James R. Callan: What can a writer learn from Crazy Horse?

LAST SUMMER, while vacationing through the upper mid-west, we had the opportunity to visit the Crazy Horse Monument. Located not far from Mount Rushmore, it is being developed on the same massive scale as the monuments to the four great U.S. Presidents. When finished, The Crazy Horse Monument will be a staggering 641 feet wide and563 feet high. The Lakota Indian’s head (completed) is over 87 feet high.

But what I found most impressive was not the blasting and the immense sculpture. It was a simply saying attributed to this famous Indian. Crazy Horse was a great leader of the Lakotas and a fierce warrior. And the statement that impressed me was, “You are only as strong as your enemy.”

In novels, if you want a strong protagonist, you must have a strong antagonist. If you want an outstanding protagonist, you must have an outstanding antagonist.

James R. Callan

Create a brilliant, strong protagonist and put him against him a weak antagonist and you have a weak story. It would be like having a race with only one entrant. There is no suspense, no drama. Why bother? And your reader might also say, “Why waste my time reading this?” There must be some strong person, or force, that is trying to prevent the protagonist from reaching her goal. Make this antagonist a formidable force and your protagonist has the opportunity to be great. Make the antagonist a wimpy opposition and your heroine cannot show her real character.

Of course, the antagonist does not have to be a person. It could be a machine, as HAL in the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hal was ranked as one of the top ten all-time great villains by the movie industry. The antagonist could be a virus, as in the Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. An alien or meteoroid from space can be a formidable foe. And don’t forget that some aspect of the protagonist can actually be the antagonist, for example his drinking or drug addiction. What type of antagonist you choose is not the main thing. The important point is that the antagonist must be a strong, tough, intimidating, and persistent opposition to your hero or heroine.

It is true that we expect the protagonist to win regardless of the strength of the antagonist. Of course, this is not necessarily the way it will happen. The protagonist may prevent the disaster about to befall a town, and yet, the antagonist escapes. But, even a clear cut win for the good guy over the bad guy can leave a lot of drama, tension, suspense. What will this victory cost the heroine? What collateral damage will be done? How will this encounter change the people involved? What effect does it have on the protagonist?

If you want to have a great protagonist, a memorable protagonist, then heed the advice of Crazy Horse. You protagonist can only be as strong as your antagonist.

Please click HERE to read more about James R. Callan’s The Silver Medallion.


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