About Writers, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Uncategorized, world-building

Should writers care?

While complaining to my lady about the quality of successful TV shows – one of my common complaints she commonly ignores – it ocurred to me what I was really complaining about. The protagonists are complex; they have depth of character and they become easy to identify with. But the antagonists are cartoons.

The easy formulas grow stale. I’m bored by antagonists still damaged from childhood trauma. Antagonists fighting others because they want something only one can have are maddeningly repetitive. Antagonists who can’t get along with others who are different from them annoy me. And don’t get me started on stupid conflicts arising because the antagonist simply misunderstands reality. It’s time for better antagonists.

Obviously, real world conflicts arise from all of the above situations. But conflicts also arise when good people in opposition to one another are both right. The new antagonist should have all of the depth and the likeability of the protagonist. That lends the story a background of realism right out of today’s world. The reader is presented with three choices: Choose a side, toss the book for not being escapist, or learn from the ambivalence.

According to thinkers, philosophers, and mathematicians like Marshall McLuhan, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, the greatest invention of the 20th century is the art of suspended judgement. We don’t seem to have much of that these days. Important issues are divisive and everybody is urged to takes sides, to become an automaton.

So, the question is, should we give our readers whatever side we think they want, avoid real world conflicts altogether, or encourage them to get along with those with whom they disagree?

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14 thoughts on “Should writers care?

  1. I’m with you in wanting nothing to do with predictable, cartoonish antagonists. I have also come to reject any story in which the protagonist’s main character flaw is the lazy cliche of some sort of addiction. I suspect many television producers believe viewers would find it difficult to accept complex characters — particularly antagonists — who are multi-faceted and sympathetic. For a society with an increasingly short attention span, this might well be the case.

    It may be easier to elicit acceptance and understanding if the conflict is between opposing factions rather than individuals, providing each faction’s purpose is realistic and reasonable and contains individuals viewers/readers identify with on a human level.

    My hope is that writers will give the reader/viewer whatever story they want to tell. My own goal is to create characters who defy easy categorization, and live in a story that piques interest and compels readers/viewers forward from beginning to end.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Sue.
      “…a society with an increasingly short attention span….” made me think. Who better to hold attention than a writer? Well, egotistically speaking, I think we could get readers to consider deeper thoughts and maybe we should because some solutions only come from comprehending complications.

      Contemplate a gay Rabbi turned Catholic who, via a sperm bank, fathers a neo-Nazi. I couldn’t write this with a straight face but for them to come to terms with one another might require an overriding event. Set their meeting in a post-apocalyptic world where each requires the other to survive. Survival’s good. Surviving could solve a lot of differences. Surviving could strip away everything unimportant until each saw the other as only a human being.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. mimispeike says:

    “But the antagonists are cartoons.”

    I don’t know if this is true. I haven’t had TV for twenty years. I had Netflix for a while but quit it, I never watched it. If this is true, I suspect it is because to flesh out the villain is more story than the producers want to pursue in that format, weekly episodes with the bad guy (I assume) changing frequently.

    If I could get Turner Classic Movies by itself, at a modest charge, I’d do it. Most of the TV fare doesn’t interest me.

    I watch Rachel Maddow and those folks. That’s about it. I have found a good number of old movies on YouTube. And documentaries on the early film stars. Great stuff on Louise Brooks! Really, really terrific.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. MamaSquid says:

    I don’t have any really hard and fast rules about what not to do, but I seem to have a particular view about the kinds of antagonists I love. I love antagonists who commit evil acts out of blind ideology, and I especially love antagonists where you can kind of see their point. My favorite is Magneto of the X-Men. His experience as a Holocaust victim made him deeply mistrustful of people and he used it to spearhead this ideology of mutant superiority, and dude definitely took it too far, but on the flip side, when he says humans will never trust mutants, he is not wrong. They will always be a persecuted minority. So seeing Xavier’s answer to Magneto and the understandable divide between two men who both want what’s best for mutant kind… That’s gold.

    I’m still learning how to write my own antagonists. In my WIP the villain is the leader of a terrorist faction who had a falling out with my protagonist years hence about the direction to take his revolution. He wanted independence, she wanted domination. Now they are fighting for legitimacy in the court of public opinion. She knows the only power he has is what the people have given him.

    That’s the kind of stuff I like. Is it realistic? Yes, I think so. But then so is the most evil person you can conjure.
    What really matters the most, I think, is not how purely evil or basically good an antagonist is, but about how they force the protagonist to grow.

