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?