Episode 26

Writing Characters We Love to Hate

In this law and order episode of Writing Break, I’m dishing out two scoops of courtroom drama with a sprinkling of murder. So, let’s take a break from the summer heat and discuss antagonists, the characters we love to hate.

Music licensed from Storyblocks:

“More Jam Please” by Raighes Factory

“Spirit in the Sunrise” by Jon Presstone

“Warm Honey” by Jon Presstone

“Summer Funk Disco Madness” by MEDIA MUSIC Group

“Action Bravery Music” by Bobby Cole


In this law and order episode of Writing Break, I’m dishing out two scoops of courtroom drama with a sprinkling of murder. So, let’s take a break from the summer heat and discuss the characters we love to hate.

In a fun twist, the cafe we’re visiting today has a bookstore, so let’s head there first for refreshments and to discuss some publishing news.

Today we are in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the average temperature for the month of July is 57 degrees Fahrenheit, 14 degrees Celsius. The sun rises at 4 am and sets at 11 pm this month.

All that extra daylight for writing.

And what better place to do some writing than at IDA Zimsen, a lovely spot in downtown Reykjavik, just across from the Reykjavik Art Museum, Hafnarhus.

Identifying as a coffee shop on Facebook and functioning as a cafe and bookstore in real life, IDA Zimsen has books on cooking, interior design, crafts, and Icelandic and Nordic culture. And, of course, they have children’s books. They also have journals and other gifts. This quiet haven features wooden floors and large windows spaced just so. There are cozy leather armchairs by the windows, which is where we will be sitting today just as soon as we pick up something sweet and/or caffeinated from the cafe.

Do you remember Filippo Bernardini, from episode 2? He is the former Simon & Schuster employee who was arrested by the FBI for allegedly stealing unpublished manuscripts. Well, the latest is that he might not get any jail time.

Despite the evidence against him, Bernadini pleaded not guilty to the charges of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The defense has requested a deferred prosecution, which prosecutors are now considering. A deferred prosecution means that both sides would come up with some kind of agreement detailing what Bernardini has to do to make things right, so to speak. While Bernadini is completing the tasks in his quest, his prosecution would be suspended. He would have to fulfill the requirements of the agreement within a certain period of time. The agreement would be supervised by the courts, and “could consist of Bernardini having to pay fines or compensation, or enacting other measures.”

The courtroom drama continues with Stephen King set to testify in the civil antitrust lawsuit that he US Department of Justice filed at the end of last year in order to stop Penguin Random House from purchasing Simon & Schuster.

At the time of the filing, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said, “If the world’s largest book publisher is permitted to acquire one of its biggest rivals, it will have unprecedented control over this important industry. American authors and consumers will pay the price of this anticompetitive merger – lower advances for authors and ultimately fewer books and less variety for consumers.”

Penguin Random House has called the Department of Justice’s statements fantastical.

hing Stephen King books since:

It was reported in The Atlantic this month that Delia Owens, the author of Where the Crawdads Sing, has been wanted for questioning in a murder case in Zambia since 1996. Owens and her then husband, Mark, lived in Zambia at the time, and they fled the country after the show Turning Point aired a documentary about Mark and Delia Owens. The documentary included the filmed killing of an alleged poacher. The shooter is not visible on camera, but authorities believe Mark and Delia were involved in some way. There is no statute of limitations for murder in Zambia.

The article in The Atlantic about Delia Owen’s possible crimes in Zambia is well-researched and includes good points about the infantilization of black adult characters in her writing, but beware, it also has one big spoiler for Where the Crawdads Sing. Reese Witherspoon’s film adaptation of Where the Crawdads Sing is currently playing in movie theaters.

Links to these news stories can be found in the show notes of this episode and on writingbreak.com.

Well, we’ve had our treats and dished the dirt. I think it’s time we check out an independent author.

Today we’re looking at my favorite living Icelander, Greg Fazekas. Fazekas is a freelance technical writer by trade who writes haikus, nontechnical articles, and science fiction in his spare time. He can be found on many platforms, including YouTube and Twitch, where he brings you behind the scenes of his writing process. Through his world travels, lovely photography, and interesting views, Fazekas makes me smile at least once a week. Follow the link in the show notes to read some of his work for free.

And now, let’s return to those cozy armchairs to get into today’s writing tip.

