65

The convention is usually that the resolution of the story is the resolution of the mystery, but if you want the mystery to remain unresolved, what is it that gets resolved at the end of the story? Why does the story end when it does? You might have your protagonist coming to terms with what he's done and with the idea that he doesn't know what really ...


55

Sounds like a great idea! Seriously though: the antagonist is the single most important character to any plot. The very best antagonists have motivations and feelings that readers can understand and empathize with. A former protagonist as an antagonist sounds really good. Both the reader and the author should be in for a fun ride, because it is very likely ...


50

It is perfectly fine for your story to end with the "bad guy" winning. Consider for example George Orwell's 1984: He loved Big Brother Complete and utter defeat. 1984 is one of last century's masterpieces. @Wetcircuit mentions tragedy in a comment, for good reason. Tragedy does not necessarily imply that the "bad guys" win, but it does imply the "good ...


43

Monica's excellent answer provides you with the how, but I'd like to touch on when, since you asked "how soon is too soon?" The rough answer is "It's too soon if the villain hasn't earned it." Your villain has to walk all the way back through the brainwashing/teaching/propaganda etc. which got the person to the dark place s/he began the story. The villain ...


43

You absolutely can do this, but there are two very important points to consider. What is your purpose in choosing this ending? In what way will this be a satisfying conclusion, from the reader's perspective? In your question, you're describing a particular sequence of events as being an unexpected one. That's great, but what makes story isn't just the ...


41

You're concerned about things being "unfulfilling if I simply make the Empire regularly make mind-boggling logical errors". And you're absolutely right. It will be unfulfilling if they make mind-boggling errors. But the emphasized point is important. It's only unfulfilling if it's mind-boggling to the reader. Which suggests an obvious answer: don't just ...


38

Just Desserts From TV Tropes: A villain ultimately finds their evil deeds come back to bite them. Literally—they end up getting eaten. This does not include a Heroic Sacrifice. But may be subverted with a minor character being killed and eaten in obvious foreshadowing of what is going to happen to one of the bads at some point. While Mooks ...


35

The light is inside him; it just needs a path out. Not a big gaping doorway that opens all at once, but small tendrils. Think "many drips carve a rock", not sudden change. How do you do that? In a lot of fiction that I've read (and I suspect there's psychology behind this, but I don't know), the first cracks come with perceived inconsistency and self-...


33

A story should finish what it starts. You control what, exactly, you choose to start. If you're not going to be finishing a murder mystery with a solution, you need to be careful not to set the story up in a way that the story will be unsatisfying without a solution. You say that not having a clean resolution is "the basic idea of the novel." Here are a ...


31

This concerns me: Of course I could now come up with who did it and why If you're writing a mystery, you need to know the answer yourself even if your protagonist does not. Without an overarching "thing" that is happening there is nothing to tie the plot together and all sorts of strange inconsistencies can emerge. It is fine to have the protagonist ...


27

Antagonists are not necessarily bad guys. They prevent your protagonist from achieving her goals. Free yourself of the labels and write your characters true to themselves. What you seem to have in your protagonist is something of an antihero in that she has killed her entire family and anyone else who ventured near enough to reach her. The reader need not ...


26

It's not unadvisable. There are many well-written characters that go through such a flip. Harvey Dent, the once white knight of Gotham, starts revenge killing everyone who was involved in the death of the woman he loved. Satiating his neverending need for vengeance, he takes if far enough to threaten the good guys who were not to blame. Victor Fries (Dr ...


24

On TV Tropes this is called Evil Is Not a Toy: Sometimes the Sealed Evil in a Can doesn't escape by itself, nor is it released by an Unwitting Pawn, but is deliberately set free by a villain (or hero). Let's call him Bob. Bob usually thinks he can control the sealed evil, or bargain with it, expecting to trade on a certain level of gratitude on its part ...


19

This is great if done well, but it's often done poorly. In Star Wars Anakin goes from good guy to bad guy without much subtlety or believability. And in Harry Potter, Tom Riddle is always a bad guy, he just hides it at first. A better example is The Good Earth where the main character starts off as a poor, hardworking peasant, and ends up as the same kind ...


