The importance of a good antagonist – Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII

A good plot is driven by conflict, and there what better than an antagonist thwarting our protagonist at every turn to escalate that conflict until it has us turning page after page at 4am in the morning because we just need to know what’s going to happen next? And then we feel like zombies at work because we only managed maybe two hours of sleep…

However, the more I read, the more I discover that good antagonists (ha, talk about an oxymoron there!) are hard to come by. Most often, we are presented with a cookie cut villain with absolutely no depth or character, and who does evil because hey he is evil. Or the antagonist is so bland that he or she gets lost in the light of the protagonist’s awesomeness who manages to thwart his evil plans almost effortlessly. Sometimes they are somewhere in the middle: you can see that they are there to drive the conflict, but no real effort had been done to make them interesting and tridimensional. That’s why whey I come across a story with a better than average antagonist, it tends to stay with me for a long time.

So for this post, I thought I would share with out what I think is one of the best antagonists I have ever seen in a book / movie / video game. And, strangely enough, he doesn’t come from the written page, but from the screen of a video game. Back in 1997 (good god, almost 20 years ago, time does fly), I picked up my first ever Final Fantasy game. It was Final Fantasy VII and I still think it’s the best game of the franchise (Final Fantasy X comes a close second, but will never dethrone it for me). It had managed to create a rich and complex world and told a compelling story with interesting characters. But what makes this story so awesome is the presence of the main antagonist – Sephiroth.


Part of what makes Sephiroth so awesome is that he is present throughout the game, even if we don’t see him at all until we are about a third of the way through. But we hear about him: he is a hero, a famous General, the greatest SOLDIER in the history of SHINRA, the monster that burned Nibelheim, presumed dead, but rumors of his sightings spread all over the continent. He is shrouded in mystery, his past a secret, the reason why he went mad and decided to burn a whole town unknown. During the length of the game, we are one step behind him, walking in his footsteps and seeing the ripple effect of his actions.

This build up is so expertly done that by the time we actually see him in Cloud’s flashback, Sephiroth is a figure extremely hard to forget. I must admit that the game designers went all out when they created his model: he is a head taller than anyone else in the game, clad in black and with long silver hair. But perhaps the most memorable detail about him is Masamune – the extremely long katana that he wields one-handed, as if it was a feather, not a huge damn sword.


What makes him such a good antagonist though is not his looks or the mystery surrounding him, but the fact that the creators of the game put a lot of thought into his character and his background story. The player uncovers different facets of this story during the game. And during all that time, we can’t help but admire Sephiroth’s might, feel sorry for him when we discover certain painful details about his upbringing, and hate him after that fateful episode in the City of the Ancients, but never ever are we indifferent to what he does or what he is.

The game developers managed to create a character who has such a gravitational pull that the whole story revolves around him. This makes the protagonist’s journey and personal growth even more meaningful, and the last battle, where Cloud manages to finally defeat Sephiroth, feels like a real, but very bitter-sweet victory. And this, for me, is the true mark of a good story and a good antagonist.

And before I leave you to ponder about this, let me show you a small example of how the game developers manage to show just how much more powerful than the protagonist Sephiroth is. At one point, your party wanders into a marsh they need to cross and is attacked by a giant snake, the Midgard Zolom. If you are anything like me and haven’t read the walkthrough (I never do unless I’m absolutely stuck), you will get stomped to the ground in all kinds of new and painful ways by that snake. So you go back to the previous area, you kill generic monsters and level up as much as you can, you stock up on potions and go back to face the snake. When you defeat it this time, it feels like a real accomplishment. Then you cross the marsh and just before going into the next area, you are greeted with this sight:


Snake skewer, anyone?
Snake skewer, anyone?

Yep. It took you a party of three to kill your snake and you threw everything you had at it, and Sephiroth just single-handedly skewered it on a tree and didn’t even break a sweat.

Editing woes – the burnout.

In the past four months, I have been steadily working on rewriting / editing my novel Of Broken Things, and in the past two months I had been doing only that and nothing else. I also signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo with this revision, so the pressure was on.

