Sometimes it’s the little things…
Writing antagonists can be almost too much fun. Of course, we don’t want to make the ALL bad. We need to show them as balanced human beings. But when you first introduce an unpleasant character, how do you show he’s unpleasant?
I thought we’d take a little stroll through The Summer of No Regrets, so you could meet a favorite nasty character of mine, Webster Lampson, the college advisor of Brigitta’s sister, Mallory.
A red Porsche was parked outside. Out of it climbed a tall, thin man with a brown beard. He wore a Greek fisherman’s cap and a tidy raincoat. Mom extended her hand. “I’m Clare,” she said. “I was expecting Alana. Are you here to see the dorms?”
The guy took her hand. “No, actually, I don’t know an Alana. I’m Webster Lampson. I’m here to collect Mallory.” He winced as a raindrop hit his face.
Mom’s smile wavered. “Ah!” she said. “Mallory is not here. She’s running some errands for me. Won’t you come in?”
Webster Lampson studied us, the driveway, the entrance of The Center. He was getting wet. “Yes,” he said, “I think I will.”
I’m not good at guessing ages, but this guy was old. Almost as old as my parents. He must have been like forty or something.
Dad was in his office tapping numbers into a ten-key when we came into the foyer. “Paul,” Mom stuck her head in. “We have a visitor.”
Dad came out wearing his wolf sweatshirt. His ponytail was held with this bone and feather thing that dangled from the nape of his neck. “Paul Schopenhauer,” he shook Webster Lampson’s hand.
“Schopenhauer,” Webster Lampson grinned. “Mallory tells me that great German mind was a relative of yours.”
“Distant cousin,” said Dad. “You aren’t here about the Indigo Children?”
Webster chuckled. “I should say not,” he said, “though I have heard of their movement. An article on pseudoscience in one of the journals.”
I disliked him more moment by moment.
- List the small actions that give you a feel for Webster’s character (e.g. wincing when a raindrop hits him.)
- How would you describe the way Webster speaks? List some of his distinctive word choices.
- List some descriptive details about Webster. (clothing, belongings, physical characteristics)
- From what you’ve read above, how would you describe Webster to a friend?
- Now, choose two of your own characters. For each, list
- two small actions (e.g. nervous tapping)
- two descriptive details. (e.g. neon green sneakers, tattoo of a sailing ship.)
- two ways of speaking/word choices (e.g. polysyllabic words/ “multitude of reprehensible behaviors”)
- Write a short dialogue between your protagonist and another character, using these details to show the distinctive personality of each.
- Post it in the comments!
- Come join us at Bellevue College for Cultivating Complex Characters!