Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Protagonist's Worst Antagonist

The best part of reading a novel is discovering who the antagonist is.  In many stories, there is more than one.  Which bad character makes the worst antagonist?    I believe it is none other than the protagonist facing him/herself.

Many stories start out simple enough with the antagonist clearly defined, but as the story takes its twists and turns, we find the protagonist is often faced with the worst villain of all to vanquish - his own thoughts, fears, or ego.

So it is in 'Always.'  As the first few chapters unfold, we see April as a humorous antagonist; her uncle as a minor antagonist.  April has had a crush on our protagonist Simon since she can remember and now at 16 years old, she has decided it's time to open his eyes to love.

At the beginning of our story we learn that Simon Isaac Umbridge is 36 years old.  He was an only child, whose parents died when he was in his early 20's.  He dated his best friend's sister off and on for years.  Their relationship has ended.  His best friend married not long after the demise of Simon's parents. Simon is alone except for his Personal Assistant, Lester, who at the age of 54 also takes on the role of fatherly counseling.

Simon prefers a loner life to the emotional pains of relationships.  His only goal is to build his fortune so when he is elderly, he will not have to worry about money.  To Simon, this is an uncomplicated life and he is content to live this way.  Uncannily, Lester and he are much alike:  they are formal in their speaking, in their choice of clothes, and in their dealings with others.   It helps to distance them from anyone else.  Or is it uncanny?  We find out Lester's true motive halfway through the book.

Simon was raised by good parents in Northampton, in England.  His mother was an accomplished woman, his father skilled in business.  Simon could find but one way to make his father proud of him and that is with Simon's boxing skills.  The Umbridges have a long proud line of boxers and Simon is a natural.  With his childhood frustrations and inability to talk anything but business with his father, Simon learned to release his frustrations and emotions in a boxing match.  He has never lost.  Now as an adult, he has turned to a good bottle of Scotch, and when that doesn't work, he's on the hunt for a good fight.

Simon's best friend, Dixon, is also April's uncle.  Dixon loves life.  He lives for daily adventures.  To him, a successful endeavor is when he can complicate Simon's uncomplicated life.  Simon puts up with Dixon's antics because they are friends.  Or so Simon believes.  You see, Simon cannot even admit to himself that he has fun with Dixon and that all people have emotions.  He is sure he has complete control over himself and any situation, thus creating the most difficult antagonist - his cold uncomplicated self.

Will April succeed in opening Simon's heart, helping him to defeat his arch enemy?  Why is Lester in Simon's life?  Of course I am not going to give that part away.  What I am going to do is share some of Simon's thoughts and conversations.

I hope you enjoy reading about my main character and see the good in him that does exist in every single one of us, no matter how much any of us try to hide it.

The beginning of the first chapter.  (from here, I will add snippets from the book)

Chapter One
An Uncomplicated Life
     Unable to sleep with his surfaced emotions, he attempted to drown his persistent thoughts in a bottle of Scotch. “Damn Dixie.  Damn all women.”  He pulled himself out of bed, downed a large swallow, and dressed.  He needed to release the demons haunting him. He knew what he must do.  It never failed.
     He splashed cold water on his face and ran his hand through his hair.  “Pull it together, man.  I must make them think they’re setting me up.  Easy enough to do.  There are plenty of idiots out there.”  He flexed his fingers and hands several times while staring at himself in the mirror.  His jaw set tight, his right thumb jerked.  He had no doubt he could find an opponent.  One quick conflict and he’d release his haunting memories.  He dried his face, took one last look, put on his jacket, and headed out to brawl.
He left the hotel and wandered through the streets until he found a pub still open in the wee hours. 
Looks like the perfect neighborhood.” 
He wobbled up to the bar.  Talking loudly, slurring his words and acting drunk, he ordered a Scotch straight up and slammed down a wad of cash.  He watched from the corner of his eye as she sauntered over and sat next to him.  She bought him another drink and flirted briefly before she invited him to her apartment. He agreed.  Her accomplice stayed off to the side, his eyes and ears glued on their every move. 
     She led him down a deserted alley and he entered, feigning naivety.  When they had walked a distance from the main road, he heard the pursuer run towards them.  He smiled and leaned down as if to kiss her.  Quickly, he turned to face his opponent, still holding her arm.  The fool had run towards him as expected.
He caught them both off guard.  His right thumb rapidly twitched as he shoved the woman hard into the wall then walloped the man in the jaw. She stifled a cry as she slid down.  His attacker stumbled backwards and dropped the board he had been carrying. 
He jabbed and hooked in rapid succession to release his pent-up grief.  The swifter he acted, the better to punch out his anxieties.  He threw shot after shot without thinking, hitting with the most powerful force he could muster.  He projected his fury into his fists, which pounded his rage out into his assailant.  He ended with an uppercut, knowing when to quit.  His attacker fell backwards, unconscious. 
     He turned to look at the woman, his thumb trembling, his jaw tight, his breaths short and quick.  She crouched behind two crates, terrified.  He relaxed his stance, smiled down at her, shrugged, threw her the wad of cash, and walked away.
     “Not again.”  Bloodstains splotched his black leather jacket.  “No matter.  Lester will find a new one for me before we leave tomorrow.”   He took it off and threw it down as he walked back to the hotel.
     Once in his room, he undressed and showered.  He sat on the edge of his bed soaking one hand, then the other, in a bucket of cold water.  He guzzled the last of the Scotch from the opened bottle and passed out.  He slept in a stupor, confidant Lester would handle any problem the next day. 

