My (A)ntagonist (or antagonizing force) in my novel causes a nuclear disaster in a remote nuclear facility. I've decided on certain circumstantial plot points, such as the post-disaster coping of the surrounding characters, but I've come to realize I don't know what motivation A had in causing the disaster in the first place. I need a bit of help developing this.

Some information about A:

  • gaunt, silent, more alarming than frightening
  • male, late 40's, pale, thin
  • possibly under hire by some other force, though money does not seem to be a motivation

Potential elements:

  • A needs the use of the nuclear facility for ------

My novel is more rooted in the general survival of the people involved, with some frightening quasi-otherwordly elements. Thus, I would prefer a motivation that remains plausible, but would be open to an interpretation which has some minor scifi or fantasy elements.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Cheers!

  • Alec, not to be facetious here, but if you've had someone create a nuclear disaster and you don't even know why, then how important is his reason? Normally, the reason why someone does something as big as that is the driving force behind the entire book. Where are you going with this if you don't even know your own story? Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 5:00
  • @John, thank you for your response. You are right, the story isn't completely thought out. I incorrectly labelled this individual as THE antagonist. My goal is to build a story where this massive event is background, and the focus is on interactions between survivors, similar to what Cormac McCarthy does in his novel The Road. While the nuclear disaster is a major plot point, the characters aren't necessarily motivated (or don't have the means) to seek the cause. Either way, I need to rethink think I guess. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 5:29
  • If the event is background to the story you really want to tell, how much do its details matter? I've seen plenty of post-apocalypse stories that don't talk about those details at all; the focus is on what comes next. Only if what happened ties into your story (e.g. the guy who caused it is now trying to make a new life for himself among the survivors, or has even more nefarious plans, or whatever), it doesn't matter. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 14:40
  • @MonicaCellio: It's important to at least hint at what the source was just to define what it was not. It's to oppose reader's imagination going away in wild tangents trying to figure it out, neglecting the plot and the events at hand, trying to figure out details what happened and getting sorely disappointed in the end by leaving the mystery unsolved. Sever that thread early enough and thoroughly enough and the reader will easily follow the main thread without the nag.
    – SF.
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 15:56
  • This question is asking for developmental help, something that Stack Exchange sites aren't built to handle. (How can there be a definitive answer?) Placed on hold. Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 0:12

4 Answers 4


Let me reach for that resource and hope I don't sink in the process...

  • For The Evulz - he's a destructive force, a person who "likes to watch the world burn". No deeper reasons, no hate, no revenge. Simple love for destruction.
  • One I can't find the trope for, "Burn down a national park to steal a bag of french fries": the disaster and resulting chaos was an opportunity to perform a job: steal some radioactives, force people to vacate the nearby area (e.g. because there's something significantly more dangerous there), distract authorities and draw away forces from a distant area of a heist, engage rescue forces while an even more serious disaster is being prepared.
  • Disproportionate Retribution - Whatever reason. He learned he's about to get fired. He lost something precious - say, wife left him. He's really tired with life. Let's go with a bang.
  • A mystery never explained.
  • Baptism of fire. People realize the value of their lives when these lives hang on a thread. People live to the fullest when they live as heroes. The daily dreary of work and boredom is the ultimate nightmare. Let's give them an opportunity to shine.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist. It's a remote nuclear facility with an inherent security flaw. There are quite a few such facilities in densely populated locations. Only the disaster will force a global shutdown of the insecure facilities.
  • Hostages/Blackmail. There are other antagonists: terrorists, agencies, whatever. They forced the hand of the one we know.

There are many more options...


Some possibilities:

  • It was an accident. This would give him something to cope with.
  • He works at the site, and his neglect or incompetence or other personal failing caused the problem or made it worse.
  • He works at the site. He tried to get his superiors' attention about problems at the site. Though he did not cause the accident, he believes that he allowed it by not taking his concerns to authorities outside the site. He feels tremendous guilt about this. The managers and execs now want to silence him permanently.

Started a nuclear disaster, potential for otherworldly elements — I'd say he's a fanatic trying to bring about the end of the world so that aliens will swoop down and rescue him.

No seriously. The guy doesn't have to be sane. The chain of logic can make perfect sense in his own head (sort of a cross of Heaven's Gate, Rapture-awaiting evangelicals, and Scientologists who believe in Xenu) but be obviously nuts to everyone else.

If you have scenes from A's POV, you could have him "receiving signals from out there," but because he's clearly unhinged and an unreliable narrative view, the reader doesn't know if the signals are real or delusional. That could leave open the possibly that he's actually not crazy and that the aliens are coming.


My suggestion is to make the "antagonist" as a scientist of sort, if the shoe fits. Perhaps he's on the verge of a nuclear-related breakthrough that led him to be careless, triggering the events. Or, if he's working for a bigger antagonist, perhaps it's simply something that he is asked to do, which he may or many not like, in exchange for funding of a useful project. Either way, as this (Warning! TVTropes!) Article shows, anything is morally justifiable for certain individuals if it's for the sake of science.

Honestly, I had actually also got a vague, very rough idea for a nuclear survival story, but the only good idea I had gotten is one of the main characters (or rather, THE Main Character himself.) has a terminal illness, caused by being in close proximity during the explosion, that would cause him to die in a short duration. I thought it was a good tension builder. But I can't find a scientifically plausible reason as to why he could survive a head-on nuclear explosion, which is why I scrapped the idea.

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