“This is not my story”

One of my favorite movies is Sucker Punch.  One of my favorite scenes in the movie (spoiler alert) is when the main character turns to the her fellow inmate and says, “This was never my story, it’s yours. Now don’t screw it up ok?”  It changed the entire perspective of the movie for me.

That’s exactly the same perspective vertigo I underwent when I read the following from writer E. J. Patten:

“The antagonist determines plot. If you’re having a hard time figuring out your plot, look at it from the eyes of your antagonist. Your antagonist wants something and the protagonist is getting in their way. The story starts when the antagonist makes their first move … The protagonist reacts … The antagonist makes another move … The protagonist reacts … and on and on until the protagonist takes the initiative, forces the antagonist to react, and saves the day.”

I have struggled with one aspect of the novel I’m writing.  I felt like the protagonist was being too passive and needed stronger motives to push the plot forward.  In the past, I have mostly considered the story from the perspective of the protagonist, using the antagonist as a means to drive the story forward, but not looking at the antagonist as the primary motivator driving the plot.  The antagonist was more of a “plot device” than the primary plot driver.

Sure, I considered what the antagonist wanted, but my perspective was always viewed through the protagonist’s eyes.  This makes sense, since that is the point of view of the third person limited narrative of my novel.  However, it paints the “bad guy” in tones that are not as vibrant as the ones you probably use to render your “good guys.”  And that’s a problem because, for me at least, the most memorable books are the ones with the most dynamic, quirky, and driven antagonists.

By not truly putting myself in my antagonist’s shoes other than for the scenes in which they were the point of view character, I was selling my story short.  When I thought of the plot arc of the entire story from the viewpoint of the antagonist, with the protagonists as pesky “do-gooders” that were the ones frustrating their well-laid plans, a whole new world opened up for me.  My story deepened, broadened, and became stronger.

Now, when I get to a point in the plot that feels like it has begun to sag, I picture my antagonist pointing to my protagonist and saying, “This is not your story.  It never was.”  Then I imagine the story from the antagonist’s perspective.  Give it a try and let me know if this works for you as well as it has for me.

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