12 November, 2010

Antagonists: Do You See (AKA Write) Through Their Eyes?

I was reading a post over HERE at The Rainy Day Wanderer, and looking at some of the comments, and it got me thinking.

Reading something through the antagonist's perspective has its downside, of course. You don't want to force the reader to experience the (usually horrific) thoughts of the "evil" in a story, or the book as whole can deteriorate, even if there's a strong protagonist.

But sometimes, using the evil person's perspective can be very helpful for pushing the plot forward, helping the reader to understand something, showing some sort of insight into the story, etc. So presenting something with the antagonist's voice can be a good thing--but how much is too much, and how evil is too evil?

Descriptive writing (something I really should work on myself) can work wonders on a story. However, it seems that you wouldn't want to describe in such full detail, and such . . . eh, illuminating language the home or the surroundings of someone the reader is supposed to hate.

So there has to be a balance between the good and the evil, if you use the thoughts of the antagonist in your writing. It can't be too much of the latter, or it just wouldn't be as satisfying a read.

But I also noticed not a majority of books even have chapters or sections devoted to the antagonist's perspective. Most books, in fact, are entirely through the protagonist's view or through the view of someone close to them. Some books are more detached when they are presenting something as the antagonist sees it--they don't look as deeply into the evil as they do the good. Or they describe what is happening as if from a distance, in the third person as opposed to the first or something more intimate.

(The only book I can think of that's written in the perspective of someone that could be called the bad guy is The Book Thief. And even then it's not that horrible. I actually got a little fond of Death.)

In my own book, there are a lot of varied characters, including some pretty bad people. Drug lords. Ethnic cleansing terrorists. You know, the lot of 'em. I write in the perspective of all the above, and some other not-so-nice people. I occasionally let them spew their--what I would call--filth and vile talk, while trekking through their inner thoughts. Many of them could be called "evil", even.

Do you think that letting the reader see something through the antagonist's perspective is a good thing, for the reader? Do you think that a book can, effectively, present both the good and the bad sides through the protagonist's and the antagonist's respective thoughts? Do you enjoy/dislike books that have a blend of the two?

Do you write through the perspective of someone who is "evil", or do you stay away from writing that way, keeping to the mind of your protagonist? Do you consider the kind of writing style that includes the antagonist's views shudder-worthy, or beneficial for a story?

-----The Golden Eagle


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't write from the evil character's point, although my stories don't contain truly horrible characters. I think since most readers want growth in a character, it would depend if the evil one changed over time. I will say that my main character had some really bad qualities, so in reading my book, part of it seems like it's from the bad guy's perspective.

Christine Danek said...

I sometimes do this as an exercise to get to know the character better, but I have not included it in the story...yet.
If done right, this view can really enhanced the book (in my eyes).
The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting has some of this element in it, and I think it heightens the scary factor. I wanted to keep reading, not only to know what the protagonist was going to do next, but what the antagonist was thinking.
Great post!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think it would be a huge challenge! I don't think I could really get into the antagonist's view.

C. N. Nevets said...

Very often my protagonist is pretty evil, and that can be very hard to write sometimes. I usually write in first person anymore, so I don't typically cover both perspectives, but in my current novel I have a protag with two antag's and I alternate POV's between the protag and the less evil of the antags.

Clarissa Draper said...

All my mysteries have chapters written from the serial killer's perspectives. I do it that way so that my readers gain an understand into the reasons behind the actions. Most of my readers call the chapters "haunting". It also adds a bit more excitement to my stories.
I have to write those chapters when it's light outside though.

Jules said...

You tell me. My entire post today has evil in it. Guess I should have read this first :D
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Angela Felsted said...

I like how Greg Iles gets into the heads of his "evil characters." They don't think of themselves as evil, of course. They simply have a completely different view on life. He writes mostly in 3rd person, though, and I think that helps balance things.

Quinn said...

The first chapter of the second book in my Dreamwalker Saga will be told from the villain's point of view -- as well as several other chapters throughout that book. I can't wait to write those.

