So today I'm going to talk about something that could apply to this month's category, but it really spans all across literature. What could that be, you ask? Besides, you know, characters, plot, backstory, descriptions, good scenes, not-lame romance (oh wait...that one doesn't actually span all literature...). I'm talking about The Great Illusion, a term which I so creatively coined just now in my recliner as I tried to think of a catchy title for this post. Right, let's get to work.
The Great Illusion is something that writers must be aware of in order to write characters with depth and motive. It is, put simply, this: The belief that bad guys are bad and good guys are good. That's it! That's the Great Illusion.
Why is it such a massive illusion? Because we are biased people. Even if we try really hard to see things from someone else's point of view, our own life experiences and beliefs will sneak in. I mean, it's really not all our fault, our minds really don't have much to go off of besides our own lives and so that's what we tend to rely on. This becomes a problem, however, when you realize that not everyone has had the same experiences and by default, not everyone has the same point of view. So how does this apply to writing? Well since I love numbered points so much and they help me organize my thoughts into readable sections, we'll use them to help me explain.
1. True Heroes and Villains Can't Exist
Yup. You heard me. That amazing hero that everyone believes is right? You only see him as right because you've been shown his side of the story. If you were to hear the story told from the supposed villain's point of view, you probably wouldn't see the hero as such a great guy. This applies to everyone. Even terrible people who did historically terrible things. Somewhere along the line, people believed they were right. This is important to keep in mind when writing because unless your antagonist's sole motive is to Be A Villain, he firmly believes he is right in what he is doing, or at least that the end which he is trying to get to will justify the means he uses to get there. In the antagonist's mind, he is the good guy, working for his good or the good of others. Remembering this gives your "bad guy" much more character depth and development.
Similarly, your protagonist normally believes that what he's doing is the right thing, but there is obviously someone who doesn't, or there wouldn't be a protagonist, would there? You can't have a true, all-around hero if someone out there believes he is wrong.
4. Your Character Has A Good Reason For His Beliefs
I hate to break it to you, but your antagonist has a valid reason for why he's fighting the protagonist, and vice versa. In reality, this is only bad news because you as the author have to come up with that reason, which as I've discovered, can be an absolute nightmare. Seriously. And it has to be better than, you know, "she stole my book in sixth grade and I've never forgiven her". Unless that book was actually military battle plans in code... But I digress. Coming up with a reason can be difficult, especially if you as the author believe your antagonist is wrong. Well all that's really going to save you here is some empathy. Try looking at things from his point of view. Better yet, write a scene or a chapter, possibly one already writing from the protagonist's perspective, but write it the other way around.
There are also multiple ways to make an antagonist. He could be doing something the protagonist doesn't like, could be on opposite sides, or could simply stand in the way of the main character's goal.
Here's a trick to writing a convincing protagonist or antagonist: Describe their views so you yourself, as the author, are convinced that they're right. Do this for both characters. You don't have to put this in the actual book, or at least not in this format, but if you have a convincing argument for both sides, your characters will have so much more depth. DISCLAIMER: If you do this and your reader ends up supporting the antagonist, don't come running to me. That means you did a really good job and your characters are very realistic.
3. Everyone Has A Following, No Matter How Small
Your antagonist is going to have people who would follow him to the grave. So will your protagonist. You can take advantage of these people by considering how they follow your character. Do they live on a mountain separated from all civilization? Or do they all live in the same place or very near to each other? Do they fight against the opposing side? Do mothers tell their children not to talk to kids who follow the opposite belief? If a teacher or boss believes something different from her student or employee, does that change the way she treats them? These are important things to consider and make for much more realistic plots.
Hopefully this was both helpful and enlightening. I first learned this in a history class, and I suddenly had a world of ideas and story possibilities open up before me like I'd never seen before. Some side effects may include: doubting everything you've ever been taught about your life, suddenly realizing that your antagonist and protagonist actually need to switch roles, writing millions of subplots that have to do with civilian life and massive political disagreements (or elections, whatever you want to call them). If you begin to see any of these or other side effects, DO NOT CALL YOUR DOCTOR. THESE ARE GOOD.