In Draft No. 4 by John McPhee, he mentions the process of greening. Greening is what other writers would probably call trimming, or reduction, or editing; the process of reducing a manuscript by a certain number of words. Nearly everyone has done this exercise, whether a paid-for product or just a graded project. Nearly every writing seminar I’ve attended has mentioned some version of reducing your cast list. But that’s not always what my writing really needs.
In an embarrassing number of drafts, my villain was the same. And the antagonist was the same. I had one of each and the story went through a requisite number of hoops before strolling across the finish line.
Remember being fifteen? I bet you can think of one person in every facet of your life who you just couldn’t stand. Band, science class, Girl Scouts, the after school job, the weekend job, your extended family, that person you were brutally forced to share a bathroom with – that’s a lot of antagonists. One or two of them were probably villains.
In moving from point to point in my story, my protagonist needed a motivator to either get away from the current conflict or move toward a new conflict. Eventually, I adjusted my cast list. I added two new villains to create a two-pronged headache for the protagonist with two plot goals instead of one. I allowed two other characters to evolve in their positions to become antagonists. I also took the reins off the supporting characters. With hidden motivations and secret histories that have existed long before teenage protagonists, supporting characters became antagonists to each other and accidental supporters of the protagonist, until my casual straight line narrative turned into something of a chaotic grudge match.
Which was an issue for the next draft.