Here I am, ready to start work on a new novel, and I’m stuck before I start. I have a wonderful protagonist, a strong female, about whom I’ve already written several scenes. This gal, Andi, could be the best character I’ve ever conjured. Best of all, I’m taking her along with my bride on my Number One Bucket List Trip. We leave very soon for New Zealand and will be gone for three weeks. I seriously doubt I’ll be posting anything on this blog until we return. [Note to potential intruders: we have both a well-armed housesitter and a vicious canine to protect the premises in our absence.]
Story-wise, I’ve already got two great things–a powerful character and the potential for a fabulous setting. I even know why my wonderful marine-trained protagonist is going to the lands Down Under. Now I need to figure out who or what needs to get in her way.
What I don’t have, and what I desperately need, is a bad guy, an antagonist who continually gets in the way of my lovely protagonist, who builds a stumbling block for my gal in his on-going efforts to get what he wants.
I could dredge up something corny like the charming fellow here, but I’d be hard-pressed to give him the sort of background that would make him either interesting or believable. In the world of commercial fiction, there are a few things one has to do to create a really good bad guy. Chief among these is the bad guy’s belief that he or she isn’t really bad. There are reasons for their behavior that seem utterly rational, at least to them. I’m not sure the guy in the photo is capable of that. The sledgehammer tends to emphasize that particular shortcoming. Besides, I suspect Andi could disarm this yahoo in nothing flat. (Yeah, she’s that good!)
Another option, of course, would be to introduce something from nature. But, while Australia seems to have cornered the market on deadly creatures, New Zealand is relatively free of them. The only real contender I could find is a tiny spider that appears to be a close relative of the North American Black Widow. It’s called a katipo. This nasty bit of work bears a jagged red racing stripe down its back, and just looking at it sends a stripe of something else down my own back. My protagonist would likely be far less ruffled than I and would probably just squish the little beastie. Personally, I’d rather see it fed into a shredder, but either way, it wouldn’t qualify as a great villain. A horde of them operating as a team might qualify, but then I’d be writing science fiction, and I’m not terribly good at that.
Another option from nature might be some kind of traumatic geological event. The recent and tragic eruption of a volcano on White Island in New Zealand is a great example. And while the two main islands of this wonderful country seem to have more than their fair share of volcanos, none of them are in the neighborhood I have in mind for Andi’s adventures.
So, what does that leave for me in terms of villains? A pack of domestic animals, perhaps? Angry sheep?
Evidence of the native Maori culture is everywhere in New Zealand, and the country’s history is replete with conflicts between the native people and the Europeans who moved to and ultimately dominated their homeland. The so-called Age of Exploration had many of the same devastating effects on these “discovered” lands as it did in the Western Hemisphere. If Andi’s story were set amid the 19th century, there would be plenty of human villains to work into her tale. But hers is a contemporary story.
I’m thinking I might just use a type of villain any of us is likely to encounter at almost any moment. These particular “do-no-gooders” come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and ethnicities, and while they used to be most closely associated with government centers, they’ve now spread virtually everywhere. I’m speaking, of course, about bureaucrats, hired naysayers who enforce rules they make up by themselves for everyone else. One or more of them could prove to be poor Andi’s worst nightmare.