Home > Fiction, Lessons, Novel > The Awful Thing About Life is This:

The Awful Thing About Life is This:

I don’t remember where I first heard this quote, but its original source is Jean Renoir (that Renoir’s son). He said, “The awful thing about life is this: Everyone has his reasons.”

My primary antagonist in Wolf has his reasons, too. In the first couple of drafts, I just didn’t make those reasons as obvious as I might’ve. Today, I have spent the bulk of my effort explaining his reasons.

This is important work. Unless the primary antagonist in a piece of fiction is supernatural, he should have perfectly good reasons for what he does. He, almost certainly, thinks of himself as the hero of the story and the protagonist as the villain. This helps make a story more true to life (verisimilitude won’t go away). Osama bin Laden, Hitler, or Stalin surely all thought, or think, themselves heroes not monsters.

If I can convey my antagonist’s point of view in such a way as to make my protagonist doubt himself, I think I score a victory. We all want to cheer for the ‘good-guy’ and we all want the ‘good-guy’ to win, but there’s only one, true good-guy. The rest of us are varying percentages of evil. Which means, unless the protagonist is a pure Christ figure, he’s probably done wrong and gotten things wrong himself. Which means he should be forced to doubt the virtue of his actions.

The trick, for my money, is highlighting this without making the protagonist and the antagonist so similar no one cares. I like the idea of the anti-hero, and in some ways that what my protagonist in Wolf is. He has certainly strayed far from the path of the righteous. But I don’t really want a leprous, atheistic, rapist as my protagonist, either. I want the protagonist to be more of a ‘good-guy’ than the antagonist is.

Hopefully, my work today helps shine some light on my villain’s villainy. I hope it does, because he, too, has his reasons.

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