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How do you build a great enemy?

Writing workshop offers tips on finding out where the adversary lives

By Rick Romancito
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/12/19

The third workshop in the Prose Month series is titled "The Power of the Dark Side: Creating the Perfect Adversary." It will be given Saturday (Nov. 16), from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the SOMOS Salon, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. The fee to participate is $45; $40 for SOMOS members.

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Books

How do you build a great enemy?

Writing workshop offers tips on finding out where the adversary lives

Posted

The third workshop in the Prose Month series is titled "The Power of the Dark Side: Creating the Perfect Adversary." It will be given Saturday (Nov. 16), from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the SOMOS Salon, 108 Civic Plaza Drive. The fee to participate is $45; $40 for SOMOS members.

Additional SOMOS Prose Month activities can be seen here.

It will be taught by Prose Month curator Johanna DeBiase.

The subject is for every prose writer in all forms and genres including short fiction, novels, playwriting and memoirs.

"This class is a spin-off of the popular class I taught this summer at the Taos Writers Conference. 'Zero to Hero' was about Joseph Campbell's eight archetypes. I will be focusing on only one archetype this time - the Shadow," DeBiase said.

Drawing from Carl Jung and Campbell, this class will examine the shadow side of a writer's main character to create more fully established villains and rivals worthy of their stories. Students will create work that can be used for current or future character development in all their writing.

DeBiase explained, "When preparing for that [Zero to Hero] class I found the Shadow archetype to be the most intriguing and realized I could create an entire class focused solely on the Shadow. To dive further into the Shadow character, I began looking at Carl Jung's work with Shadow, often referred to as Shadow Work."

Intrigued, we asked a few questions of DeBiase about the nature of antagonists.

Why should a protagonist have an antagonist who reflects elements of their own psyche? Shouldn't they be someone who is not only an adversary but someone completely opposite or contrary?

Like yin and yang, darkness and light, protagonist and antagonist, seemingly opposing forces, are actually interconnected and complementary to each other. In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is the part of the psyche that holds all the rejected or underdeveloped parts of the self - all the tendencies, desires, emotions and impulses that one resists and avoids.Jung believed that to be a well-adjusted human being, one must embrace their Shadow.

In a narrative, writers are given the opportunity to actually pit Self against Shadow and see what happens. In doing so, we create a dynamic relationship between the two characters that can be more deeply felt and understood by the reader.

So the adversary is not simply the opposite, but more specifically, the parts of the hero that are most vulnerable. At some point in the story, the protagonist or hero may see themselves in the Shadow, recognizing ways they are alike and feel the need to fight against their own inner turmoil. This is the hero's weak spot and a way for the Shadow to manipulate the hero.

We want to avoid foes that are flat characters who are purely bad or only out to make the hero's life miserable. We want to give them just as much depth as we give the hero and in doing so, the hero becomes more real as well.I'd also like to point out that a Shadow does not need to be a person. For example, In "The Shining" by Stephen King, Jack Torrance is a struggling writer and alcoholic whose Shadow, the Overlook Hotel, taunts him and exploits his weaknesses. It can also be an element of society working against the protagonist, an internal struggle or some kind of disembodied force or element.

Who in modern literature are perfect examples of the adversary you describe and why?

There are so many great examples of intriguing adversaries in literature. There are dramatic examples such as The One Ring in "The Hobbit," which of course was created by the Dark Lord Sauron. The One Ring is always tempting Bilbo Baggins to use its powers and Bilbo must fight against his negative instincts to abuse the power for his own benefit. We learn so much more about Bilbo in this way.

Sometimes the protagonist is fighting against her- or himself, such as in "Fight Club" where the hero is both the seemingly sane narrator and his Shadow, the obviously nuts Tyler Durden. In "The Great Gatsby," Jay Gatsby and Tom Buchanan are foes. Tom has everything that Gatsby wants - the money, the class, the girl. But he also represents everything that Gatsby hates - selfishness, entitlement, privilege. Gatsby tries to make himself like Tom to win over Daisy and doing so ultimately leads to his demise.

Contrast the kinds of literary adversaries which meet your criteria with those in real life whose motives are often hidden or part of a larger agenda?

Our current president might be a good example of our country's Shadow side. Not to get too political, but our country was built on racism and violence. He represents all that we resist and avoid looking at within our culture. Many examples of evil in our history are people who gained power because they fed into the people's fears and Shadow side. If we don't face our Shadow, it will show up one way or another.

Another example may be the fashion industry, which feeds on people's insecurities in order to sell more goods. Our Western masculine society pushes us to consume more in order to avoid our feelings of not being good enough. The fashion industry sells an impossible image of beauty, like the Evil Queen in "Snow White," forcing us to go to extremes to try to be thinner or whiter or buffer or younger. Snow White is forced into the wilderness because the queen sees her as competition for beauty.

This is also well represented in "A Brave New World," where the World State is a society without negative emotions or individuality and the Shadow to both the protagonists, Bernard Marx, who feels unique, and John the Savage, who seeks truth and meaning over happiness. The World State was able to come into power because people did not want to deal with their negative emotions and they preferred conformity instead.

Can an adversary start out as a close friend, lover or family member, and how does this follow your model?

Yes, a character can embody more than one archetype. Some of the best villains started out as good guys. Some of the best plot twists include friends who turn bad. In fact, these characters, having been so close to the hero, are in the best position to know all her vulnerabilities as they once embodied all those things that she cared about.

DeBiase is the author of fabulist novella "Mama & the Hungry Hole" (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2015). Her poetry chapbook, "Gestation" (Finishing Line Press, 2020) is forthcoming. Originally from New York, she earned a master's degree in creative writing from Goddard College. She is also a book critic whose monthly column, Pages, appears in Tempo magazine.

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