Creating characters from life has been a literal smorgasbord for me. All you have to do is look around you and make your selection from the vast varied of personalities, create a setting where they be their dastardly self and off you go. An antagonistic antagonist is just that – antagonistic. They are characters that are designed to infuriate, frustrate, and in general make the ‘good guy’s’ day miserable. Sometimes, everyone’s whole life, miserable.
Dealing with an antagonistic situation that feels hopeless will absolutely destroy a life. So why when life is full of these times in our lives do we write them into our fiction?
I guess it is the chick pecking out of the egg stamina that life needs to be seasoned with that causes us to do it. But sometimes, enough is enough, is enough already! And another question while I am at it, why do we remember these distasteful characters? Scrooge, Mommy Dearest, come to mind instantly. I think we put them into fiction because sometimes that is where we can control them for a change. In life, they seem to get a go free card. It isn’t fair. It never is. It never will be.
I hate bullies and mental bullies are my worst. I grew up with a mental bully. How he became one, I am not exactly sure, but become one, he did. See if you recognize this character. He/she sucks the air out of any room they walk into. They give spouses reason to retreat into romance novels and their children ulcers. You never know what or when something you say or do will set them off.
An older version of this character tended to come from a stanch English upbringing where children were to be seen and not heard. Where a child’s laughter meant they must be doing something wrong. Where disciplining a child meant having them stand at attention with arms at their sides, looking straight ahead giving complete and undivided attention to their discipliner. A more modern version is what is commonly called a control freak. This bloodthirsty character must be in control at ALL times. One slip of the tongue, one misplaced adjective, reference to or about their character without their permission can produce a verbal emotional gutting. Personal opinions of others are instantly critiqued with a sharp lacerating tongue by these perilous-self-imposed judge-and-jury freaks.
Characters that are ticking time bombs control a scene. Everyone knows they are there and can at any given moment send it into complete mental chaos. There are levels of awareness to this character being present. Those who only have hearsay about how explosive their venomous personality can be, upon seeing they are in the mix, simply become aware. Those who are closer to these menaces have a mental switch that instantly activates a filter that guards all conversation, action and conduct. And then there are those less fortunate who have up-close and personal experience because they have become a publicly gutted and disemboweled example in the literary world.
These poor souls have a sad persona about them. Where once there was a glint of joy in their eyes, now there is a weariness laced with dread. These understudies have an acquired capacity that no one should have to practice. They can walk on eggs, skate across thin ice and do it nearly every second of everyday while living in the lives of the antagonistic control freak; because you never know when that bomb will go off. The simplest misstep, especially on the part of someone who knows better than to challenge this toxic personality, can engulf a scene with verbal pepper spray. No one is safe. The air becomes thick with tension and everyone feels that backlash. But woe unto that one in particular who is the main target of the verbal and emotional lethal weapons posed to go off in their direction without warning.
There has been a great deal in the news lately as the world is becoming less tolerant of bullies. Bullies come in every shape, size, and gender. What absolutely amazes me is how icons have been made of some types of bullies which the world seems to find humorous and entertaining. The one that comes to mind is probably going to give you a moment to reflect – Lucy in the cartoon strip, Peanuts.
Lucy is an iconic bully. She is a self-opinionated, fault finding, bubble bursting antagonist that always seems to delight in ripping Charlie Brown’s world out from under him, along with that stupid football. So why did the creator of Charlie Brown make him such a wishy-washy target of Lucy’s brand of ridicule? In a documentary on Charles Schultz’ there are traces of his association with the shy somewhat melancholy ever-believing Charlie Brown.
Writers often give themselves away through their subject matter. Writers are told to write what they know. When we look at the other lineup of other characters, they all seem as benign as Charlie Brown in comparison to the superiority of Lucy. Supposedly, because Schultz had a hard time dealing with strong personalities, he probably felt there were others in the world as afflicted as he was.
To me Charlie Brown is the epitome of a bully’s target. Bullies seem to have some kind of special demonic radar that can seek out a Charlie Brown personality and rip them to shreds. Yet, as this harmless character takes his browbeating somewhere in most of us there is a voice screaming for Charlie Brown to stop being Charlie Brown! We want him to stand up to Lucy and tell her to SHUT UP! But why? Why is it that we want the Charlie Browns to change while leaving the Lucys intact with all their cruelty? And what about the cast of characters on the sidelines who watch the Lucys berate, belittle and embarrass the Charlie Browns?
Why are we made to be afraid of the Lucys? In letting them get away with their meanness aren’t we really just empowering them? No one touches Lucy. But when she flaunts off feeling all justified about herself, the rest of the Peanut characters, go into repair mode on Charlie Brown.
Everyone knows what Lucy just did. It becomes the elephant in the room that no one wants to address. But Charlie Brown has been wounded – again. And to leave him exposed and bleeding isn’t in the majority of the cast of character’s hearts. So that unspoken patch-up Band-Aid is applied, the residue of fall-out cleared from the air and life goes on.
Everyone but Lucy seems to know what was done was wrong. As she walks off with the ‘football’ prize being her unleashed characterization of Charlie Brown’s shortcomings she seems to be the winner. But is she? It isn’t Lucy that everyone’s heart goes out to, it’s Charlie Brown. More of us can associate with him than with the ‘Queen of Mean’.
Even though that antagonistic character seems to have whipped us into a frenzy of emotions, up from the ashes arises the real victor, the one we can associate with more times than not. The one we want to associate with. God bless the Charlie Browns who won’t compromise their beliefs all for one kick of a football or yield to letting the superiority of an emotionally empty Lucy keep them from being the world’s real heroes.
I have a movie I watch when worldly adversaries seem to be winning. It’s a Few Good Men.
I have watched this many many times. And I have the same reaction every time. When Colonel Jessep is put on the stand and he is made to admit to what he has done, I want to march around and shout! The abuse of power! He thinks, because he has been allowed to think it, that he is above the law. That he somehow has the right to treat people any way he wants and that there are no consequences for his actions. Well, not so you antagonistic creep! Ah, that feels so good!
In fiction when an antagonistic character can create that much emotional hatred it is called good writing, sadly in life its called heartbreaking.