Some writers think to up the tension, one must make the stakes SO HIGH the protagonist can't win, at least not until the last page of the book. This is the formula I've read in too many ya fantasies lately. The "bad guy or gal" is so uber bad, it leaves one wondering if they even have a soul.
Just how do you get to be that bad, anyway?
I recently finished reading a dystopian ya fantasy. It was good enough to sweep me along--the setting and world building were fantastic. I could feel the heat sweeping off the character's body, smell the stench of fetid water... sense the hopelessness of the poor rebels forced to live below ground.
But it left me scratching my head. Really? Her parents were the antagonists? And they're bad enough to try to shoot their own daughter? Just because she was in love with one of the rebels and was foiling their plans? Even for a dystopian, I thought this was too harsh, and completely unbelievable.
And then I realized what was missing. That one degree of separation. All those things both sides were fighting for - somewhere they must connect, but miss by that much. The closer the antagonist and protagonist's goals, the more compelling the story.
When you give your antagonist a reason for why they do what they do, and parallel it with the protagonist's goal - then you let the reader ponder the complexity of your characters. No more super bad vs super good, just two guys fighting to achieve the same thing, but in either a destructive or constructive manner.
This is what I'm thinking about today as I sit down to plot my next ya fantasy. Who is the antagonist and how can I make his or her goals mirror my protagonist's?
Super bad is super easy. It's time for one degree of separation...
Wishing you all happy writing!