Thoughts on narrative perspective part 2: closeup on the antagonist #amwriting

For scriptwriters, the closeup is an essential aspect of pacing. It focuses on one character and shows us details about them and their role that they (the characters) might not be aware of. This importance transfers over to how we show scenes in our written narratives. To get the most out of our words, we who write stories must frame our scenes the way scriptwriters do theirs.

We vary the narrative distance, which is our best tool to show humanity in our characters. The wide view shows the protagonist and their companions as they move through their environment.

Then we narrow the focus, perhaps take it down to a conversation between two people. One person drops out of the conversation, and we are left with the closeup view of our protagonist.

At our closest to them, we are in their heads. We hear their mental ruminations in real-time. By listening to this voice, the reader sees what the characters believe is at stake and how weak or strong they consider their position.

When we are drawn into a character’s head, we view them through the mirror in which they see themselves.

What we, as authors, have to consider is how that mirror is distorted. Never forget that all self-reflections are skewed, often to the positive, but usually toward the negative. We see flaws in ourselves that no one else does, so we don’t usually see ourselves as heroes.

This is because we subconsciously compare ourselves to others. We observe their abilities and are acutely aware of our own vulnerabilities in comparison. So, we strive to better ourselves.

Through manipulating the narrative distance, the author shows how the protagonist regards their companions, and what kind of people they are.

Sometimes, it raises the stakes if the author writes a chapter focusing on the antagonist. Take this opportunity to show us who the antagonist sees when they gaze into the mirror of self-reflection. Since nothing happens without a root cause, we can learn why they oppose the protagonist, and what their strengths are.

Now here is where we can make things interesting. What if the antagonist isn’t trying to be wicked? What if they are fighting for what they believe is the right thing? What if, in their view, they are the heroes who have the moral high ground?

Think of how much evil has come out of civil wars in humanity’s history. Then consider how firmly the opposite sides believed in their moral superiority, and what was lost or gained in the end. All interpersonal disputes are wars, just on a lesser scale.

How will you choose to show this on a smaller, personal level? The closeup shows us who the antagonist believes they are and why they have the right to oppose the protagonist.

Sometimes, if the writer shows little sympathy for the devil, it raises the emotional stakes.

Readers want to understand why the action is happening. Both sides need an opportunity to explore what they perceive as the conflict’s fundamental cause.

Authors show this through internal dialogue, moving out to a broader view with conversations, and expanding again to an external narrative.

As a reader, having hints of what is at stake for the opposition makes me care about the outcome. With the relationship established, we can widen the picture and show what is at stake for both sides. I want to feel a little compassion, or if not that, I want to understand how failing will change the losers’ lives.

Good pacing of narrative distance—moving in close, then widening out, and then moving back in—adds emotional power to the story. This tempo allows the reader to process the information and action at the same time as the characters.

Keep the stakes high and the emotions intense, and I will stay immersed in that book.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Before the Mirror.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Before_the_Mirror.jpg&oldid=462235289 (accessed October 6, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Mirror of the souls.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mirror_of_the_souls.jpg&oldid=478982509 (accessed October 6, 2020).

7 Comments

Filed under writing

7 responses to “Thoughts on narrative perspective part 2: closeup on the antagonist #amwriting

  1. I often must admonish my students to add “thoughts & feelings” (or “T&F”) to what they write. The interesting parts! They know but readers do not, so they must remember to add a few sentences here and there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I try to add thoughts of the antagonist. I do so in my fantasy series, The Wolves of Vimar. I hope it gives readers a clearer picture.

    Liked by 1 person

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