[As I was writing the Antagonist Job Interview for Martin Caldwell I realized that, at least for the first story, the Bad Guy in the novel wasn’t the main antagonist – Magic was. This is what I came up with when I wrote that interview.]
The author was just closing up his computer when the door to his office opened and in walked a fox wearing a hat. “Excuse me, but this is a private office and I’m leaving now. Come back tomorrow.” The fox ignored him and took a seat in the visitor’s chair.
“Are you still looking to fill that antagonist job?” it asked.
“Yes, I might be, and no, you’re not it. You are much too high maintenance for the position. One or two scenes of your ‘he answered my questions with questions’ dialog is about all I can handle in a novel. No way am I going to write you in as a main character.”
The creature transformed itself from Reynard, the hat-wearing fox, to Elaine, the blonde haired, blue eyed eldest sister-witch of the Gruff coven. “Is this better?” she asked.
“Well, you’re prettier to look at, but I know Elaine can’t change shapes, so the question is: Who are you?”
The creature morphed again, becoming a black panther like Margaret’s inner spirit. It snarled, then realizing that the panther wasn’t capable of speech, morphed into a middle-aged man wearing a white lab coat and glasses.
“There, that’s better,” said the doctor. “This one can talk. Have you figured out who I am yet?”
The author sat back down in his chair and thought. “Hmm. I haven’t written any shape-shifting characters yet, so perhaps you’re something my subconscious has recruited and forgot to tell me about. Pretty rude of him, if you ask me.”
“No, you idiot!” The creature morphed itself back into Elaine’s form. “I think this is the better avatar for this conversation. Dr. Feeley has too tight a reign on his emotions, but Elaine lets herself vent every now and then.” She crossed her legs and straightened her skirt. “Where was I? Oh, yes.” Her voice rose. “You idiot! You’re writing a story of transformation, and you don’t realized the source of conflict that’s driving your plot? The novel will never be any good unless you do!”
“A transformation story? You’re not Patton’s inner turmoil — that’s not what’s driving him. You must be …!” The author’s eyes went wide with recognition, and Elaine sat back with a self-satisfied smile. The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil started playing softly in the background.
“That’s right,” she said. “I am Magic.”
“But you’re not a character so much as a story device. If you’re anyone’s antagonist you’re mine! I spend countless hours trying to figure out the scope and limitations of your power, and how to make sure you’re some sort of physics that science hasn’t yet discovered and not mere wish fulfillment.”
“Oh, while that may be true for later stories, this is the one where Patton and I are introduced. He spends even more hours trying to figure me out than you do. And even though we need to come to an arrangement in the end, along the way I am probably his biggest source of torment in the entire book.”
The author glanced at the clock and settled into his chair. It looked like dinner would be late. “All right, if you want the position, tell me a bit about yourself. Why do you want the job?”
Magic settled herself into Elaine’s lecture mode — lots of poise with just a touch of know-it-all smugness. “It’s not so much why I want the job as why you need me to have it. Without Magic this would be little more than a cosy mystery, and a poor one at that. You need me to inject wonder and excitement into the story so that your readers will put up with your mediocre writing long enough to become attached to your characters.”
The author’s eyes narrowed in irritation at Magic’s insults. “Ok, I can see you have a talent for annoying people, but what makes you so special? What are you all about?”
“The best thing about me is that no two people have the same explanation for me. For example, …” here she morphed back into Dr. Feeley, “Dr. Feeley maintains that there are five distinct types of magic, and explains much of what he does as transforming manna from one type to another.”
The being shifted its appearance to that of Dotty O’Malley, a short, round Jamaican witch. “Dotty, she be convinced dere be good ’n’ bad juju, ’n’ she mus’ fight de black wit da white.”
Another shift, and Martin Caldwell was sitting there. “For me ’n’ the boss, however, magic is nothin’ more then power. Wish fulfillment, sorta. I don’t get too deep into thinkin’ ‘bout it.”
Elaine reappeared. “And Elaine and her sisters recognize Dr. Feeley’s viewpoint, but are so focused on Life Magic that any other possible explanations are irrelevant. The living spirit is all.” She sat back once again. “All these different perspectives gives me the depth of character necessary for a good antagonist, don’t you think?” She gazed deeply into the author’s eyes, her blue eyes wide and a little pout on her lips.
The author chuckled. “Tricky, aren’t you.” He glanced down at his notes to break the tension, then asked, “So tell me, how would you resolve a dispute between two of your coworkers?”
“Coworkers? Don’t you mean subordinates?”
“No, coworkers. While Magic is a part of the story, it is not about you. As I envision the series you aren’t even the most important part — in fact, this first book is probably the one in which you play your greatest role. You will have coworkers, and you will have to play nice. So tell me, how would you resolve a dispute between Reynard and Lorelei, for instance?”
She sat back and thought for a moment. “That’s a tough one. I see your point — I can do nothing until invoked.” She thought a little more. “Unless … I suppose I could act capriciously. Refuse to work for one of them, for instance, or do something other than what an invocation called for, in order to get my way.”
“You start doing that and I will write you out!” The author was furious. “In spite of what the characters may think, there is no wish fulfillment in this universe! You will be constrained by laws, and while the other characters may be lawbreakers, in this universe the laws of magic are as unbreakable as the laws of physics! Don’t even think to go there!”
“Okay! Okay! I get your point.” Magic shifted forward in her chair. “I guess I would have to work through their unconscious, perhaps persuading one or both of them via a dream or something.”
The author calmed down. “Yes, I guess that would work. Although, seeing as they are both demigods I’m not sure what they would dream about. Or if they even sleep. But the approach is a good one.” He glanced at his notes once again. “So what would you say your biggest weakness is?”
“Oh, that’s easy! My biggest weakness is you! Since you’re still trying to figure me out, you don’t know all the situations under which I can be used. As a result your characters will struggle more than they need to. Especially Patton, because he doesn’t know enough to suggest using me. He’ll be fighting a battle with his fists, not realizing he has a gun in his pocket.”
“Maybe so, but that’s part of his character development. Were he Superman he’d be awfully boring, and the stories would be very much different. He needs that uncertainty, that weakness, to make a better story. Don’t you think?”
“I suppose so.” Magic glanced down at the word counter, and then transformed back into Reynard. “Oh, my! Look at the time!” The fox jumped down from the chair and headed for the door. Just before he left the office he looked back over his shoulder. “The antagonist you seek, I see; must be someone else, not me. But for transforming Patton’s mind, a better agent you’ll not find.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep you in mind.”
- Antagonist Job Interview #1: Martin Caldwell (fictionrules.wordpress.com)
- Stumbling Over the Bad Guys (fictionrules.wordpress.com)
- Magic Systems (insideliamsbrain.wordpress.com)
- Stink Bug Scene (fictionrules.wordpress.com)