NaNoWirMo Strategies: The Answer is Almost Always Antagonism

There are times when I just don’t know what to write. The story is going nowhere and my characters are not keeping me interested even a little bit. This isn’t how the story started. I used to be excited about and eager to write more. How could it come to a stand still so soon?

I have yet to come across a solution to this situation that is better than antagonism. The answer is almost always that there is not enough antagonism.

Catalyst and Antagonism
When I was writing Catalyst I was halfway through the first draft when I got intensely bored by the story. I had spent all day at my computer and had only written a thousand words or so. I knew what I wanted my characters to do, I knew where they had to go and why, but it just wasn’t happening. I was just checking off plot points that I had planned out without thinking of any kind of antagonistic motivation. They were just doing things because I told them to.

So I had to back track and delete a couple days worth of work. Was it hard to delete thousands and thousands of words to get back on track? You bet it was, at first anyway. It didn’t take very long to realize it was the right choice.

Where Did the Problem Start?
How did I know how far back to go. It was as easy as looking back to when things started to get easy for Mac Narrad (the protagonist). There was a shift in his fortunes where his life went from being very difficult to being very easy. It was a moment where he could have said, “well that was convenient.”

I hit the delete key until that moment was gone and then instead of making life easier for him I made it harder.

Are you curious about which part of the book that is?

It’s when Mac, Jace, and Raymond meet up with Lynn in the rubble of Northgate. The plan had always been for Mac and Lynn to meet up so once they were together I just kept them together. Then they went off to solve the mystery of who was behind the attack of Northgate and it was very boring.

Now that that part is gone forever we have that awesome part of the book where Mac and Jace turn their backs on everything they knew and make a run for it. There is also some important plot points with Jace explored, the fate of bunch of characters is revealed (Don’t want to spoil anything but people who have read it know I’m talking about Valentin Park), a whole new character is added to the trilogy named Sneed, and none of that would have been in there if I hadn’t figured out to add more antagonism to Mac and Lynn’s life. Every good thing that happens to them in that book is followed shortly by something worse than anything they have yet to experience.

Antagonism means that things should never be easy for your characters until the story is over.

Too Much Too Soon
Another problem I’ve come across is having too much antagonism at the beginning of the story. In a classically told story the highest level of antagonism has to be at the story climax. If it peaks near the beginning then the rest of your story is going to drag. The audience has already seen your hero overcome the most trouble he’s ever going to face so they know he’s going to be able to handle everything else. The readers will be bored out of their minds (I keep using the word bored because as a writer that is the greatest sin you can commit. Thou shalt not bore your audience. Robert McKee taught me that).

This happened to me during the summer. I could not figure out why I was so disinterested in what was going on. I had forgotten my own advice about looking at the antagonism whenever the story feels like it isn’t going anywhere.

I won’t forget that for NaNoWriMo. As soon as I hit a snag I will immediately ask myself, “what are the bad guys up to?”

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