On hindsight, joining Camp NaNo was a mistake, because I had been struggling with motivation to pick up my work for the last two weeks, and I was feeling increasingly guilty about it… which made me even less happy about diving into the revisions… which made me even guiltier for not doing it. Vicious cycle!

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

It took me a while to realize what was happening, but last night it hit me like a ton of bricks – I had burned out on revisions. This realization was rather surprising, because it never happened to me before. Well, to be honest, I have never had to tackle such a big revision either. I had only edited two short stories before and both of them had been knocked out in a couple weeks. So this is the first time in my (short) writing career that I meet face to face with this particular monster.

I have learned two things from this misadventure.

1. Burnout happens even when editing.

I had read plenty of blogs about writers experiencing burn out when they write their first draft, but never about the same happening during the editing stage. Guess now I know that you can get burned out while editing as well. Lesson learned. Moving on.

2. I need variety to thrive.

I guess I have a mind form of ADD, because I can’t concentrate on one project for a significant amount of time. I think two and a half months is about my limit. That’s how long it took me to write the first draft Of Broken Things. Anything longer, and my attention starts wandering.

I had started editing the novel in April, but I took a couple breaks to finish writing a novelette as well. However, since about May, I have been doing nothing but editing. So I definitely need a change if I ever want to get to the end of this process without ending up hating my story with a passion.


1. I am putting Of Broken Things away for a couple weeks at least and starting on a new short story, which will be a continuation of the short story A Small Detour published here. I already have the outline ready and printed, just need to sit down and put pen to paper. I think the freedom to just write whatever comes to mind and not worry about grammar or punctuation will be exactly the change of pace I need.

2. Sadly, I will have to withdraw from Camp NaNoWriMo this year, but I will definitely be there for NaNoWriMo in November! I even have a bright new shiny idea for the novel I want to write during that month. With characters and even a beginning of the plot as well! Can’t wait to start on that one, actually.

And finally a question for my fellow writers. Have you ever experienced this kind of burnout? What do you do to shake it off and get back on the writing horse again?

Moon over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

In this second book of the series, Ben Aaronovitch brings us back to London where Constable Peter Grant has to investigate suspicious deaths among jazz players. And for Peter, those deaths strike a little close to home, because his dad, the famous (or infamous) “Lord Grant” used to be a jazz legend, until he lost his air due to drug use.

During the course of the investigation, Peter comes to suspect that Nightingale’s belief that magic is leaving the world and that there aren’t any practitioners left is rather erroneous. There is an unknown magician in London and his intentions are less than honorable.

I loved the first book in the series, Rivers of London (called Midnight Riot in the USA for some reason). You can read my review of it here. I absolutely loved the book, so I picked up Moon over Soho was with an equal amount of anticipation and apprehension. It happened to me way too many times when I love the first book of a series only to be disappointed with the next one. I was very glad to discover that it wasn’t the case with Moon over Soho.

All the characters I grew to love in the first book are back. Nightingale survived his gunshot wound and continues to teach Peter, even if he is still a bit under the weather (but still manages to show just how much of a badass he is in a certain scene with a night club and a demon trap). Leslie also survived her encounter with the vengeful ghost of last book, but is irrevocably scarred by it.

And we finally get to meet the arch-nemesis of the series, an infamous (and powerful) magician who calls himself the Faceless Man. We learn very little about him in this book, but even that shows that he will be a formidable foe for the Folly.

Peter Grant continues to learn magic and explore his limits. I love the fact that he doesn’t just blindly follow Nightingale’s command. He asks questions, he tries to understand why magic works, and he experiments (sometimes with disastrous results).

We also get another glimpse at Peter’s family, meet new magical denizens of London and go to a couple jazz concerts. Oh, and we also get to see the school where Nightingale learned magic, and it’s nothing like Hogwards.

All in all, a wonderful second book in the series! So if you are looking for a good read, pick up both the first and the second book in the series. I am looking forward to starting Whispers Under Ground, the third book.

Of Broken Things – five things I’ve learned revising Part 1.


