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Mean Guys Deserve Excellent Hats (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

When my children were very young, they called villains, criminals, and all-around evildoers “mean guys.” This quick descriptor was gender neutral, a reliable summary of how that evil force behaved in the world. Find the mean guy and know who the hero was going to vanquish. If you weren’t sure who the mean guy was, look for the one wearing the black hat.

In early breathless NANOWRIMO ventures, I dutifully crafted excellent mean guys (and gals) to thwart my protagonist. The antagonists were smart, charming, and attractive until you got close enough to see the evil simmering just beneath the surface.

One day, when I sat down to write the scene that I had planned, things went sideways. Instead of coming home and cracking open a beer after a hard day at work, the protagonist walked into a brutally cold, pitch black apartment stinking of cigarette smoke. Turning on the lights, he discovers wind billowing through the curtains and his beautiful, manipulative girlfriend business manager (aka antagonist) slamming down shots of 100-year-old Scotch whiskey.

In the tense scene that followed, the girlfriend tells him how she sees the world, why she has made the bold, illogical decisions that baffled him, and that she has no intention of changing. Throughout, the nonsmoker, teetotaler girlfriend chain smokes and finishes the bottle of whiskey. She tells the hero unbearable truths about himself  – the very treasures that he needs to complete his hero’s journey and arrive at his happy ending. She finishes the pack of cigarettes and leaves her keys on the coffee table.

I was breathless. The antagonist had gone rogue.  In so doing, a bossy, tiresome bitch changed into a flawed and brilliant real person. She had her own hero’s journey, her own dark woods to go into and come out of to discover her own new life. This brilliant blonde didn’t need a hero’s kiss. She saved herself.

What’s more, she saved the novel. It transmuted from a well-crafted, perfectly devised narrative into a twisty story with unexpected depths, heartfelt passion, and surprising moments.

That’s the power of changing hats, from writer/hero self to antagonist. Try on the black hat of the antagonist, admire it in the mirror, and tilt it just right. Then look down at your feet. Mean guys have terrific taste in shoes.


Mean Guy Rules, or How to Develop an Excellent Antagonist

  • A powerful antagonist wears a fantastic black hat. Possibly, it is better designed and more interesting than the protagonist/good guy’s hat, which means that you are either in the wrong story or better work further with your good guy’s hat.
  • The antagonist is the good guy in his or her life narrative. He does not exist to showcase the protagonist; she has her own goals to pursue. The protagonist is his antagonist; the good guy’s happy ending is the mean guy’s tragedy.
  • A terrific antagonist starts out in the distance, his hat a stinky, ill-defined blur. The closer she comes, the more alluring, beautiful, and powerful her hat. A complex, interesting protagonist recognizes the familiar, deeply personal aspects of the mean guy’s hat. A truly brave protagonist might try it on for size, take a feather from it and improve his own hat, or add it to her collection.
  • Every single character in the story has a hat. The best stories feature characters in hats ranging the spectrum of grays between black and white.



Thanks to Raimey Gallant for her ever-entrancing Author Toolbox and for initiating this excellent adventure!  No doubt she has many excellent hats — and knows how to wear them.  (


26 thoughts on “Mean Guys Deserve Excellent Hats (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

  1. Excellent blog and totally agree. When writing my stories, I always try to redeem my “mean guys” by sharing their perspectives on why they do the things they do. Everyone has a backstory that makes them tick and deserves an opportunity to be heard. In the novel I serially wrote and posted on my blog, my heroine’s nemesis is her former best friend, intended to become the anti-heroine of the sequel. My motto in villain creation has been, we are not born villains but made villains.

    Feel free to drop by to read my blog hop post:

    Liked by 1 person

  2. K, first, I ADORE the title of this post. Second, what a great way to look at the roles of protagonist and antagonist, and to think of them in terms switching hats/roles. That was an aha moment for me. Third, I would also love a fictional world in which I look good in hats, because I never have (they’re out of place with my wonky eyes and pointy head). Thank you for contributing such a well-written, insightful post for the hop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. R: So glad you liked it. Mean guys is a very useful term! Once did some corporate training exercises with different colored hats — have no idea now what color hat meant what, but wearing different hats meant that you took different views on an issue that the company was struggling to address. In groups that really got into it, they used terms like “you’re wearing your white hat” in regular conversation. Yup, strange. My two cents is that the right hat is out there for you — might take some doing and some super special expertise by a hat aficionado, but gotta believe it can happen! My work in progress features a major character who is a brilliant vintage clothing salesperson who dresses the person in the clothing that flatters them best with flair and
      incredible intelligence…Tina would love to get her hands on you!


    1. Okay, spilling truth here. A long time ago, in a newbie writer gathering, one woman proudly read about her heroine being manhandled by a mustache twirling, horrible man who chewed his tobacco with crumbling stained teeth and who totally agreed with her cries that he was a brute and should let her go. Without my antagonist going rogue, I might never have seen another way…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Villains are my favorite part of writing. They are always more interesting than the hero since they explore an alternate viewpoint. They see the world differently than the ordinary person. They have unusual journeys that brought them to where they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love them, too. The tough part is not letting them become so entrancing and complex that they overshadow my protagonist — which means that I have to work harder on that character to bring him or her up to the same level — not a bad thing at all. The villains get a freedom that few others can ever imagine.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice – and awesome title, by the way. I’m not a fan of villains who are evil just for the sake of being evil, and this post gave some great tips to avoid that. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this, particularly: ‘The antagonist is the good guy in his or her life narrative. He does not exist to showcase the protagonist; she has her own goals to pursue.’

    I also like to make it so that some of my ‘bad’ guys aren’t necessarily bad, they just have goals that conflict with my protagonist!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know how to express it, but was entranced with the traditional yin/yang symbol where there is the dot of white in the black swirl and the dot of black in the white swirl and the two swirls spiraling with one another and forming a perfect circle. That’s where the feather came from. Plus, how fun is it to have characters making their own hats?!


  6. I absolutely love the way you wrote this post, it makes me want to read that book with the whisky slamming antagonista! Great tips for crafting the kinds of baddies who transform a story from simply good vs. evil to a ‘who are we rooting for again?’ morally-grey, rollercoaster ride of emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I feel like most people tend to think that antagonists are to make it difficult for the protagonist. I like the way you have made the antagonist to be. If a story has a great antagonist, is a great story, to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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