I would love to read a book that's told completely from the villain's point of view. I normally hope for the villain to win anyway. I don't think I'd mind the evil/horrific thoughts. I'm sick of reading about all these "too good" main characters. It'd be a nice change.

Colene Murphy said...

It can be good, I think. I mean, it just depends on how you want your story to go. If you get into the eye of the evil guy sometimes you can form a sort of sympathetic reader for his side. If that is what you want to do, then it is awesome. And it can be fun to live through the bad guy (as long as he isn't REALLY sickeningly bad anyway)

Brian said...

Thanks for visiting me today! Hey, I think it is important to engage the reader imagination, so I would say yes, to a point. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

Old Kitty said...

Golly - for me I find being in my antagonists' heads far more challenging and rewarding because I can really let rip and go to the er... dark side. Very dark side, the darker the better!! I'm hoping that the reader would of course be repelled by their actions but perhaps connect with them too on a level they'd not think possible. Does that make sense?!?!

Yay for your nearly 25,000 nano words - nearly halfway!! Wow!! Take care

Arlee Bird said...

I have an inclination not to write from an omniscient point of view and focus on the thoughts of my protagonist, who may not be perfect, but certainly is well intentioned.
I think characters good and bad need to be well-rounded. If the bad guy is totally and absolutely evil it can become too much of a characture and not realistic. But we do need to see enough wretchedness so that we will be able to cheer a bit when the antagonists get their come-uppance.

Tossing It Out

Jen Chandler said...

I enjoy reading through the "villian's" perspective. I also enjoy writing from that pov. I have several sections in a trilogy where I write from the view point of the villian. Not a lot, but enough to let you feel what he's feeling and get the sense of WHY he is doing what he's doing, why he feels he can justify his villianry.

Excellent post! And your NaNo progress is great! I'm cheering you on!!

Happy weekend,

Holly Ruggiero said...

I think if can be effective though in my current piece I don’t use it.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I'm reading The Book Thief right now, trying to get that same sense of perspective you're looking for...

Kiki said...

I think writing from the antagonist's point of view would be insanely awesome, but definitely a challenge. I am going to have to try it out.

N. R. Williams said...

It's important to remember when writing from the villain's POV that s/he believes they are hero's or at the least, justified in their goals. In my high fantasy I spend a little time in the villain's POV. In my Phoenix novella, it is all from the heroine's POV since it is in first person. Still, I control how dark things get in my high fantasy. I don't want the reader to get depressed, but I do believe a villain who is understood is doubly dubious.
Mary Montague Sike is at my blog with her blog book tour. Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Theresa Milstein said...

J.K. Rowling did the brilliantly. She had Harry share Voldemort's actions and emotions, but not really his thoughts.

I agree, it would be tricky to do. I think the Kiler Chicks blog had a post that discussed something like this.

Angela Ackerman said...

I think sometimes it can add a layer to the story to see the events from opposite sides. After all, the villian is really the hero of his own story, right? :)

Anonymous said...

I definately write through my to protagonist's eyes. or their Point of View )POV). Its fun and necessary. Everyone loves a great villain, so writing through their eyes is a necessity. And its fun to let the reader know just exactly how they perceive the protagonist.

Cherry said...

i love ur blog! very cool! one of my favorites!

Lynda Young said...

No one should be written 100% evil and even if they are 100% evil it's unlikely they would see themselves that way. So imo seeing the protagonost's POV can be engaging in many ways.

Madeleine said...

That's an interesting question. I have a WIP with several POV's one of which is through the eyes of a very self serving character. I'm hoping to balance her against the povs of the other characters. :O)

The Golden Eagle said...

Alex: Character development is important; I often look for it. It would make sense for the antagonist to grow over time, if the book was written from their perspective.

Christine: I find that it can help the overall view of the story, too--although I put it into the actually story.

I'll have to check out The Body Finder to see how she does it! Sounds interesting.


