I’ve touched on the motivations of a good antagonist before on the blog, but let’s apply some of this to real life. People are quick to dismiss internet arguments as worthless, but the common internet troll can actually help you more than they can hurt.
Just like real life (or more appropriate, face to face encounters), when people disagree about something, anger comes into the picture. You have two strangers butting heads and quickly personal insults are flung… or are they? Let’s challenge this notion on two points. The first being the ‘stranger’ part. The second being the ‘personal’ part.
Imagine walking into a little shop famous for its tea. Someone strides up to the counter and orders their desired beverage, but has the ‘audacity’ to ask if they have coffee as well.
The person behind the counter opens his or her mouth to offer a polite apology, interrupted by another customer. The second customer erupts into a tirade of profanity. “You moron! If you want coffee go to Starbucks.”
This is how every argument ever starts on the internet.
The first customer can react a countless different ways for the sake of the post, let’s only address a few. They could be apologetic:
“I guess it was a stupid question, sorry.”
They could side with the rude person:
“I know it’s stupid, but my moron of a ‘wife/husband’ doesn’t appreciate tea.”
They could be confrontational, but here’s the dangerous part. This can split into a few different scenarios. One of them:
“There’s no harm in asking. I just wanted to save myself the trip.”
…focuses on the problem at hand. They justify their actions and challenge the protest in one fell swoop. The other however:
“No need to be so rude about it. Honestly, some people can be such jerks.”
Right there. That’s the problem. This is when the argument becomes ‘personal’. The ‘some people’ part of the rebuttal makes the situation worse by including some detail or assumption perceived as a personal insult.
This applies to writing very easily. In a passing incident, this is how two complete strangers—even two rational adults— can get into a heated argument. People, by nature, are self-centered and will assume things to be a direct attack against their personal being. The only connection between these two individuals is their love / interest in tea. If something disputes this, an argument is born. The most potent arguments come when two people are passionate about a subject and there is a conflict of interest. The two people have formed a bond and the argument betrays that bond. This is how you have two strangers argue like close friends.
On a larger scale, it’s important to note the Antagonist of a story doesn’t usually have an exclusive personal grudge against the Protagonist. More than likely, it is because the Protagonist’s goals clash with the Antagonist’s goals so much they are thrown to odds. In essence, it is the exact same situation, but with more substance.
A personal grudge can be born from such opposition. This forms the illusion of someone doing something just to thwart you. The truth of it? They’re trying to thwart you because they want to accomplish their own goal. It isn’t actually personal.
Understanding this nature of people makes for characters that are more natural. You don’t need to spell out these motivations to the reader, but the motivations need to exist. Knowing them as the author allows you to make scenarios that are more realistic.
As I don’t want negativity to infect Dimanagul.com, here is Data the Monkey to play me out.