Every novel starts with a protagonist and a problem. It can’t be just any, old problem either. It has to be life changing, something the main character wants so much that he’ll spend the entire novel trying to get it. In romance, it’s boy meets girl. He wants her. She doesn’t want him. Or she does want him, but life gets in the way, and they have to work through all sorts of misadventures and misunderstandings to be together. In mysteries, there’s some kind of crime that needs to be solved. In fantasies, there’s a quest or a battle between good and evil.
In many novels, the protagonist has to face and defeat a villain. Villains take all shapes and sizes. They can be vampires and fae gone awry, as in Patricia Briggs’ novels. They can be nice, elderly ladies who offer you tea, as in Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Or they can be brilliant, memorable monsters like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of The Lambs. Villains put a face on the hero’s problem. But villains aren’t always enough. Adversaries add depth and texture to a novel. The fun thing about adversaries is that they don’t have to be “bad.” They just have to get in the hero’s way, to be a thorn in his side, and to trip him up while he tries to achieve his goal.
Sometimes, adversaries can be as memorable as villains. In Silence of the Lambs, Dr. Frederick Chilton creeped me out more than Lecter did. I despised his smarmy smugness, his cowardly taunting. But an adversary could be a good guy (or girl)–like the New Orleans female cop who keeps vampire hunter, Jane Yellowrock, on a tight leash in Faith Hunter’s series. Adversaries and heroes butt heads, and sometimes it’s because two good guys both believe they’re right. Or, in a romance, it can be because one of the protagonist’s best friends is attracted to the same person the protagonist’s fallen for. Weather can even serve as an adversary in a plot. Jack London used storms or blizzards to great effect in his novels.
Lots of things can create tension in story lines. Heroes have to jump many hurdles before they reach a satisfying ending. Great villains can crank up the conflict, but so can great adversaries. How the hero responds is what makes us turn the pages.
### Thought I’d list a favorite blog post of mine (and I hope it works) that states really well how a hero handles conflict. http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/2012/03/character-actions.html?spref=fb (If this doesn’t open, Les Edgerton’s blog, in general, gives great writing advice.)