This summer, while vacationing through the upper mid-west, we had the opportunity to visit the Crazy Horse Monument. Located not far from Mount Rushmore, it is being developed on the same massive scale as the monuments to the four great U.S. Presidents. When finished, The Crazy Horse Monument will be a staggering 641 feet wide and563 feet high. The Lakota Indian’s head (completed) is over 87 feet high.
But what I found most impressive was not the blasting and the immense sculpture. It was a simple saying attributed to this famous Indian. Crazy Horse was a great leader of the Lakotas and a fierce warrior. The statement that impressed me way, “You are only as strong as your enemy.”
In novels, if you want a strong protagonist, you must have a strong antagonist. If you want an outstanding protagonist, you must have an outstanding antagonist.
Create a brilliant, strong protagonist and put him against him a weak antagonist and you have a weak story. It would be like having a race with only one entrant. There is no suspense, no drama. Why bother? And your reader might also say, “Why waste my time reading this?” There must be some strong person, or force, that is trying to prevent the protagonist from reaching her goal.Make this antagonist a formidable force and your protagonist has the opportunity to be great. Make the antagonist a wimpy opposition and your heroine cannot show her real character.
Of course, the antagonist does not have to be a person. It could be a machine, as HAL in the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. HAL was ranked as one of the top ten all-time great villans by the movie industry. The antagonist could be a virus, as in The Andomeda Strain by Michael Crichton. An alien or meteoroid from space can be a formidable foe. And don’t forget that some aspect of the protagonist can actually be the antagonist. For example, his drinking or drug addiction. What type of antagonist you choose is not the main thing. The important point is that the antagonist must be a strong, tough intimidating, and persistent opposition to your hero or heroine.
It is true that we expect the protagonist to win regardless of the strength of the antagonist. Of course, this is not necessarily the way it will happen. The protagonist may prevent the disaster about to befall a town, and yet, the antagonist escapes. But, even a clear cut win for the good guy over the bad guy can leave a lot of drama, tension, suspense. What will this victory cost the heroine? What collateral damage will be done? How will this encounter change the people involved? What effect does it have on the protagonist?
If you want to have a great protagonist, a memorable protagonist, then heed the advice of Crazy Horse. You protagonist can only be as strong as your antagonist.
James R. Callan took a degree in English, intent on writing. He went to graduate school in mathematics to support a family and mathematics became a 30 year detour from writing. He has received grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Data Processing Management Association. He has been listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans.
But writing was his first love. He has published a number of books, both fiction and non, and picked up several awards along the way. Cleansed by Fire (2012) is the first of the Father Frank mysteries. Murder a Cappella, a Sweet Adelines Myster, was released in April by Wayside Press. Callan wrote this mystery with one of his daughters, Diane Bailey, a well published YA author. His first book for 2013, A Ton of Gold, is the first Crystal Moore book, released by Oak Tree Press on February 1.
Callan lives with his wife in east Texas and Puerto Vallarta. They have four grown children and six grand children.
Web site: http://www.jamesrcallan.com
Blog site: http://jamesrcallan.com/blog
Callan’s books on Amazon: http://amzn.to/SshWBF