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Revealing the main antagonist

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So I had another question.  My story is in a sense a series so I don’t want the main antagonist to lose just yet.  In fact I don’t want my MC to meet the main antagonist yet.  I wanted him to defeat a sub enemy and make his way home.  The main enemy of the story I don’t want to fully reveal at this time I just want to have her watching the MC either from afar or seeing a visual of him through magical means, etc.  I’d like to just hint that she exists.  Would that leave my story completely open and not give it a stand alone feeling?  I keep thinking back to Harry Potter.  He defeated the sub enemy but Voldemort still escaped leaving his return open but it still had a satisfying close.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,
Bryan S.
#1 - January 12, 2018, 09:32 AM
B.D. Suever

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It's all in how you write it. You've come up with an example of one way to make it work, but if you hint too much, the reader may not feel satisfied. A story doesn't have to tie up every loose end. Life always has loose ends. It just has to feel complete, it has to fulfill the promise it makes to the reader. I hope that makes sense.
#2 - January 12, 2018, 06:51 PM
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I think Harry Potter is an excellent example of what you want to do, but many books have what might be called a Big Villain and a smaller villain. Often it's the smaller villain of each particular book in a series that drives the action towards the defeat of the Big Villain.

How you approach this may depend on how many books you plan for the series and the room you have to reveal and develop the Big Villain. Voldemort drove the action from the very beginning of the first book in the HP series, but the villains Harry actually dealt with in a physical way in that first book were, among others, Draco, Snape, and Quirrell. Only one of these turned out to be a true villain, but JKR is a master of narrative misdirection, and used it brilliantly.

When I read the second HP book, I still saw it as another adventure in the life of Harry Potter. It wasn't until the third book that I recognized a greater story arc covering the entire series. (I catch on slowly. :) ) As long as the physical struggle in your first book is hard enough and the victory is satisfying enough, I think you are all right with a subtle, partially revealed Overlord of Villainy. Seeing that Big Villain gradually revealed can be a great adventure for the writer and reader to share. But, if you want to be subtle about revealing Big Villain, you must provide a really good focus of attention elsewhere.
#3 - January 13, 2018, 11:08 AM

Reader, reader, reader...
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I've read numerous series that have this overall arc, and when it's done well, it definitely works and is compelling. I'd say you don't even need to make it apparent in the first book that there *is* a big villain. As long as *you* know it and are slipping in little, subtle tells, that's good enough. Then readers will enjoy going back and finding those tiny clues once they realize there's more at stake. I just did this with a series I really enjoy -- it was only four books, but the author had planned out her overall arc in advance (of course), and the hints were definitely there...but the reader couldn't see them until they knew what to look for (around book 3). Once the last book came out, I went back and re-read the entire series, and it was so much better the second time. :)

That said, when I read the first book, it could have been a stand-alone in terms of story arc and characterization. Yes, there were possibilities for more books, but the character growth and smaller story that was initiated at the start was completed by the end. I'd say that's the challenge, but studying those books (like Harry Potter) which do it well are great teachers, no? :) (Btw, the series I read was Jennifer Lynn Barnes' The Naturals.)
#4 - January 13, 2018, 03:28 PM
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