How does your novel’s badass antagonist compare to Shakespeare’s Richard III? Morally Deranged and Physically Twisted but Beautiful?
I’m developing characters for my latest novel (working title changed from Excess to Love that Devours Forever), and I’m having fun making my antagonist as badass as possible. With the recent discovery of Richard III’s remains, I’ve asked myself how effective a job I’ve been doing. Truth? Maybe not so good.
England’s “lost king” really was lost, and I’m not talking misplaced for centuries beneath tons of concrete in a Leicester parking lot. He was honey-tongued Shakespeare’s badass boy in the tragedy of King Richard III. He plotted against his brother, Duke of Clarence, seemingly suffered from Oppositional Defiance Disorder–or worse–murdered family members, and otherwise lived a twisted, detestable life, if The Bard and the revisionist history of the new social and political era he heralded are reliable.
On top of his tyrannical moral character, Richard III also suffered from a foul physical appearance. In his 1646 History of Richard III, Sir George Buck says Richard III was in need of “[evening out] his shoulders, [smoothing] his back, [and planing or evening] his teeth” (Intro). Recent exhumation of the badass king’s remains partially confirms Sir George’s description. Richard’s remains point to a twisted spine that shortened his height and most likely made him walk with a limp.
Is Your Novel’s Badass a King Richard or a Hannibal Lecter?
But I love Richard III. He’s one of literature’s most beautiful antagonists. As a writer, I don’t want him reformed–shut up, George Buck.
Whether or not Richard III took a bum rap in public opinion remains in question, but my point is he’s a timeless bastard who endures as one of history’s most menacingly beautiful antagonists. This fact makes him as fascinating today as he was in 1597, when the forty-seven leaved quarto pamphlet “The Tragedy of King Richard the Third” appeared. In the now famous tragedy attributed to Shakespeare, Richard III is presented as a tragically remorseless tyrant with a wicked-scary intellect and a poisonous but reflective mind. I think of a comparable modern badass called Hannibal Lecter, whose predilection for Clarice Starling’s body wash and the gustatory delight of human flesh (appropriately prepared), make him forever memorable.
I also think also of our own protagonists. Are we developing memorable King Richards? Hannibal Lecters? Will readers remember them five, ten, or even twenty years from now?
Use Shakespeare’s Motive and Obstacle Plan to Create Your Novel’s Badass Antagonist
Let’s look to Shakespeare, who knew how to build a badass. The Bard used a plan I call “motive and obstacle.” Richard III, for example, looked to Lady Anne Neville’s estate as motive to marry the widow of Henry VI, the man he murdered. But his brother, Clarence, flung obstacles in Richard’s path as he made a successful grab for his murdered brother’s widow. Clarence first hid Lady Anne in the disguise of a cook’s maid and later threatened to kill Richard before he’d giver her–or Lady Anne’s vast estate–up to his demented brother. Richard, however, would have Lady Anne, and be damned the cost, murder included, even while she mourned her husband. What an exquisitely beautiful antagonist Richard makes!
As I move forward writing Love that Devours Forever, I’m asking, What’s the primary motive driving my antagonist toward what he wants? Next, I’m playing Clarence and tossing obstacles in his path. Am I playing head-games a la Richard III with my antagonist? You bet. And having so much fun creating the next most wicked-delicious badass you ever met.
Build a Psychotic but Lovable Badass a la Richard III
Richard’s also an antihero, same as Hannibal Lecter, which means he’s balanced, or . . . perfectly imbalanced. The shrill, one-dimensional psychopathic killer doesn’t cut it with readers, who want to know their badass–although a fascinating killer–is nevertheless, somehow . . . normal–ahem–like the rest of us. That he has at least one redeemable quality that makes him lovable.
So as I’m creating my badass for Love That Devours Forever I’m also asking, What is that one redeemable quality I want my antagonist to have? I’m again using Richard III as my model. While my antagonist, Ahmad Yassin, is a fierce Hamas leader who hijacks a busload of Israeli Defense Force recruits, he’s living with a heartfelt secret. The girl he loved in college is on the IDF bus he hijacks, and when he finds out, he’s in a helluva quandry because he has to choose between doing his work as a Hamas militant, or snuffing the only girl he ever loved. So just like my badass, Ahmad Yassin, Richard III is fearsome, a morally and physically deformed man, but he is also a human being of brilliant–if not excessively dark–wit. He’s redeemable. Moreover, Richard is reflective to the point of being masochistic, a point where he stops before giving up his coldly logical control. And that’s one aspect of his character that makes him, if not quite lovable, then at least human. He also dwells in his soliloquies on his deformity. It’s a morbid self-awareness, a form of brutally frank self-dissection that both shocks and saddens us, but because Richard is honest with himself, we accept him. And we remember him–forever.
Free Your Novel’s Inner Badass
What would Richard III say about his remains being stuck under a parking lot for five-hundred years? I mean, he was England’s king for a couple of years. Would he laugh, this badass antihero who, according to The Bard, “was not shap’d for sportive tricks,” but who’s been right under our noses all these centuries? I think he would, and I can hear him now, for “tis a plot he laid,” if you ask Shakespeare, and Richard was “determined to prove a villain.” I don’t think of Richard III as “a villain.” I think of him as The world’s–and literature’s–best Villain, one we can emulate five-hundred years later as we develop our own badass characters. In Richard III, the tragedy, Richard told Lord Chamberlain Hastings, “Go you before, and I will follow.” Richard has gone before us, but now his bones follow, laughing, mocking, shaking with a villain’s treachery. As we must likewise follow both Richard and Shakespeare, let us think carefully on the badasses we write about. Give them motive and plenty of obstacles. Most of all, give them redeeming qualities so they, too, may be well-loved by readers and forever remembered.
Copyright 2013. Mary H. McFarland. All rights reserved, but you may freely plagiarize.
- Richard III’s Remains Found In Council Car Park (news.sky.com)
- Experts find remains of England’s King Richard III (sfgate.com)
- Battle-scarred skull of suspected King Richard III revealed (news.yahoo.com)
- ‘Richard III’ picked for a New York parking lot (utsandiego.com)