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Handling multiple antagonists: how to avoid the "one level - one boss" kinda story ?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Nagash, May 30, 2015.

  1. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

    Hey guys !

    Alright, I'll dive right away into the topic : when attempting to write a story toying with multiple threats (and therefore many big antagonists), how do you keep it from morphing into a video-game tale, with many levels with a big boss at the end of it ? This might be a little to abstract to understand upon reading, so i'll give an example from my own story...

    In my eschatological series, one of the many big threats to the world of Zael is its very core: the void-well (a gate to the void) which gave it birth starts to collapse upon itself, unleashing untamable flows of energy. Since it falls apart progressively, it slowly spawns threats bigger than the last. At first, creatures of the void start to materialize in the world and spread chaos; then, natural catastrophes occur across the world, as elementals wake up and start to threaten civilizations; as things turn extremely bad, an outlandish deity comes to Zael in order to eradicate it before the void-well collapses and threatens the entire universe; once the deity is vanquished at a great price, it is revealed the real threat lies within the void and starts to break through the void-well. One of the heroes finally has to sacrifice himself by joining the void in order to seal the well and imprison the creatures that wanted out of the void, and battle it for eternity.

    The feeling I get is that layering your story in different levels the hero has to go through, constantly battling a threat bigger than the last, doesn't seem like great storytelling. I should point out that this supernatural/magic story-line is one among many others - the remaining story-lines mainly focus on politics, wars and relations between mortals (revolutions, civil wars, etc) which happen as the same time as the apocalyptic chain of events. Said story-lines really don't have the same vibe, since they do not have clear antagonists until their ending, while the eschatological story-line just piles on threatening villains.

    How do you feel about your story being a succession of bad guys ever stronger being defeated by your hero(s) ? Do you have any idea how to avoid this video-game conception of story ? Or maybe you think it isn't such a bad thing ?

    I hope that makes some sense !

    Cheers ;)
  2. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    You could do something like in the War of the Worlds, the aliens contract a virus and die.

    Some squabbling between bad guys might help to neutralize or weaken a threat.

    If you're into video-games then you know about player fatigue, so it helps to have a break up in the action. Otherwise, gamers will be less interested in buying version 2.

    I'm currently reading Plot With Character by Katherine King

    I'm finding it very helpful.
    Nagash likes this.
  3. The Dresden files do well at doing this. Each threat is more harrowing than the last. But they're only loosely connected, if at all. Also each threat is its own individual story with various character arcs within those stories. So to avoid the gaming feeling you'll have to do something similar. Different threats bearing little apparent relation to each other.
    Nagash likes this.
  4. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

    Ah, like Bruce Lee's Game of Death. Simply place Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the top and all will be fine. Now really to you question. There is nothing wrong with doing this, unless you think there is something too obvious about the method. Options are to place villains in different places that need to be fought at the same time; have one villain defeat another; have an aspect, such as a needed item, that forces the MC to seek the weaker villains first; change the order or strength of the villains so it isn't straight weakest to strongest. Hope this sparks a few ideas.
    Miskatonic and Nagash like this.
  5. Vilya

    Vilya Scribe

    For me this is just a variation on the basic idea that a novel consists of a protagonist facing an ever growing or complicating problem. I don't see anything about this that is fatally flawed, especially since all of the "enemies" that they have to face all seem to be complicating the main story problem that this world is dying. It sounds to me like this is a great way to demonstrate how things are getting worse in your story all the time. The only problem that I can see would be if your characters just "level-up" in fighting skill after each battle. To make it more interesting you might want to make these battles mental as well, or make them revealing moments where the characters learn more about their world, their problem, or themselves.
    Nagash likes this.
  6. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

    Good advices guys; I'll work on that :)
  7. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Intertwine with character development.

    MAD MAX FURY ROAD looks like it's just toying with many threats, but each action moves the characters forward.
    Nagash likes this.
  8. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    I think that the 'escalating the conflict' idea has been around a lot longer than video games, and I'd bet that video games may very well have taken the idea from past story structures. It's just that the structure in video games is much more obvious. A good character arc running through the story, if done well, would likely mitigate that 'video game' aspect. For the most part, rising tension and increasing threats are the stuff of fiction. On the other hand, a steady series of 'bosses' could create an episodic feel, which isn't always desirable.
    Nagash likes this.
  9. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    My thought pattern when reading this post immediately took me to ASOIAF. Maybe it's just the in-fighting between humans with the growing threat of a supernatural/magical nature. But yeah... if you want you can definitely build up human villains as well, and make them threats in different ways. For example, in ASOIAF, you have antagonists like Tywin Lannister, the White Walkers, Petyr Baelish, and Ramsey Snow. Each character is very different, but all pose significant threats to the rest of the characters. So maybe switch up the kind of villains that your heroes have to face. For example, fight one monster, then deal with human villains for a while, fight another bigger monster, deal with one main hero villain, fight two monsters that are the size of the first monster, etc... not necessarily in that order of course, but I guess I'm just saying that as long as you switch things up, it will take away from that boss monster vibe.
  10. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Sometimes the antagonists are in league because of necessity and may very well turn against each other when things begin to fall apart.
  11. Mectojic

    Mectojic Minstrel

    My take on it would be this:
    There are certainly tougher and not so tough enemies. I would make some of the lesser ones pawns in the upper one's plans.

    Another thing I have loved to play with is having NO end boss. Basically, the guy gets to the end, and he has a shock realisation that the grand enemy was made up, and is a mask for the actions of many others.

    How to avoid video-game kind of pacing? Focus less on video-gamey ideas, like getting more powerful, and more and more epic battles. Look more at personal development of the characters. Don't make each bad guy an easy path that he must follow. He could run into one spontaniously, while another takes him months of searching, and that guy might escape him narrowly multiple times.

    Each villain needs his own personality. And included in that, most (or at least, the main) villains need to have their own developments. They can't be the same guy at each meeting.
    Perhaps one guy may have been talked up for a long time, but when met in real life, he's a joke.

    Just some food for thought here.
    Nagash likes this.
  12. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Another way to step away from video game simplicity: enemies can be "powerful" in different ways. A monster can have more killing power, but a human villain can be harder to oppose if he's got political pull-- or be a bigger threat if he gathers an army. And then there's opportunity: which enemy is positioned so he can attack your weak points, know your secrets, or cut you off from the help you need. Then you mix that up with some of the other ideas here (different villains at different times, different motives and how someone changes to friend or foe, all the rest) and you can keep the story shifting as long as you need without feeling it's fallen into a rut.
    Nagash likes this.

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