Just like the best heroes and heroines, every antagonist needs layers so they won't be cliché, aka: a cookie cutter bad guy who’s like all of the other desserts at the buffet.
Here are seven ingredients that I'm hoping will set the mystical Morpheus, my naughty hotty in Splintered, apart from the other cookies:
1. He has wings.
Granted, there are lots of faerie stories where the bad boy has wings. But the way Morpheus “got” his wings is a bit different. Not to mention he uses them for more than flying. At any given point in the story they might become: a shield, a cape, a weapon, shade from the sun, and lastly and most fun, a means of seduction.
2. He thinks he’s a rock star. Could be because he bears a stunning resemblance to a smokin’ cult phenom: Brandon Lee’s The Crow.
Whatever the case, he has no self-esteem issues. In fact, he’s downright arrogant and narcissistic at times. But it only makes him more loveable; just ask him. ;)
3. He has unique quirks. For one, he collects moths by the thousands. Not only living ones, but moth corpses to embellish his hats. Which leads to his fashion obsessions. Morpheus, despite his obvious masculinity, is partial to retro-renaissance fashion. He’ll take a crushed velvet suit with lacy cuffs over a pair of jeans and t-shirt any day. Here’s an example of something he might wear on a casual afternoon strolling around Wonderland:
4. He dabbles in dreams.
This characteristic actually inspired his name … well, there’s one other contributing factor, but you’ll have to read the book to discover it. Heh. The Morpheus in Greek mythology is the god of dreams and has the ability to take any human form and appear in someone’s sleep. His true semblance is that of a winged daemon. All the more reason for my bad boy to have wings.
5. He has a hidden soft spot for the heroine, Alyssa. It makes an appearance from time to time, but he tries to cover it up with self-adulation and snarky remarks aimed at Alyssa or her best friend/secret crush, leading back to point #2:
6. He’s the master of weaseling deals through word manipulation. Like most fae-related creatures, Morpheus has a penchant for word wizardry: he takes everything said as literal, and twists it this way and that, making it mean what HE wants it to mean.
7. He has phobias. The most important thing in the world to Morpheus is his freedom. Nothing terrifies him more than being bound and powerless. This is something he has in common with Alyssa, which makes their relationship all the more complex, especially when her freedom threatens his own.
I've found that the layered villains/antagonists -- the ones with a variation of ingredients -- are the most affecting to me personally. Maybe because when they’re humanized and given relatable motivations and fears, I’m taken to that place of personal introspection where I question if I were in a similar situation, would I take on the same characteristics and make the same choices?
Often, I even start rooting for those antagonists in spite of my disdain for their actions, hoping that they’ll somehow redeem themselves in the end. The best books not only have fully developed heroes/heroines, but antagonists too. Because nobody wants a dessert buffet loaded with nothing but stale sugar cookies.
So, who are some of your favorite antagonists from recent or past reads, and what ingredients set them apart from other antagonists you've seen?
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