Writer’s Tools: Cut, Paste, and Delete

In Ghost Roads, I’d finished the whole thing, edited it all, sent it to beta readers, thought it was ready, and then gave it to my editor. She came back with one simple question that ended up in a great deal of revision.

Luckily, this time I realized the vital question about half way through book four. I’m busy cutting, pasting, and deleting at the moment.

Book four is tentatively titled Sunshine On My Shoulders. I recently realized that I kept jumping back and forth between who the antagonist was. I thought it was one character, then had a brilliant (so I thought) light bulb moment when I realized that no, it was this character. Then a week or so later, I had another light bulb moment.

I’ve gone through a lot of light bulbs.


I thought I was struggling to find the right antagonist because that’s what keeps changing.

So I went to Janice Hardy’s excellent book, Revising Your Novel, and the section on what to do if you think you have the wrong antagonist. She says one issue might not be the antagonist himself, but the core conflict or premise of the novel.

And that’s it. Not the antagonist at all, but the victim. Because I hadn’t discovered how exactly the victim tied to the core conflict. In other words, if you don’t know why someone is killed, how can you know who did it? Or why they would do it? My villains were all innocent.

I’ve figured it out. Now I’m using those writer’s tools of cutting, pasting, and deleting. Some things have to happen a little sooner. Some things need to happen immediately after others. Some characters are going to have to wait until the next book. And some characters are going to have to step up and get busy.

It’s actually kind of fun being ruthless with the delete key. And I don’t have to make as many changes as I thought because my subconscious was working and some scenes now make sense. Thank you, subconscious.


Working hard

I’m headed back to do some more cutting and pasting. I think I’m done deleting.

For the moment.

After all, the editor still hasn’t seen this one.


Who’s Your Antagonist?

A friend of mine asked if books always have to include a ‘bad guy’ or if the antagonist can just be ‘life happening’. That made me wonder if the underlying question isn’t actually more along the lines of defining just what an antagonist is.

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Life happening…just quietly. More conflict than you might imagine though!

I know there are genres out there where antagonists are still villains, still the black hats out to destroy the world. But for the most part antagonists these days have to be as multi-layered as everyone else. Believable, in other words, as most of us already know.

But at it’s most basic definition, an antagonist is the one who causes conflict for the protagonist. And that could be anyone. In some ways it almost needs to be all the characters. I think each one should provide some sort of conflict (internal or external). Their purpose for existing in the story must tie into the plot. Even the friend, or supporter, or lover of the protagonist must in some way add conflict. Think about it. How boring would a secondary character be if all she did was be the ever-cheerful, ever-supportive best friend?

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A huge source of conflict for our dog, Vala

And of course the antagonist can be non-human. You have the solitary survivor of a plane crash trying to make it through the bush in Alaska and she’s the only human in the book. But her antagonists are hungry wild animals, nature, her own fears, her own lack of knowledge, etc.


Conflict with Nature. The road lost.

Each antagonist creates something the hero must overcome, adapt to, survive, etc. In that sense, going back to my friend’s question, I suppose depending on the story, the antagonist could be  ‘life happening’. Depending on how that was written. If it’s someone simply dealing with the stresses of long grocery lines, though, those conflicts are going to get mighty boring.

Because us readers want someone to root for, and that means needing someone to root against. Or something to root against. No matter what type of fiction we read, I think we all want to see someone win and someone lose. How they win, or how they lose will depend on the genre, story, market, etc.

And hey, let me just tip my black hat here before I stroll away. Because at the even more basic layer, the author is the biggest antagonist of them all. Think about it. Aren’t we always looking at ways to screw things up for our hero?

What do you think? Does a story always have to have an antagonist? And how do you define one?