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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Antagonist's Outline

This little project of mine has become more complicated than I originally planned. And it's a little late getting up, I hope you understand.

The Outline
The basic outline for your story is what the protagonist (MC) is doing, or of what your reader sees.

Usually you write the outline either before you start writing (useful if you have the story in your head and don't want to forget) or between edits (once you finally know what you're doing). This outline is great because it let's you set up the story without actually writing everything down. You can scribble down chunks of action on note cards and move them around, test for tension, and keep subplots straight with little effort.

Beautiful! But it doesn't tell the whole story.

The Minor Character Outline
Also known as the subplot outline. I've seen this idea proposed by several authors, including my twin who was trying to track the story arcs of two minor characters. Minor character outlines don't need as much tension and they may not be on screen full-time, but if you have a complicated story you might give this a try. Especially if the minor characters are important in tying your plot up neatly at the end.

The Antagonist's Outline
*cue dark and sinister music*
Here I am, furiously writing and fussing over my current WIP, and I get smacked by a lemon-wrapped brick upside the head. What is my Antagonist doing through all of this?

For some books you don't need an Antagonist's Outline. For LOTR the AO would have looked like:
Chapter 1- Try to conquer Middle Earth ... and then a row of dittos for the next bazillion chapters.

For Crime and Punishment the AO would have looked exactly like the main outline. I've seen books where the Antagonist is an On Screen active minor character and appears enough that you have them in the main outline.

In my current WIP I have a a multi-person antagonist, three groups working in concert although not really aware of the motivations and actions of the other two groups. For me to keep my character's on track I created an AO that looks roughly like this:
Chapter.........Pro.................Antag 1...............Antag 2............Antag 3
1........gets threatened .... steals X ...... threatens P ....... blackmails A2

And so on through the chapters. Why does this help me? Now I have a time line for the antagonists actions so I can refer back to it later.

What I Learned
The protagonist is the Main Character because they are the only person fully engaged with the plot line at all times. My villain isn't aware of the MC's every move. The villain isn't taking part in the plot all of the time. My villains have a lot of other things on their plate, like kidnapping minor characters, blackmailing each other, and trying to take over the known universe. It keeps them busy, but not out of trouble.

I was also able to pinpoint motivation for some actions that were otherwise nonsensical in the book. While I was writing I stared at the screen, Why would my Antagonist make a mistake like that? Oh! I see... he was doing it to get revenge on this person. Well, that makes sense! Knowing the WHY behind an antagonists actions helps me work out reasonable clues for the MC and build tension.

Why You Should Try This
Your character may not need every detail to complete their quest. Some questions will go unanswered. But you, as the author, need those answers.

Figure out what your main antagonist is doing for the first 10 chapters of your WIP. Try to make this as detailed as you would your Protagonist's outline. Let me know how it works for you.


  1. Good idear! I think I need to focus much more on the antagonists...going to make that happen this weekend.

    Hope you are feeling much better today.

    When can we turn off the dark, sinister music? :-D

  2. *puts on 80's rock*

    Is that better or worse?

  3. 80's rock is good. :)

    I've already done this for my book. I had to do it to keep track of everything. In Monarch, I also have three antagonists that I have to keep track of that don't track each other's progress.

    Great post and ideas! Thanks for laying it out!