I have passed yet another milestone on my long journey as a writer. Last night I finished rewriting / editing Part 1 of my novel Of Broken Things. Yes, it took me the better part of three months, so some might consider that I’m moving at the speed of a tortoise. But it doesn’t matter to me, as long as I’m moving forward.

It’s interesting to look back and see just how far I’ve come on my journey. Last October, I wasn’t sure I had what it takes to write 50k words necessary to win NaNoWriMo, but I did. Then I was convinced that I would never be able to finish the first draft, but I did that as well.

And when I looked at the 300 pages brick that was my finished first draft, I was convinced that I would never be able to edit that. Heck, I had no idea how to even begin making it better…

Well, three months later, I am a third of the way through with the revision, and it’s not as bad as I thought. Yes, it’s long and painful and rather soul-draining at times, but I can really see my story getting better, so it’s all worth it in the end.

So now that I have some editing experience under my belt, it’s time to share with you a few essential things I’ve learned. Those tidbits of wisdom are, of course, personal, and might not reflect your writing experience, because hey, we are all different, and so is our writing process.

1. The first draft sucks.

My first draft was a hot mess. It doesn’t help that when I write my story down for the first time, I just go with the flow. I never re-read what I wrote the day before or look back to edit, I just charge on ahead. Sometimes I follow my (very loose) outline, sometimes I go on a tangent and get lost in the woods before I limp back on the long and sinuous road to The End. So the end result is full of typos and repetitions, ravings and plot holes big enough to swallow a semi. There is a good story buried somewhere in there, but you need to get out your mining gear and be willing to do some hard work in order to dig it out, clean it up and polish it till it shines.

Which brings me to the next tidbit of wisdom:

2. Editing the first draft = rewriting 90% of it.

Blue blood on the page!
Blue blood on the page!

I had noticed that when I edited my short stories. I had dreaded that when I started editing Of Broken Things, but I had hoped that it wouldn’t be the same. Sadly, it was. If you look at my printed copy, you would think that I bled all over the pages (that is if I my blood was blue), there is so much ink on them. I have moved scenes around, rewritten some of them from scratch, hacked and slashed and merged some of them together. Some pages might have maybe one or two untouched sentences, but most have none.

3. If you didn’t use an outline for the first draft, you better make one before you start editing.

Seeing how many things need to change during the editing process, having a detailed (preferably scene by scene outline) is essential. Starting a major revision without one is like going into the woods without a map or even a compass – you will most certainly get lost and probably do more harm than good. You have already finished this story, so you should know what it’s about (or I hope you do). So re-read it, outline it, mark the scenes that advance your story, those that need to be changed, and those that have no business being there at all. Take notes. They will really help you once it’s time to beat this baby into submission, ahem, start editing.

On a side note, it’s also good to keep a list of all the names and places, as well as a good timeline of your story. After all, you are working on filling in those plot holes, not creating new ones.

4. Save your original version before you start hacking and slashing.

ALWAYS save the original copy of your work before you make any changes. You never know what scene you might desperately need back two days after you happily threw it into the incinerator and pressed the Burn button.

And while you’re at it, save your progress regularly as well… in multiple places. That way if your power goes off expectantly, or your laptop shows you a blue screen of death and refuses to be revived, all that hard work is not lost forever.

5. Keep going.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

It’s hard work. I had thought that writing the first draft was hard; well, it was a walk in the park compared to editing it. There are moments when I want to bash my head against the wall because I have I know a scene sucks but nothing I do makes it any better. It would be so easy to get discouraged and just give up. After all, you’ve done it already, right? You finished that story. You got to THE END once. Why not just leave it and write something new next?

Don’t give up. Leave that scene that makes you want to pull your hair out. Take notes on what doesn’t work and continue with another scene. You’d be surprised at the wealth of ideas you come up with when you come back to it the next day. Even if you’re not happy with something during the first revision pass, you can always change it during the next one. That’s the good thing about writing – nothing is set in stone until the book is published. Once you realize that, the whole process becomes very empowering.

So what do you guys think? What is your editing process? What problems have you encountered during your revisions? What lessons have you learned? I want to hear from you!