Saturday, November 7, 2015

Antagonists Are Important

Roger and the collected siblings of the Meteor Mass are the main characters of my novel, but they all share a certain oddness. Any story needs conflict, and in Meteor that comes in the shape of a common, garden-variety bully named Darrell Harb.

I've already shared Roger's first glimpse of Harb as the Slurpee thief in Brain Freeze. Now here's their next interaction when Roger heads to Meteor High School for his first day as an incoming freshman:

    Roger was happy to walk onto the high-school grounds with the Mass girls. Perhaps the local protection would help him avoid any oddball behavior for a few days. The Mass twins and Paula May would be freshmen this year too, and might even have classes with him. Gary Mass was already inside; he had AP classes that met at 6 am each day. Roger waved at Jack and Mikey, whose middle school was farther down the street, then ducked through the open gate behind the girls.
    Just inside the school fence, they pulled up short. A folding table had been set up across the sidewalk. Older students flowed around it to either side, but the three boys manning the table stopped the new freshmen. Roger recognized Darrell Harb from the drugstore Slurpee theft. The others were new to him.
    Harb pointed at a sign taped to the front of the table. "Name our band," he proclaimed, "and win a prize!" The wildly-misspelled, hand-lettered banner read 'Howling Cayotees Are No More — $10 prize if You're Name Chosen.'
    In smaller letters across the bottom of the banner, Roger read, '$1 entry fee.' He peeked at the list of names that had been selected, and swiftly counted them. Forty or more were listed on the top page, and it looked like another full page — maybe two — lay beneath that.
    "So you take in the entry fee, and pay out $10 reward to one entrant? Where does the rest of the money go?" 
    Harb's face began to darken, but one of the other boys stepped in between them. "I'm Ernie Ortiz, "E.T." for short, and that's Glen Worrell. We're all in the band, and we want to raise enough to change the graphics on our drum set and buy band jackets. But it's cool, you don't have to enter if you don't want."
    "Wrong, E.T., he's a freshman. They have to enter. The Mormon Mass too. We want a good selection of names to pick from." Darrell Harb was insistent, spreading his arms wide to prevent Julia from passing the table. 
    Her twin laid a dollar down on the table. "How about 'Brain Freeze'?" She smiled sweetly, and Julia laughed when the Ortiz boy and Glen Worrell both said, "Cool!" in chorus. Harb's face got even redder.
    "No, I got it, I got it! The best name ever." Roger dug four quarters out of his back pocket and dropped them on top of Joanna's dollar bill. "You should call the band 'House Of War.' H-O-W for short." He looked at the tight scowl on Darrell's brow, and quickly changed his mind about sharing the whole reason behind his entry. "H-O-W," he said again, "Harb-Ortiz-Worrell. House-Of-War."
    Harb was stunned. The name was perfect — his name was first. Glen's name was last, but 'Worrell' was evoked with 'War', and he knew E.T. wouldn't mind going along with the middle billing. And it sounded way cool.
    "Come on, man, you know that's gotta be our new name!" His band-mates were as enthusiastic as he expected.
    Darrell conceded reluctantly. "Okay, bell's gonna ring in a minute anyway. Although I did kinda like 'Thunder Makers' ..."
    "That's as bad as... What was it?" Ernie flipped the top page up and read with his finger next to an entry, "'Arthurian Legend'." He and Glen clapped out a high-five and chest-bump.
    "Okay! okay!" Darrell counted out ten damply wrinkled ones from his pocket, handing them to Roger. "What's your name, frosh?" His tone was sour and vaguely threatening.
    Roger was rescued by the bell and the Mass girls, who drew him around to the opposite end of the table from Darrell, and onward to the school building.
    The freshmen were directed by signs just inside the door to go to the gym auditorium for first period. Bracketed by the twins, Roger was challenged by Paula May to explain himself. "You thought that name was suitable for more reason than just the boys' initials. I could tell from the way you proposed it."
    "You're right," Roger confessed. "But I had an insight to explain it to them as being from the initials. See, the first time I heard Harb's name, it made me think of 'dar al Harb,' the 'House of War' from Islam. I didn't know he was in a band. And I never heard the other guys' names before this morning."
    The Mass girls and Roger climbed up into the bleachers that had been pulled out to make an 'auditorium' of the gym, and settled next to a small clutch of confused-looking teenagers. "How do you know about Islam?" Paula May was still probing his band-name choice. "Your last school have a class in it?"

    A stout woman in a business suit with a scarf was walking across the gym floor toward the group, her sturdy shoes squeaking on the polished wood. Roger read 'principal' from her clothing, so he whispered his response to Paula May's question. "I read it somewhere, that's all. Now, shhh!"

This sets up the coming conflict between the protagonist, Roger, and the antagonist, Darrell, on several levels, and makes it obvious that Harb's antagonism is not specific to Roger, but is shared widely with anyone he contacts. He's an angry kid, all right.

But it's also important to show the antagonist's internal motivation, remembering that no one sees themselves as the villain of their own story. What makes Harb so angry? How does he see his own behavior? Discovering this, and understanding the bully's behavior in that light, is part of Roger's character development.

Remember the questions Roger must answer: 
Roger has to face his own strange nature and make a momentous decision. Can he become ordinary? Does he even want to try?

I see the antagonist as a warped mirror in which Roger sees one aspect of being "ordinary." At least, that's where I want to take him in this novel.

Word Count: 5481 DoubleUpDay 7 (3034 in Second Session) and 18379 Total