19

As others have said, the antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be a bad guy. It's also worth mentioning however, that "bad guys" generally tend to think that what they're doing is good. Consider for example someone who holds order and stability to be the most important thing there is, and so acts to stop any major change from happening, whether that ...


19

Hero-always-wins is a trope I wouldn't call this a plot twist. A twist is a reveal. It changes how events earlier in the story are perceived. This is subverting a trope. The trope is an expected cliché: "the hero always wins", but then you break or subvert expectations. (See 2016 for middle-aged men having a cosmic meltdown because their Star Wars ...


18

Someone who deserves to be smeared over a brick wall doesn't have reedeming features. That's not to say the villain is stupid, or one-dimensional, or his/her only motive is "I like to be eeeeeeevil." But if you are trying to create a character "who needs killin'," then don't give him or her any good characteristics. Your villain shouldn't be physically ...


18

In Game of Thrones there were two sets of stakes: the magical Night King, and the mundane power struggle for the Iron Throne. The characters reasonably decided they had to deal with the magical, more immediately existential threat before handling the mundane one. Honestly I agree with you, and I also think that visual stories in general are escalating the ...


18

The most important rule is to match the stakes with the promises you've made to the reader You most emphatically do not have to constantly raise the stakes to make a compelling story. As your instincts suggest, switching to more personal stakes can create the same amount of reader investment as higher stakes would have. For example, Star Wars opened ...


16

Well, remember, many totalitarian regimes are in fact woefully inefficient. Largely because the emperor/fuhrer/first citizen needs to make sure the people beneath him are either not ambitious enough or competent enough to potentially overthrow them. The emperor has to be a paranoid backstabber to maintain a totalitarian regime, and he thus assumes everyone ...


15

Let's take a look at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in the Lord of the Rings: First, we have the Rohirrim. Among them are Theoden, Éowyn, Éomer and Merry. Then we have Minas Tirith, with its various forces, and with Gandalf and Pippin as focal point characters. There's the events inside the city with Denethor, and there's Imrahil outside. In the middle ...


14

Your girlfriend is correct that the bad guy winning at the end limits your audience, and will anger some readers. But it's important that you write your own book, not the book you think you should write. If you really connect with the material, and you execute it well, there are readers out there who will be as passionate about it as you are. A book aimed at ...


13

I second @Mark Baker's answer: Make sure he's not a caricature of villainy. Motivations are critical: Give him motivations that make sense for the story and the characters in it. If he's going to oppose your protagonist (and that's what he's there for), make sure he either wants the same thing for his own valid reasons, or he's pursuing something that causes ...


13

It sounds like you are doing what I do sometimes - focusing on the finding a weakness in the defences of the antagonist rather than asking where the protagonist is in any way better or different. Greek Tragedy might be of help here. They had a concept called Hamartia - a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine. Which sounds like what ...


13

Is the illogic absolutely necessary? Is it imperative to some aspect of your story that your villain's internal voice be self-contradicting and irrational? Many mental illnesses can be represented in fiction just by establishing an incorrect yet fanatically held belief in the mind of the afflicted. It is not necessary to damage the afflicted's chain of ...


13

The classic example of an effective Lawful Good antagonist is Inspector Javert, from Les Misérables. He is a good person who cares deeply about upholding the law, which brings him into conflict with the protagonist, Jean Valjean, multiple times throughout the story because Valjean is a reformed thief who had to break parole and assume a different identity ...


12

This IS possible, although it may not (make that will not) appeal to everyone. Dhalgren (Delany), Wind Up Bird Chronicles (Murakami) and New York Trilogy (Auster) are three very successful and influential books that end with substantial unanswered questions about the book's core mysteries. I think the key is to make sure the story feels "emotionally ...


12

You readers are invested in your character. There are multiple things they like about him, right? Those things cannot just disappear - that would leave your reader angry, frustrated, and feeling betrayed by you. The character's Fall needs to be believable. And after the Fall, there's the question of Redemption. Your readers are invested in the character, ...


11

The answer to this lies in (frustratingly) another question: Why does your protagonist consider them "evil"? If you can come up with something plausible and relatable for the answer to this you might just have a shot. If the reason is due to a misunderstanding (or similar) on the protagonist's part (e.g. they believe the antagonist committed atrocity X ...


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