This morning I was outside and watched nature’s comedy hour as two small birds plagued a huge, black bird. Wherever the bigger bird flew, they dogged it, swooping after the black bird, and when it finally landed on a telephone pole, they divebombed it and pecked its head before it finally snapped at them and drove them off. Then I could see the big fellow sitting there huffing in indignation for a minute, reordering its feathers, probably reliving the event and plotting revenge.
It was only entertainment because the larger bird was the one who lost the battle–a bird that looked like it could eat a roadkill antelope in a single bite.
So, yes, Virginia. This does apply to writing!
In my rewrites of my art novel, I realized one of the main weaknesses was that the villain just wasn’t strong enough. He needed to be someone completely formidable, and instead, he was a little vague and not strong enough to make the MC work to the edge of her capacity.
That’s key. As a writer I need to make sure my characters are being pushed to their limits. In order to do that, and in order to make the reader worry more (worry is key) about the protagonist, the antagonist should be at least as strong as the protagonist–and it’s better if the antagonist is stronger, or much stronger.
And I think that is one of the things that can take a book from the level of a good book to a great one. If there’s a villain we love to hate, if there’s a protagonist we love, and if it’s completely unevenly matched and the protagonist can overcome anyway, then the reader can worry and fret and cry and think all is lost and then CHEER for joy when the main character triumphs.
As a reader, that’s the kind of experience I want to have. I like it when I watch movies, when I read books, and when I think about events in history. It’s probably human nature to want to root for an underdog, and since life doesn’t always dole out the win to the little guy, we can get that vicariously through our literature. As a writer, I want to give my readers that kind of satisfying experience.
And so, over the next few days, I’m going to be dreaming up evil, dastardly qualities for my spunky main character to encounter. It’s going to get pretty bleak for that protagonist before the final showdown. I hope she can survive!