Bad guys have one job. They create conflict and force the protagonist to overcome some kind of obstacle. Often in writing, especially for children and youth, the bad guy has no real motive. They just want the good guy to suffer. And I admit, there have been the stories when I’ve created antagonists without bothering to ask what motivates them, why they fight so hard to thwart the MC.
Last fall, my husband and I went to watch Disney’s Wreck it Ralph, mainly because my husband loves video games. I was less than interested, but I went to support him. Within only a few minutes, I was enraptured. It’s very rare to find a movie where the main characters’ motives are so clearly stated.
Each character has one desire, and wants one thing. Each desire directly contrasts everyone else’s, creating the natural conflict. Ralph wanted to be with everyone else, up in the penthouse. That cost one medal. Vanellope wanted to race. That cost one coin. Even Turbo had a desire: to be the best racer ever.
None of their goals were bad, necessarily, but there was only one coin/medal, and for Turbo to race, he had to keep Vanellope from doing so.
I watched the movie again recently, and I was struck by the opening scene. Ralph was a classic bad guy. If the story had been from the point of view of Felix, we might not have been so sympathetic to Ralph’s situation.
In everyone’s story, there is going to be someone or something that gets in our way. Everyone has goals and desires that directly conflict. Two or more people may apply for the same ‘dream job’. There may be multiple people interested in dating someone. Life is full of natural conflict, but it’s important for us to always remember that we are neither the good guy nor the bad guy. We can only be ourselves and focus on our own goals and aspirations, remembering that everyone else is doing the same.
Ralph was created to be the ‘bad guy.’ But he learned how to keep that from controlling his relationships, and his life. And we can’t allow situations to control who we are.
And as writers, we need to remember that there’s always another side of the story.