Antagonists and villains are often used interchangeably. But they’re not identical. Though they’re both defined as an opponent, that’s where the similarities end. A villain is deliberately and personally invested in thwarting the hero’s cause. An antagonist, however, is just doing his job, trying to survive, or pursuing a goal that happens to clash with the hero’s.
“Gah! This book gave me all the feels.” We love when a story leaves a lasting impression, and we hope our own writing garners a similar response. Emotions have such a huge influence on our relationships, choices, and habits. And our society is obsessed with learning about the human psyche. Kids are introduced to gender identity and taught emotional awareness at increasingly younger ages.
Great stories have a broad emotional range that sends readers looping through laughter, soaring toward ecstasy, and plummeting into despair. When we open a new book, we hope it’s our ticket to a rollercoaster we’ll never forget. Unfortunately, building this thrill ride as a writer is challenging.
Personality assessments are a hot topic today. But, like everything in life, people’s opinions differ widely. Some treat personality types as the explanation for all human behavior. Others are skeptical for reasons ranging from personal to religious. The truth, as so often happens, falls between those two extremes.
You open a book, and after several pages, you’re not yourself anymore. You’ve become the character. He’s different from you, yet somehow the same. When he remembers someone’s face but not their name, you smile sympathetically—even though your memory has always been sharp. That’s because his foibles seem true to life.
People regularly complain about preachiness in Christian fiction. However, in my experience, most Christian fiction I’ve read that’s been published in the past decade isn’t the evangelistic propaganda that readers complain about. Instead, the biggest problem is that I didn’t care about or relate to the characters. Here’s why this happens.
As writers, we love exploring the internal struggles that shape our characters. During formative moments, emotional turmoil may need to take center stage, as with Thomas in Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes. Usually this scene happens near the story’s middle, when everything—including the protagonist—seems to be falling apart. Turning points deserve emphasis; otherwise the deep change in the character’s arc will seem artificial or glossed over.
Humor plays multiple roles and has the power to transform stories. Amusing voices stick in readers’ minds, begging to be shared with their friends. Entertaining dialogue makes characters lovable, and well-placed jokes brighten moments of despair.
Characters need flaws to humanize them. When we try to follow this advice, sometimes we populate our stories with characters who are perfect except for one glaring issue, such as selfishness or insecurity. But how many of us have a single weakness?
Readers want to see determined heroes fight diabolical villains. When beloved characters battle their worst nightmares, we’re terrified alongside them, and the conflict pulls us in. However, if the villain is a pushover, winning won’t be a challenge for the hero. Instead, it will feel like a setup.