You know the antagonist you love to hate? The bad guy who always stands in the way of your favorite good guy? As an author, self-doubt is your biggest, baddest, nastiest antagonist—and it’s time to recognize it for what it is.
What’s the antagonist in your latest book trying to accomplish? What’s driving him or her to oppose the protagonist’s goals—and how is that affecting outcomes for the protagonist? Now, let’s talk about what your inner antagonist is up to and how that’s affecting your writing.
Antagonists Be Like
Antagonists play a very special role in the stories we love because they create the tension that keeps us on the edge of our seats. We furiously turn pages to see how the hero will resolve the challenges set before them.
It’s a constant push and pull—which is exactly what your inner antagonist is doing every time she gets all hey-look-at-me and gives you reasons to doubt your writing.
You’re a kickass writer. You know that. I know that. Your dog knows that. (Every writer should have a dog. They are fabulous creative companions, excellent listeners, and the very best nap buddies.) Everyone knows you’re a sharp writer.
But there’s that voice. It sneaks up and whispers the harshest of messages in your ear.
“You’re really going to submit that?”
“You’ll never be a real writer. Why are you even trying?”
“I can’t get a professional critique. I’d be too embarrassed.”
It goes on. It’s not a quiet voice.
The Antagonist You Fictionalize & the Antagonist You Fight
A good antagonist has goals—like really good ways to shake things up by adding discontent to the storyline. (That means really messing with whatever the protagonist wants.) It’s easy to strategically fit an antagonist into your book, but what happens when you think about how your inner antagonist reacts to your personal success?
What’s an Antagonist Do Anyway?
Potentially the busiest job EVER, an antagonist is responsible for diametrically opposing the protagonist at every turn, throwing up roadblocks, and generally detracting from the main goal. Here’s what you should know about your inner antagonist:
- They present as protectors. Not necessarily evil or all-the-time negative, this antagonist appears as someone who’s “looking out for you.” They don’t want you to get hurt by putting your work out there too soon or taking a chance. Maybe it’s “not quite ready,” or maybe it needs “one more revision.” Or maybe this antagonist needs to shut the hell up and let you write your story. If you’ve done your work, done your revisions, put in the time, and it’s ready to submit, don’t let your own self-doubt be the single thing that stops you.
- The Opposite Game. What’s your goal as a writer, an author? A professional? A wife, a mom? Whatever your goals, you can be sure your inner antagonist will find a way to oppose them. “You can’t handle all that!” “What kind of mom is gone on Valentine’s Day for a writers’ conference?” “You know your desk is in your kitchen, right?” Your antagonist uses all these thoughts to throw you off course and cast doubt on the plans you’ve made. Ignore that bitch. She has no idea how hard you’ve worked to get here.
- Arm Wrestle. Your antagonist will go toe-to-toe with you on ANY DAY. When you think your energy is sapped and you’re at your maxed-out lowest, that’s when that sinister little villain will attempt a final coup. She’ll try to take over when you least expect it, so stay alert. Antagonists aren’t dumb; they just have different strengths, outlooks, and goals than you do. But don’t be fooled; they want to win just as badly.
- Oh, You Again. Your antagonist has been hanging around for a while—and will probably be a fixture in your life for quite some time. You have to learn how to deal with her, because she’s a put-me-in-the-spotlight kind of gal. Figure out how to deal with her firmly, let her know you’re not interested in her negative talk, and move forward with your writing.
- But I Did it for You. Your antagonist thinks she’s looking out for you when she tells you to skip that high-powered critique. She’s trying to protect your feelings, but what she doesn’t know is that creative writers have developed a skin akin to that of elephants. You can tell us devasting things about our writing, and we can move from transcript annihilation to civilized shrimp dinner in the space of 30 minutes. It’s an acquired skill, but we can do it. We’re much tougher than our antagonists think.
Facing the Enemy
There is one thing that will surprise your inner antagonist—and maybe even shut her up for a minute or two. Here’s the secret. When you hear her whisper in your ear, tell you that you can’t complete that project, shouldn’t submit that proposal…take a deep breath, then slowly turn to look her in the eye and say, “I’ve got this.”
Your confidence is all the fight you need. It doesn’t need to be a big blow-up. No huge confrontation.
All she needs to see is the spark in your eyes and the determination in your soul to know that she can’t possibly stand in your way, no matter how much she wants to protect you or keep you from the scrutinous eyes of readers. Square those shoulders, writer. You are a badass! Tell that antagonist to find someone else to pick on because YOU. TOTALLY. GOT. THIS.