“I am comfortable with my life as it is.  I am content with my business and my travels.  There is nothing better than finding heirlooms and dickering over them.  I rarely lose.  There will never be anyone more tenacious than I am.  I’ll never change.  I am who I am.”

     “Value?  Again?”  Here Dixon sneezed twice, which sounded like ‘greedy.’  “Other matters are more important than money.  Tomorrow I’ll see Aunt Tillie and go back to the marshland.  Care to ride along?” 
“I’ll pass.  I will have more fun pulling lint off an old sweater.  You can bring me any of my family assets.  I’m sure I can sell them for a decent price.”  
     Dixon laughed.  “You are all about wealth, Simon.  Where’s your sense of adventure?”
     “I don’t see you traveling with me, Duffy.”
     “Well, you should look over your own property.  If I find some treasure there, I will evoke your favorite statement: ‘you find it, it’s yours.’  Maybe I’ll discover a mourning bowl.”  Dixon muffled a cough.
     “It’s finders, keepers, Dixon.  And I collect Murano Glass bowls.  Salviat Latticino, as you well know, are not for mourning.  And you never fool me with your hack.” 
Dixon often hid his humor behind a cough, and Simon was too familiar with Dixon’s behavior. He appreciated the challenges Dixon conceived.  They played this game since the day they met. 
Dixon cleared his throat.  “You’ll join me?    That’s the ticket.”  He waited. 
     “I suppose.  I may find some saleable item at the site.”
     “Grand.  Besides, my niece has arrived from the States.  She’s at Aunt Tillie’s house.  I promised you would be with me.”
     “Dear God.  Your mental niece is back already?  Aren’t any of you Duffs normal?  Pulling lint off a sweater sounds even more inviting now.” 

After dinner, Simon retired to his bedroom.  Lester responded to emails, corrected schedule conflicts, and cleaned up before he finished his tasks.  Their typical day had gone as Simon planned.  It was, Simon stated, a perfectly uncomplicated day.  And uncomplicated is how he expected to live the rest of his life.

April passed around the cups of tea, handing Simon his first.
     “Here you are, dear Simon.”
     Dixon bit his upper lip.
     “Do you want a slice of Aunt Tillie’s gingerbread?  I…I helped her make it.”  April blushed, as she leaned in a little too close to Simon.
     Simon threw himself back hard into the chair to get a proper distance from her and to get away from her fragrance.
     “Great.”  Dixon grabbed a slice and sat back down.  “Who doesn’t like Aunt Tillie’s gingerbread?” 
     Neither April nor Simon moved. 
“Better take a piece.  I think that’s the answer.”  Dixon winked at Simon.
“You do like Aunt Tillie’s gingerbread, don’t you, Simon?”  Asked April as she set the plate down and took a seat.
     Simon couldn’t respond.  April’s unusual method of dealing with him surprised him, not to mention the changes in her appearance.  

“Have you already forgotten, dear chap, we are on a quest to find you love?”
     “To the hunt then.”  Agreed Simon.

“Leave it to you to serve wine out here.  And look how you’re dressed again.  Why must you be formal, even on an outing?  You look like some male model at a photo shoot.”
     “A tuxedo is formal, Duffy, not what I’m wearing.”
     “How kind of you to instruct me on men’s clothing.”  Dixon imitated Simon’s manner of speech, “I will remember to wear the proper clothes based on your standards in the future. 
“Come on, man.  Look at you.  Everything matches, your clothes haven’t a wrinkle, and your hiking boots are highly polished.  I can see my face in them.  I was taken aback.”
     “I understand.  Your face is quite chilling.”
“You’re Simon.  I’m Telulla Moon, April’s friend.  She’s going to lead you to your lover.  Aunt Tillie gave her some alone time today to be with you.”
Dixon sneezed twice, which sounded like ‘set-up.’      
“Moon?”  Asked Simon, ignoring Dixon.
“Like…up…high.”  She spoke slowly and pointed up at the sky, then drew a circle in the air in front of her using both hands.  She acted as though Simon was dimwitted.

