The Opposition Exercise

James Scott Bell wrote a book called Plot and Structure. In this book, Mr. Bell talks about many things that helped me move my premise forward into a series of events and characters that constitute the story in The Gifted series. In this blog, I'd like to talk about something specific in his book that just blew my mind when I read it.

On page 80 of his book, Mr. Bell says, "Then ask yourself, 'Why do I love my opposition character?'" Mr. Bell continued by explaining, "Climbing into the opposition's skin will give you an empathetic view, and a better character will result."

I couldn't believe what he was saying. How can one "love" the bad guy? I thought about the oppositions characters in the books I'd read and in the movies I'd seen, but I couldn't wrap my head around this concept. I mean, think about it. Who was the the Dark Lord in the Lord of the Rings? With questions like this on my mind, I went to my writing group that night and while we waited for it to begin, I asked another member if he understood why you need to love the opposition. He smiled and said, "Sure." He went on to list several opposition characters and what he liked about each. 

It's then that I realized I didn't have to "love" the opposition, not literally. What I needed to do was understand him (or her of course). Who was he? What makes him behave the way he does?

So, in addition to the simple descriptive facts included in his persona, I realized I needed to know his story. So I wrote it. I actually wrote two back stories for the opposition. In each, I forced myself to identify his motive for being the way he is. As the story and the world grew, I realized the second back story that I had written was going to be the one that would support his motives and allow me to carry the epic forward.

What do I mean about a back story? Consider the Joker and the Riddler from the Batman series. They don't simply appear on the scene, having been born the villain. Events in their lives shaped them into the characters they became. Now, I'm not saying they weren't already a little touched in the head, most opposition characters are (assuming they are bad guys). But their personas were shaped by events in their lives, needs they had, etc.

Whether Mr. Bell would agree with my interpretation of his comment or not, I thought I'd share with you that writing the back story for my opposition character gave me some important threads with which I could weave my story.