    One thing I love about the work of Lois McMaster Bujold is that her antagonists are every gradient of bad. There are people just doing what they think is best and making a mess of it, there are people with good and bad tendencies swayed and manipulated into committing heinous acts, there are your standard sociopathic jerks, and then there are people who are so incomprehensibly evil it keeps you up at night. They all play important roles throughout the series and they all do a pretty good job reflecting the diversity of “bad guys” that exist in reality. I love this kind of nuance in my villains. The Expanse series also does this well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mama Squid,
      Yes. I tend to write as do you and I enjoy it. But that’s easy, isn’t it? It’s the quote from Anais Nin that made me wonder. “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”

      Looking around, it’s easy to see what we are unable to say. My own WiP came to mind. The main characters are wartime medics and gangsters and prostitutes all mixed together and living perfectly normal lives. For them. It’s a normality that is not acceptable to us living a normal life in peacetime. We don’t work with mutilated and dying young men. And we don’t hang out with gangsters and prostitutes. How do I, as a writer, say the same people in radically different circumstances are the same people? That my characters are like my readers and my readers would be like my characters if their circumstances were switched?
      Whenever I do manage to clearly convey that, I am so pleased with myself that I don’t care if the book ever sells.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Imagine, if you will, a story about a man protesting outside an abortion clinic and a woman who works inside. They meet socially, neither knowing what the other does. They begin to fall for one another but…. Well, any writer can take it from there. But cast them as two good, decent, people who hold opposing views, both of which are right. How can love triumph without either changing their convictions?

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    • mimispeike says:

      Well, GD, I’m thinking about this in between trying to whip my next piece for Showcase into shape. I just sent off ‘Volatile’, and I am working on was to be A Frog in Love, but I think I will change that title to Rantipole. BTW, this is the episode in which Sly gives his St. Crispin’s Day speech to his chick marines.

      As for your above question, I think that if I started dating a man who picketed abortion clinics, I believe we would have so many other differences of political opinion that I would have dropped him immediately. I know what you’re getting at, but I don’t think this is a good example.

      I have no trouble writing a complex, conflict-filled love affair between a cat and a monkey.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Mimi,
    But that’s common, isn’t it? Imaginary conflicts that avoid reality? You and I write them and so do most others. In this blog, I wondered about what makes writing stand out above the eleven million titles offered by Amazon and I would suggest that has to be something different. Real conflicts came to mind.

    The value added by the writer would be solutions that work. As Anais Nin put it, “The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.” We may all have different solutions but at its core, a solution works for both parties.

    In the example cited above, isolate the difference by focusing on it. Leave out all preconceptions. Make the two perfectly acceptable to one another save for their differing views on abortion. Then see how they might grow to appreciate one another while learning to tolerate that difference. That would be one solution to offer readers: tolerance.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Perry Palin says:

    GD, if your lady isn’t concerned with the shallow characterization of the antagonists in TV shows, she’s in their target demographic. It’d be tough to develop several complex characters in the 40 or so minutes they have for an hour long show. A full length movie is different, and a series on TV is different. I have on discs the MANOR BORN series, a British TV comedy which developed a number of major and minor characters. It’s possible to watch one episode and be entertained. It’s better to watch the whole series from the start, and get to know all the characters, their motivations, their charms, and their foibles.

    Mimi, I get what you’re saying about two people with opposing views on abortion. But there are odd couples out there, including a senior staffer of the former president and her spouse, a vocal opponent of her old boss. Might be interesting to know what they talk about at home. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we had a woman of Finnish descent married to a Swede. Imagine that. Bobby, the Swede, was a great guy. Joyce, the Finn, was, and now in her 90’s, is a treasure. Both of them were easy to love despite the differences that would have been fatal for other pairs. In high school, I visited their elder daughter for a while. Then I visited for Joyce’s baking and conversation. They had wonderful children. Later, I lost touch. The daughter, whom I still admire, married and that turned out to be a poor match.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perry,
      We’re watching another British show, Unforgotten. On the surface it’s just another cops & robbers but this one is both 4 1/2 stars popular and highly rated by the critics. The writing, acting & photography is superb. They take a whole season to solve one crime, so the characters are well developed. And I’m sure the plots mirror real crimes. But even so, they avoid those issues that divide today’s society.

      I guess I just wonder if today’s writers can handle such real life conflicts. I’d like to see them try without sounding preachy or concluding which side is “right;” just offer us stories about getting along in a diverse culture. Show that real diversity includes people we don’t like. John Steinbeck comes to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. mimispeike says:

    “So, the question is, should we give our readers whatever side we think they want, avoid real world conflicts altogether, or encourage them to get along with those with whom they disagree?”

    I say: none of the above.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No. The question is can you, as a writer, realistically resolve real world conflicts in a fictional story? Because if we, as creative people, cannot think of solutions to real world conflicts between characters that we control, and that we set in situations that we control, then there may be no solutions to real world conflicts.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That’s a mighty question, GD! But does it not go round in circles? If we could realistically resolve real world conflicts in a story, wouldn’t those conflicts have been resolved in reality? Unless we’ve been putting forward solutions that no one bothers about.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Exactly, Curtis: These are conflicts in which two opposing parties are both right. The only solution is for them to reach an accommodation. Creative writers might be able to craft stories where that happens. It’s fiction. But at least someone is showing a way forward.

          Liked by 1 person

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