This season we began analyzing the writing process for a three-act novel. In the last episode, we took a look at protagonists, and in this episode we’re looking at antagonists. You now know how to create a protagonist, and the process for creating an antagonist is almost the same. The fun part is that you can have more than one antagonist in the same story, and an antagonist doesn’t have to be human. In a survival story, antagonists might be animals. In a science fiction story, antagonists might be machines.

One of the reasons I like to say “protagonist” instead of “main character” is that “main character” gives a skewed perception of the role of the characters. Yes, all of the other characters, whether friend or foe, are not protagonists, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the other characters are minor characters. The other characters are necessary, and writing complex antagonists is essential to writing an interesting book.

Writers often pull characters from people in their lives. When an antagonist is based on someone in the author’s past, the result is often a weak character because the author tends to have less empathy for this character. They make the antagonist cruel or stupid throughout the entire book, and then they write trite scenes where the antagonist gets what’s coming to them and everyone sees what horrible people the antagonists were all along.

Revenge writing of this sort is forgettable and will bore the heck out of your readers. I do recommend getting your thirst for revenge out on paper, but maybe it needs to stay in your private files. Your manuscript would be better served by writing antagonists who are not based solely on one person you know. Change them up. Create a whole new person in your mind’s eye who will serve as the antagonist. Remember that in the antagonist’s mind, they are the main character. They are not walking around thinking they are your protagonist’s antagonist. You get me?

In the last episode, I asked you to identify your protagonist’s goal. That’s important to know from the start because an antagonist is a character who works against your protagonist’s goal. They’re not just mean and nasty people. They are actively working against the thing the protagonist wants most. Note that I say “actively”. It is important that the antagonist be an active character. Not a bureaucrat setting up red tape but a character who fills up a scene and makes the reader’s blood pressure rise. This antagonist is such that your protagonist’s weaknesses and flaws might get the better of them.

When I say that they are actively working against the protagonist’s goal, that doesn’t mean that they are plotting ways to interfere. Well, sometimes it does. But often what it means is that their goals, personality, and/or actions conflict with the protagonist’s ability to achieve their goal.

In fact, the protagonist often mirrors the antagonist. They might hold the same position in a company or rank in an army. They might have had the same tough circumstances growing up, and one took the high road to survive, while the other took the low road.

The antagonist is often disguised. They could be two-faced, cunning, and manipulative. The protagonist might think the antagonist is a friend. This is common in murder mysteries. For those really wanting to go out on a limb, try making the antagonist someone the protagonist loves.

A couple of episodes ago we talked about story versus plot versus premise using Romeo and Juliet as an example. Remember that in the beginning Juliet’s parents want her to marry Paris, but Juliet doesn’t want to. Even though the parents love Juliet and want what they think is best for her, they are antagonists in the story, and the audience is free to dislike these parents.

Getting your audience to not like your antagonist is a vital part of storytelling. This is done by making your antagonist unlikeable through their actions. For example, they could be a bully or self-absorbed or a liar. Don’t get cliche with their appearance. Make the character’s appearance realistic but also keep your genre in mind.

You don’t always have to give the reader what they’re expecting. The antagonist doesn’t have to look like a sleek villain or some other stereotype in order for the story to work.

One last thing about the antagonist is that they have to have a tragic flaw that they cannot overcome. Your protagonist should also have at least one major flaw, as we discussed last week, but your protagonist will learn to overcome that flaw. Or, if you are crafty enough, they will thrive in spite of it because of their other strengths.

The antagonist, however, cannot overcome their tragic flaw, which leads to their literal or figurative demise.

Work on your antagonist this week. Make note of their name, age, gender, goal, flaw, back story, and physical description. Remember that their goal isn’t to antagonize the protagonist. While they might want to defeat the protagonist, that is usually a means to an end. What do they really want? Once you know this, you can make sure that they are acting in accordance with their personality and desires.

Now, I’ll leave you with something to overthink about. If we are all the main characters of our own lives, in how many lives do you think you serve as an antagonist?

Next week we’ll talk about other characters to include in your book, including the protagonist’s allies, which I hope is what I am to you.

Until next week, remember that you deserved this break.

If you would like us to visit your favorite independent bookstore, feature your favorite independent author (even if it’s you), or discuss something you’re overthinking about, please email me at podcast@writingbreak.com.

Thank you for making space in your mind for The Muse today.

Writing Break is hosted by America’s Editor and produced by Allon Media with technical direction by Gus Aviles. Visit us at writingbreak.com or contact us at podcast@writingbreak.com.

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Rosemi Mederos


Rosemi is the founder of America's Editor, a book editing company.