Agonising over Antagonists: Part Three

In a series you need more than one BBT. As each book concludes, your hero needs to defeat bigger and bigger BBTs.

In Zelda you have several different dungeons, and as you go on through the game the BBTs become more and more difficult to defeat.

This is how it should be in your books too.

If you have a trilogy then there should be three BBTs, each more troublesome than the last. And the stakes need to grow too. The hero needs more to lose than ever by the time they reach the end of the third book.

Each book needs a conclusive end, which is why each book needs its own BBT and its own Big Boss Battle. Just like each dungeon in Zelda has its own Boss. If the hero can just walk out and take his prize then it’s boring. Give them something to lose, and give them a BBT who can make that happen, and give them absolutely no out – they have gone through the ‘Door of No Return’, now it is do or die.

Within the game as a whole you can see the examples of this idea about the series of books.

Scene Antagonists

So to begin with we have the little monsters that roam the land, getting in our way along our journey – our Scene Antagonists. They are an inconvenience and, if they strike at the right time, they can bring a whole lot of harm to our hero. (Again, anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’, even friends of our hero.) But they aren’t the main thing we’re worrying about.

There will also be bigger antagonists – the more dangerous monsters – included in the Scene Antagonists category, both roaming the land and milling about the dungeons. Again these are linked to BBT (either delegates of the BBT of the book, or the bigger BBT of the series). These guys cause a lot more harm than the little monsters, but are again not the main worry here.

Emissaries (Book BBTs)

Now here is where it is different to the dungeons. Our dungeon bosses are the Emissaries here, the ones who can do us more harm than the littler everyday monsters, and even the bigger ones, found in the kingdom and in the dungeons too.

These guys can pose as BBTs to throw our hero off course. These guys are the BBTs in each book as the series go on and the hero must face each of them in a Big Boss Battle, and they can do some serious damage too, and even set back the hero should they lose. But again they aren’t the main problem.

Central BBT

Our main BBT in Zelda is Yuga/Ganon, the guy causing all the problems. Now our main BBT has to be introduced in the FIRST BOOK. (Don’t worry, I found this difficult too – my series was going to go on and on, never defeating the antagonist until the end. But we can’t do that!)

He/she cannot just come out of left field. Maybe they aren’t introduced as an antagonist (though it is probably better that they are – but introducing them as just a regular character, but secretly pulling all the strings backstage would add a bit of mystery…) but they have to be brought to the fore AT THE START. And they cannot be the BBT in each book, and the hero will only face off against them in the final Big Boss Battle.

If the hero does face them before the end, THEY MUST LOSE. The story has to show them learning what they need to, and piecing everything together, so that they CAN defeat the BBT in the final battle.

Remember: without our antagonist there is no conflict, and with no conflict there is no book. In Zelda we are introduced to Yuga at the beginning, at the Inciting Incident, and the whole way through we know that we are fighting him at the Big Boss Battle at the end. (Ideally, this would be true of your book too). All the dungeons along the way present smaller BBTs, but we are essentially still fighting him since he is the one who has deployed the Bosses. This must also be true in your story.

 

So to sum that up: In a series…

  • Each scene must have an antagonist. Anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’ for a while. These antagonists cause the small scale conflict, for example, opposing the smaller decisions the hero makes, or maybe it is a representative of the BBT sent to get in the way.
  • Each book must have its own BBT. These can be the representatives of the main BBT. The hero doesn’t realize that they were just a representative until the next book when there is a bigger BBT (again, another representative, until the final book where we the meet the main BBT in the Big Boss Battle to end all Big Boss Battles).
  • There must be an overall BBT of the series, who causes the Inciting Incident, who changes the hero’s world, and is responsible for everything. So, in a trilogy, we are introduced to the BBT in Book One, though maybe we don’t know they are the main BBT. Up to you. But we need to see them at the start (and the whole way through, at least a little, they can’t just disappear for the next two books worth – we must at least hear of them a bit), and the hero needs to face them in the Big Boss Battle to end all Big Boss Battles at the end of the series.

I hope that all makes sense.

Of course, as in all things, there can be exceptions. Perhaps you do have the same BBT for each book. Perhaps he is not defeated in one (making it a tragedy), and then is defeated in the next. Or maybe he is defeated in each one. Being defeated does not necessarily mean the BBT has to be destroyed. But he has to be defeated. He cannot reach his goal. His plans must be thwarted. I think you get the idea.

 

Some explanation on the inciting incident for anyone unfamiliar with the term. Should you want to look more at structure, where I explain this amongst other things, I have done a post on the Four Part Story Structure.

Back to the Inciting Incident. This is the moment that the hero’s life changes – and the BBT (the main one) has to be responsible for this. In Zelda this is when Yuga kidnaps a girl called Seres after turning her into a painting. Link tries to stop him but at the moment he is not strong enough to defeat Yuga. This must also be true in your book – your hero must grow and change, as Link does, to become the ‘true’ hero they need to be to defeat the BBT. If they were to face the BBT at the start, as Link does, then they will fail, as Link does.

Now at this point the BBT has been introduced. We don’t know exactly what he is doing, or what he wants, but we know who it is and we know that whatever they want is bad and conflicts with our hero’s views/goals. But, this is not the moment the hero picks up their sword and goes running off after the BBT. (I mean, technically, Link kind of does, but when he does face the BBT again, he does so too soon and fails. Again.) There must be a conscious choice to take up the metaphorical (or literal depending on your story) sword and go after the BBT. This takes them through the ‘Doorway of No Return’, and they cannot go back to the way things were – and they made the conscious choice to allow that (though circumstances may force their hand). But the Big Boss Battle will not be until the end. If it is any sooner, the hero must fail. (And maybe this does have to happen for the Black Moment… But this is not the Big Boss Battle.)

 

So, that’s it for today. Next time we will be looking at getting to know our antagonists, and how important it is to know them just as well as our protagonists.

 

I would love to hear from you, so please comment with any thoughts you have. I would appreciate your feedback.

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