wrestling with him, making him wait his turn!

      It sounds like your next book will be a lot of fun!

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    2. LOL....now that's funny, a character who completely takes over and you have to wrestle him under control!! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

      Just sooth his ruffled feathers with some gourmet chocolate and lots of sweet nothings whispered at him...you know inflate his ego...haha!

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    3. Haha! I'm always looking ahead when I should be concentrating on the task, or book, at hand.
      As soon as I let him have a scene in his own POV, he was all I could think about! I had to say, Look, this isn't your story, Mr.!
      LOL!
      No more scenes in his POV. Well, I'll probably have to do one more close to the end.

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    4. Isn't that the way it goes? As soon as you recognize that tiny thread of redemption in an antagonist, it seems like you have to work to keep him (or her) in their place and finish out the book before they get a story of their own.

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  25. This is a great post. I didn't know there was such a thing as an impersonal antagonist so I learned something today. I mean, I know those elements exist in a story, just didn't think of them as an antagonist. Cool beans. :-)

    I just finished The Sea Before Us by Sarah Sundin and there are a few antagonists that gave me conniption fits. I love how their involvement heighten my readerly emotions and even raises my blood pressure a bit.

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    1. Kav, I haven't heard of conniption fits in ages. LOL!!

      Jan did a great job of bringing some hidden elements to mind. There so much to think about when we write!!

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  26. Lincoln Nebraska we had some ice to and a fire downtown so what a why to great the morning. More ice if you count all the water the firefighter used to put the fire out. All is good no one hurt since it was a office building and only affected 2 floors. Make's you see how destructive an element can be.

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  27. Inspiring account of antagonists, Jan. I love the example you used of Bram and Samuel. Sometimes, the rifts that develop between siblings stoke the greatest fire, yet remain under the radar.

    Nice comparison of personal and impersonal antagonists. Definitely something to keep in mind when crafting the tension scenes!!

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  28. Jan, sorry to be MIA today! I've been on the road! I love this post, because I'm always fascinated when an author makes me care and root for a character that I previously disliked. It reminds me of the way that God redeems us.

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  29. I'm very curious to see how you turned the antagonist into a hero. Great post by the way. Place me in the drawing please.
    Cindy Huff

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  30. I'm late arriving at this party and I've enjoyed the examples. I certainly agree about Saul's conversion as a perfect example. I also have to mention J.R. Ewing. Just when I thought that he couldn't be more despicable he would suddenly show me a good reason he was acting that way. Not saying it was the right reason but at least I understood.
    I would love to be entered in the drawing for your drawing.
    Thanks Jan for a great post.
    Blessings!
    Connie
    cps1950(at)gmail(dot)com

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  31. Jan, just a quick post to say 'thanks!' for such a helpful post. I think you've helped me figure out something that isn't working (and why) in one of my WIPS :-)

    Nancy C

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