How are you doing?
If you’re getting in your 1667 words per day, you should have hit 10,000 words yesterday.
Maybe you haven’t quite gotten there. I give you a huge congratulations if you have written anything!
For some of you, this may be the first time you’ve gotten a lot of words down in a concerted effort. For others this is old hat.
How Bad is Your Big Bad?
For a story to keep readers reading, it needs a constant level of tension, conflict or worry. What’s going to happen? Will the hero avoid disaster? Will he achieve his goal? Will the right two people get together?
If your story doesn’t have you excited to write what’s next, chances are the reader isn’t going to be on the edge of his seat to turn the page (or screen) either.
Let’s take a look at the villain or opponent.
If he/she/it isn’t a big enough concern, then let’s find a way to make it bigger and badder.
4 Elements Every Opponent MUST Have
It has to be bigger and badder than your hero.
The hero and the reader should constantly be afraid of this opponent. If not, then there’s not much tension. Of course, readers are going to know your hero wins in the end, but you need to make that hero work for that win.
The opponent must hurt the hero or someone/something he loves
The opponent has to make his life hell in the meantime. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, the opponent must have the power to inflict it and you must show this in the story. The pain or damage must escalate up to the final battle/conflict scene where it’s do or die.
The stakes must be high
If your hero’s goal is wimpy, the reader isn’t going to be engaged while he fights for it. Make sure the consequences of not getting the goal or high.
Death should be a real and overwhelming possibility. Whether it’s physical or emotional death, make it seem real to the characters and the reader.
The opponent must believe he is right or justified in his pursuit of the goal or hero
Unless you’re writing a James Bond novel, the opponent has to have a goal that can be justified to the point where the reader might believe it too. Making your opponent some psycho with no reason for his behavior isn’t something the reader can get behind and feel some inner conflict.
Of course, you don’t want the reader on the villain’s side, but if the villain’s goal is so outrageous, your reader is not going to necessarily believe the worst will actually happen. Give the opponent a goal and an appropriate motivation.
Now take a look at what you’ve written and what you’ve got planned for future scenes. Take a look at your character sheets, including your opponent sheet. (If you don’t have an opponent sheet, make one today!)
Ask yourself these questions:
What are the stakes here? What kind of death does that opponent threaten? Loss of a loved one, a job, his own death, a planet dies or explodes…
You get the idea. If your hero isn’t concerned about some type of death, find something to scare him with. Right now. Write it on a Post-it.
- Joe’s biggest fear is that Henry is going to kill him.
- Fred’s biggest fear is that Rachel is going to get the promotion and ruin his career.
- Senator Nolan is afraid of losing the election to his opponent who will put forward terrible legislation.
What’s the worst thing that will happen if the opponent wins?
Can the opponent actually achieve these things and how?
Make some of those fears come close to happening. Give the hero a few close shaves. His car is run off the road. The senator’s opponent runs a negative campaign full of lies. The boss gives Rachel an important project while Fred has to deal with some BS.
How will he hurt the hero or his loved ones in the process? Make a list. Really. Write them down and place them in the story, whether it’s your outline or scene list.
What is driving the opponent?
Revenge, money, love? All those familiar motivations for crimes and misdeeds. Pick one.
If you don’t have a character sheet for the opponent, make one right now. Even if it’s an organization or nebulous concept. Ideally, you should know your villain as well as you know the hero. Why? Because you need for the hero to know and fear the villain for his own legitimate and overwhelming reasons.
Give your opponent a backstory and dig into not only his goal and motivation, but how far he’ll go to achieve it. Who or what will he destroy? Why does he do it? How would he explain it if Anderson Cooper interviewed him? Why is the hero in his way? How will he get around the hero?
An opponent who has his own strengths and weaknesses can make a more complicated and interesting story. What if the opponent is the hero’s childhood friend? What if he wants the exact same thing the hero wants? What inner conflict can the villain cause for the hero? Would the hero ever want the other guy to win? If you’re writing a romance, you may have the hero doubt himself when he compares himself with a rival.
All of these techniques add layers to the opponent, the hero, and to the conflict between them. They will keep readers reading. They will also add many new ideas for scenes for you to write!
If you cannot answer those questions, then sit down for a while until you can.
Unless your opponent or his actions are an overwhelming and constantly overhanging fear, there’s not enough for the hero to worry about.
If you already have answers to all of those questions, ask yourself:
How can I make it even worse, scarier, more likely?
Bump up the stakes and you’ll keep the hero and the reader constantly worried, which moves the story forward and drags the reader right along with it.