Simon followed the girls into the hall.  “April, may I have a moment?” 
The girls turned and waited.
“Telulla, may I be alone with April?”
“Don’t yell at her anymore.” 
Simon looked at April.  “I have no intention of yelling at her.  I am here to apologize.”
Telulla watched them for a moment, and then left the room.
April gazed at Simon.
“First, I must say you look stunning as always, April.  I’ve realized you are not the aggressive tiger I once thought you were.  You are a gentle precious kitten, loving and living as only a kitten can.”
April kept her eyes on him.
“Second, I wronged you.  I apologize for my behavior Sunday night.  You caught me off guard and…” here Simon drew a breath, put his hand on his waist pulling back the waist coat, tightened his jaw, and let the breath out, “I speak honestly. I savored your kiss.  I was frustrated with myself, not you.”
April beamed.
“However, you must promise no actions like that in the future.  You must assure me you will conclude pursuing a romance any further.  I admit I like you more than I should.  No more kisses or any other romantic touches, ok?”
“Ok.  I promise.  I’m sorry too.  It happened so fast.  You don’t hate me?”
“I am rather fond of you, Kitten.” 
“Then I promise to behave.”
“I thought you’d understand.  We are friends?”
“Friends always.”  April wrapped her hand around the necklace.
“Friends.  As friends, may I make a small suggestion?  I don’t think your choice of fragrance works for you.  Try experimenting with some others.”
       April looked at him as a smile crept slowly across her face.  “Oh, Simon, I think it works just the way I want it to.”

LHR, my dear friends.


William Kendall said...

Nicely said, Donna. I think you're right; the notion of a protagonist having to confront their own flaws makes for some compelling writing.

I like the passage, particularly the fighting aspect of it, as it feels very true to the boxer aspect of the character. Words like jab and hook, for example, are very much in the vocabulary of a boxer.

DM said...

Oh, William, thank you so much! You know how I value your comments. I am honored.

Beth said...

I think you're right that often the biggest fights are within ourselves (or in the case of fiction, within our characters)...they can cause themselves so much pain and grief from their very own thoughts.

I have read a few chapters and they are very good....see, Donna, I'm not the only one...! Believe in yourself!!

DM said...

Beth, lol. You are soooo right. Thank you.

Roger Lawrence said...

I like the inner torment and look forward to the next instalment.

The Desert Rocks said...

In the beginning is that Dixon or Simon? I enjoyed his inner drama and I also wanted a little physical description of the first woman and what she might look like. Later on I wanted more about April's physical characteristics--sorry Donna I like to visualize everything. In summary though, I loved this little snippet of your writing. Thanks.

DM said...

Roger, thank you so much. I also value your opinion.
The Desert Rocks, thank you for what you said. It is Simon in the beginning. Taking snippets leaves a lot of info out. I will send the description of April. Thank you for your curiosity.

Christina Williams said...

Great passage, Donna. I admit I was in a hurry and tried to just skim over it, but I was pulled in with the fighting bit. It seems so realistic...the perfect amount of detail in the physical movements. And it's an excellent point in the beginning. I think every protagonist should have to face themselves as their own worst enemy. It's the basic sub-plot of the main character's inner struggle. It's really what helps a character take the reader on a journey and gives the reader see the protagonist come through the story with some sort of knowledge or healing or personal growth. It is truly necessary in order for the story to have depth and for the reader to deeply connect w/the protagonist.

DM said...

Christina, what a great comment. Thank you. I loved the way you described this.

Barbara said...

I was also intending to do a quick read and dash off to get on with something else but found myself slowing down and reading every word. I know nothing about writing, but I do enjoy reading – and I enjoyed this.

DM said...

Oh, Barbara, that means so much to me. Thank you very much.

Elizabeth Maginnis said...

Donna, this excerpt leaves me wanting more. Good job!

fOIS In The City said...

Donna, there is a light touch that comes from the heart of a poet when she writes in any other style. This piece is a perfect example of that touch. Thanks so much for sharing it with us today :)

DM said...

Elizabeth, thank you for your comment, and for your help in this.

Florence, I have been told before my poetic side comes out in my writing. I could wish for no less. Considering how much you helped me in the early stages of this, I thank you deeply.

Joleene Naylor said...

Enjoyed the snippets!

"I understand. Your face is quite chilling." made me literally laugh out loud! Simon seems like a very interesting character!

Donna Yates said...

Joleene, thank you for your comment and for enjoying that line. Yes, Simon is quite a character.