Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Antagonists: Part V of a Ten-Part Reflection on Creative Writing

 Antagonists aren’t necessarily evil. They are simply characters that oppose — for whatever reason — the protagonists of the novel and/or get in the way of the protagonist achieving his/her goals. 

I think the most credible antagonists are ones that are as complex and nuanced as the protagonists of the novel. No good antagonist is one dimensional or cartoon-like. A good antagonist has good qualities as well as bad. Indeed, in some circumstances, an antagonist can be a very virtuous and attractive character in their own right yet one acting in a way that hurts or frustrates the novel's protagonist.

Generally, I draw on my own experience to create protagonists, which means depicting characters similar to people who I have encountered over the years. That doesn’t mean they were necessarily people I have personally clashed with, since my characters don’t all have the same ambitions, much less weaknesses and characteristics, that I have.

In my current work-in-progress, Lancaster Skipper, I have modeled the female antagonist after myself, knowing and recognizing that I have a personality that rubs many people the wrong way. Fiona is ambitious and determined to be taken seriously as a professional at the price of seeming heartless and opinionated. Obviously, I identify with Fiona and like her in many ways, yet she hurts my protagonist and makes her life more difficult. The reader is supposed to side with the female protagonist not Fiona.

In the Jerusalem Trilogy, Balian faces antagonists on two levels. First and most obviously, he faces the Sultan Saladin, who ultimately destroys his entire world. But Saladin is not a personal enemy. He is more a political or professional opponent than an antagonist gnawing at Balian’s soul. Thus, in the novels, Saladin is more a secondary character than an antagonist. Being a complex and controversial historical figure, I sought to portray him as accurately as possible. 

Balian's more intimate enemy in the Jerusalem Trilogy, the real antagonist, is his older brother, the historical Baldwin d’Ibelin, Lord of Ramla. Yet even here, despite the fact that Ramla and Balian clash and are in many ways opposites, I seek to explain Ramla’s behavior and expose the emotions that are eating at him and making him act the way he does. Ultimately, I want the reader to understand and sympathize with Ramla too — just not as much as they sympathize with Balian.

 Yet arguably the best example of an effective antagonist is John d'Ibelin, the "Old" Lord of Beirut in my Rebels of Outremer Series. The historical John d'Ibelin is an attractive hero -- a legal scholar and leader of men, a man who incurred the wrath of the Holy Roman Emperor for his staunch and unwavering defense of the rule-of-law. Contemporaries praised his wisdom and restraint; modern historians have compared him to St. Louis. Yet, in my series, he is the antagonist of his eldest son -- the impetuous, emotional and not always obedient Balian of Beirut. The interplay between these two very different characters gives the series much of its emotional power. The books would be much less colorful, attractive and realistic without the multifaceted and splendid antagonist. 

For more about my Rebels of Outremer series featuring John d'Ibelin and his son Balian see: https://www.helenapschrader.com/rebels-against-tyranny.html

For more about the Jerusalem Trilogy starting with Balian d'Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem visit: https://www.helenapschrader.com/balian-d-ibelin.html 

In addition to playing a role in Lancaster Skipper, Fiona is a character in Lack of Moral Fibre  one of three novellas included in Grounded Eagles. To find out more about Grounded Eagles visit: https://www.helenapschrader.com/grounded-eagles.html


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