L. Diane: I love doing it . . . :)

Nevets: That would work, certainly, with one perspective the lesser evil--it would be a whole different way of looking at a situation. One antagonist's moral compared to the other's.

Clarissa: I'd certainly like reading a book with chapters like that!

I've creeped myself out with my own writing, too, once or twice. :P

Jules: I was just over at your blog, reading your post. :)

Angela: I'll have to look up Greg Iles . . . okay, now I know who he is!

There is a distinction between being "evil" and just believing in things differently. And 3rd person can also change the overall feel of the book, true.

Quinn: Writing from the antagonist's perspective can be a lot of fun, I find.

Some characters can be a little "too good"--if there's too much about nobility, honor, etc. . . it can get a little dull, frankly, although in life those are good things.

Colene: Sympathy for the evil one--that is an interesting way of tugging the reader's heartstrings. :P

I wouldn't want to be writing from the mindset of someone really evil, either. Too much bad.

Brian: Hi, Brian! :) Thanks for coming by my blog. I agree about the reader's imagination; something has to attract it!

Hope you have a great weekend, too!

Old Kitty: Yes, it makes sense! It can be interesting to see how a reader can actually make connections between themselves and the antagonist--qualities can be for both good AND evil!

Thanks, Old Kitty!

The Golden Eagle said...

Lee: Character who are well-intentioned but maybe not so much through their actions can be fascinating to read about.

Caricatures, stereotypes, cliches . . . protagonists and antagonists who are that way aren't very engaging. But it is amazingly satisfying when the protagonist strikes a hit. :D

Jen: Cool! I can definitely see devoting part of a trilogy to explaining the way a villain thinks, and why he does what he does.

Thank you!

Have a great weekend yourself! :)

Holly: That makes sense. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, as they say.

Carolyn: I love that book. I hope that you enjoy it!

Kiki: I hope you have fun, if you do decide to try it out!

Nancy: True, villains don't often consider themselves to be the villain when they're committing the crimes; but when they do consider themselves to be the villain, it's even more interesting.

I saw that! Great post, Nancy!

Theresa: I didn't even think of something like that, but absolutely! Harry and Voldemort did share a connection--but it was their actions that kept them apart, as Dumbledore said.

Really? I should go over and check it out!

Angela: I love complex stories, probably part of the reason I use the antagonists' points of view in my story.

Right! ;)

Stephen: The protagonist through the eyes of the antagonist can be an interesting perspective!

Cherry: Hello, Cherry! Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting! :)

Lynda: Nope, very, very few people are 100% evil. It isn't all that likely--there's got to be something in that evil that might not be considered bad.

Madeleine: Good idea! She'd act as a foil against the other characters, who have a different view.

The Words Crafter said...

I'm trying to get around and visit everyone and saw this! I'm touched that my post provoked such inner pondering.

It helps me to know him, his past, his thoughts and beliefs. In many stories, it's fine for the antagonists to be kept in the shadows. In others, they need to be seen. Even if only in glimpses.

I try to be very careful how I write his scenes-I don't want to expose his psyche (most people wouldn't be able to read it), just give nuggets, like the passing of a shadow over the soul, so that the mc's reactions contain true fear and horror.

Thanks again, and I admire your bravery. Also, I'm terribly interested now in what you're writing....

jewelknits said...

I'm not a writer, but as a reader, I do like seeing different perspectives of the same story. I think it sometimes helps to know what twisted kind of thinking is causing the bad situation in the first place. It doesn't make me like the antagonist any more, but it gives me a deeper feel for the story.

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries

The Golden Eagle said...

The Words Crafter: I made sure to link to your post--it's unlikely I would have thought of this post without it!

Glimpses can be scarier than the whole thing, since there's so much possibility behind them.

It's kind of a mixed bag, my story; there's Science Fiction/Space Opera stuff in it, but also a lot about revolution.

Julie: It does that for me, too--a better idea of the story as whole, instead of from just one angle.

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