R.L. Akers talks about the bad guy…
This is the fourth in a series with new author R.L. Akers. The previous posts were his introduction to the world, his character development process, and (Kara Dunn) his protagonist. Today we will take a look at the antagonist. The following is a loosely translated conversation from the morning of 11 October 2013.
“Tell me about the antagonist.”
R.L.A. “Well, the enemy in the story is very definitely this attacking alien force, but in truth, you see very little of them. They’re not even directly mentioned until halfway through the first book, and they’re not really ‘seen’ until the end of the first book.”
“That is a different concept, how did that develop?”
R.L.A. “Tolkien wrote—I think this was in the forward to one of his Lord of the Rings books—that a truly great villain is distant, shadowy, never truly knowable. I’m paraphrasing badly, I’m sure, but I definitely remember learning that from Tolkien a long time ago. And if you think about it, that’s how he created Sauron.
“Dude, you lost me again. What is a Sauron?”
R.L.A. “(Laughing) Sauron is the villain from Lord of the Rings, and what I just said describes him to a T… if you can even call him a “him.” He’s literally a force of evil, almost godlike in his power, without even a corporeal form. So while readers can identify with the protagonists’ fear of Sauron, they have a hard time identifying with any characteristics of Sauron himself. That makes him all the more menacing, hard to understand, I think.”
“Sounds like Darth Vader in the first Star Wars movie.”
R.L.A. “Vader is obviously one of the greatest movie villains of all time. You see this Tolkein-esque treatment from a cinematic perspective in that you seldom get a complete look at Vader in the original trilogy. Most shots are either extreme close-ups or at a distance; some of the best shots are nothing but silhouettes—all of this adds to his mystique. From a characterization standpoint, he also remains very mysterious throughout the original trilogy; even at the end of those three movies, you’re left with as many questions about him as you’ve got answers. I think that’s part of why many diehard Star Wars fans aren’t as keen on the newer, prequel movies – we got to know Vader just a little too well, got to understand him perhaps more than we wanted, and he became less a villain than a victim.
“Which incidentally calls to mind the other major thing I remember learning from Tolkien, which is that you always need to paint a horizon while you’re telling stories. If you decide to come back later and explore that horizon, that’s great, but make sure you then paint another horizon. Never leave a reader with the feeling that they’ve got the full picture. Give your readers a reason to let their imaginations run wild, wondering about those unanswered questions.”
“How does that play out in your story?”
R.L.A. “In a sense you don’t see much of the aliens in my story, but you certainly see the results of their attacks, the deaths and loss that result. At its heart this is really a human story, looking at how our human heroes deal with these challenges, while dealing with the fear of having no real idea what they face.”
“To come full circle, back to how Tolkien describes a good villain… There’s this great quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War—actually, that entire book is quotable, and I reference it frequently in both books of this duology. But this one great quote which says, in essence, that if you don’t know your enemy, you’re going to lose in battle as often as you win. And that’s definitely what our heroes are going to experience in this story until they figure out what they’re facing.”
Next week, we will discuss R.L.’s approach to writing. Until then, keep on rockin.