The faceless enemy

I’ve begun my first reread of “The Red Box” in preparation for revising it and I think I’ve hit upon a problem that’s been bugging me in both this novel and “The Motley Star.”

In both stories, while there are plenty of named allies–some difficult, some reluctant, but still allies–there are no or very few named enemies/antagonists. Mostly the antagonists are big, faceless groups: Leos, Emperors and White Flags in the “The Red Box,” and an unknown human, alien or possibly multispecies anti-treaty group in “The Motley Star.” In “The Red Box” one named, ambiguous character turns out to be an enemy, but that isn’t known until later in the story.

In both stories, I’ve also had motivation problems. It’s not clear why the characters proceed on the courses they do. I have to admit, in “The Red Box” even I wonder a little, and it’s something I mean to address in revisions.

So now I’m wondering if part of the problem is the lack of clear antagonist. In my short stories, this isn’t too much of an obstacle. The stories, being much smaller in scale, seem to work even when the antagonist is more of a vague concept. But to keep a character motivated over hundreds of pages, well. Maybe we need to know more clearly who’s a problem.

Something to think about.

I’ve been spinning my wheels as I pick and re-pick at the first chapter, but I think what I need to do is just do a straight reread, no edits allowed, jotting down a synopsis-like thing as I go. Then sit back and see if the addition of (or adjustment of an existing character/problem into) a named, clear antagonist would help, among the other additions I already know I need to make. I can’t get too fussy when everything may still change down the road–I need the big picture first. So that’ll be this week’s project, I think.

How about you? What problems or challenges have you faced during revisions? Have you run into issues that required you to take apart large chunks of your story, or add/remove entire plotlines?

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