I won’t lie. I love Professor Snape more than I love Harry Potter.
Not because I reckon he’s a better person and not just because his dialogue drips with perfect acidity and deliciously rendered sarcasm. No. I love him for his flaws and for his struggle with his soul. Maybe he stopped his struggle at a certain point, never willing to look at Harry as an individual with his own heart-bound luggage. Maybe he turned into the bully that as a child he was subjected to. Maybe he himself crippled his emotional development by latching onto and trapping himself into the past as much as Sirius did, albeit for different reasons. But that tragedy makes him, if not a hero–for Jo Rowling won’t hear that word used for him–then at least a damn compelling person whom it would hurt to know and care about, were he real.
All this is nothing against Harry.
Then there’s Frodo, say, or Samwise Gamgee, versus Sauron. But who is Sauron? No-one but an idea with almost invincible power and dark servants scouring the earth, hunting down the One Ring–the one ring the heroes must destroy before their entire world is vanquished. Great book, Lord of the Rings. But the bad guy never had a shot with me. Can’t love a being endowed with no humanity. Can’t hate him, even. Can feel viscerally opposed to him–thinking of Gollum even in Sauron’s clutches chills the bones. But…Sauron doesn’t move me. It’s Samwise’s loyalty that gets me every time. He’s my hero. And I weep over Frodo’s journey, commitment and sacrifices.
Back to Lord Voldemort, Harry’s nemesis. Is he great? As a villain, I mean, not as the master of all dark wizards. Sure, he keeps the plot going. He forces Harry to grow up and reveal who he is as a person, who he’s willing to be. He forces others’ hands too–Draco Malfoy’s, for instance.
Swinging back to Lord of the Rings… Boromir is a flawed soul, aching for greatness–true greatness and not just petty grandeur–but he’s torn by his desire for self-glory and heroism. I prefer him to Sauron, as a character with depth to move me. And I prefer Snape to Lord Voldemort, and even to Harry.
My favourite hero in Harry Potter is … Remus Lupin. Another torn character.
Am I called to torn characters in general, because their inner conflicts and outer conflicts just add so much tension and hope and tears to the story that they become unforgettable? Maybe.
So what does this all mean?
I find myself pondering this because I’ve noticed that contrary to my expectations, I find writing my antagonists approximately 99% easier than writing my protagonists. Because they are defined, in a sense, by their own flaws which is where they settle, but which is simultaneously the point within them that causes them the most pain, anguish, shame and anger. I feel their pain. I know their self-deceptions. Their conceits. Their fears. And so I can write them and feel for them.
Despite the fact that both of my “leads” were created and “in action” weeks before my antagonists appeared, it’s my antagonists who have taken to life with strength, tenacity and vivacity I’d never expected. There’s only one exception to this protagonist rule for me. And interestingly, it’s for a tragic heroine.
My book’s not angsty. It’s not tragic. And I’m among the cheeriest people I know (thank God). Yet inner conflict is what allows me to speak with my characters, to see them, believe them and help breathe that spark of life into them. Only once I find the pain and the journey can my characters step off the page and into life.