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Thread: Nature of the antagonist

  1. #1

    Default Nature of the antagonist

    In writing in general, there usually is a clearly outlined/designated antagonist that goes against the main character(s)/protagonist(s). I still am debating though how that antagonist needs to be fleshed out. In the little story that I am running at the moment ( https://www.twcenter.net/forums/show...-few-chapters) ), the antagonist is pretty much "clear" since it would be the leader of the "other side". Even without talking about him in any way, shape or form, he still is "well defined". On the other hand, I am wondering how, you experienced writers, would consider not "outligning" an antagonist in a story? Let's say if it is the leader of a sports team for example, the protagonist would want to win games, period. How does that affect the sense of the story and should it be needed to "create" an antagonist anyway, even in an "environnement" such as a sport league (to go back to the example)?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    The antagonist for writing in general can be boiled down to the clearest element that opposes the antagonist. This can and usually is a character standing in opposition for what the protagonist wants. However, in the given sports example, you may want to interpret the word more broadly. An antagonist is not necessarily an individual. It can be a recurring group. A member of your own side, who the protagonist must work out issues with even as the sports games regularly go well (though, it's always interesting to have defeats that seriously challenge the protagonist's confidence and methods). A friend having problems - perhaps the 'antagonist', the recurring opposition to the protagonist, is the cancer of a close friend, something which burns into the protagonist even as there is no clearly defined enemy elsewhere.

    Perhaps the antagonist lies within the protagonist. After all, the protagonist is no more than the POV character, and the antagonist is the POV's greatest problem. Perhaps the POV is their own worst enemy; they're rude, they're sick, they're weak, they have something nasty that challenges their ability to do what they want and perhaps make others like or respect them as well as they'd want. This is as viable an antagonist as any third party character you come up with.

    An antagonist is a plot device, and all plot devices can be used however you see fit, so long as you have a vision for what they are and what they mean, and can clearly carry it out. If you don't want this at all and simply want a story where the challenge comes in a variety of 'mini antagonists', problems of the moment, that's viable too.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    The real antagonist is the critic commenting your story. Make sure to funnel all your hate for him into your work. That'll show him!

    Kidding aside: Ideally the antagonist is representing something that contradicts some values the protagonists has. You state that your antagonist is defined by being the leader of the other side. Well yeah, the entire enemy team should be defined by those things your protagonist despises.

    There should be a connection between protagonist and antagonist. The less fleshed out your antagonist is, the blander your protagonist is likely to be. Not to mention that antagonists are often helping shape the protagonists character as much, if not more, than a mentor/father figure does, by being the opposite, and making him realise what he values by forcing him to fight for it.

    Example 1: Gave your linked story only a quick glance (apologies), you mention legions. A classic trope is Roman order/tyranny, which you could contradict with barbarian chaos/freedom.
    Example 2: You wanted a sports example. Dodgeball comes to mind. Since it's a comedy movie, the flaws/strengths of the characters are very exaggerated, making it the perfect example. The protagonist and his team of good guys stand for liberty and anarchy to a certain degree, and his opponent for corporatism and tyranny.

    It is up to you how nuanced you want to be. But figuring out what differences are making your protagonist and antagonist irreconcilable is a good place to start.
    You can also mix it up by highlighting how similar protagonist and antagonists are in other areas, making the one deciding difference even more clear.
    .







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  4. #4

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    the protagonist is no more than the POV character, and the antagonist is the POV's greatest problem.
    This was an interesting aspect that I didn't look at...

    figuring out what differences are making your protagonist and antagonist irreconcilable is a good place to start
    It got me thinking further down the rabbit hole though... Do you think it could be possible to create a story where the antagonist would be "more in the forefront" of the writing than the protagonist could? I.E. I am thinking fo something where, let's say in a 66%/33% of the whole text, the antagonist would be the 66% and the protagonist would be the 33%? I am thinking of a situation that would be high stake politics for example. The antagonist would be described in many details, where all his scheming would be presented and detailled while, on the other hand, the "hero" would only be written in relation to his reaction to the scheming. Do you think it could be possible to create a text of such nature, where the antagonist would be more "present on the screen" than the hero?

  5. #5

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Quote Originally Posted by Rien102 View Post
    It got me thinking further down the rabbit hole though... Do you think it could be possible to create a story where the antagonist would be "more in the forefront" of the writing than the protagonist could? I.E. I am thinking fo something where, let's say in a 66%/33% of the whole text, the antagonist would be the 66% and the protagonist would be the 33%? I am thinking of a situation that would be high stake politics for example. The antagonist would be described in many details, where all his scheming would be presented and detailed while, on the other hand, the "hero" would only be written in relation to his reaction to the scheming. Do you think it could be possible to create a text of such nature, where the antagonist would be more "present on the screen" than the hero?
    I think there are a few distinctions to make here. This is certainly quite possible - the best example I know is the show Hannibal, where Hannibal Lector is the true antagonist of the series while you still have regular PoV protagonists that clearly represent good. The ratio isn't quite what you describe, and yet, Lector easily gets 50% if not more attention. So what you describe is certainly possible. I would recommend looking into it if not watching it if you want to explore this dynamic further.

    That said, you could argue when it gets to that point, it's not as simple as the protagonist getting less screentime than the antagonist. The protagonist is, again, the main PoV character(s). Once you put that much attention onto the antagonist, they become that very PoV character, and thus just a 'dark sided' protagonist, or a villain that happens to be the protagonist of the show. The character taking the remaining 33% of attention becomes a side character - a hero, plenty of attention, but ultimately secondary to the villain's story who has lion's share with 66%.

    At that point the hero is actually the antagonist. You describe a scenario that can be boiled down to the villain being the protagonist.
    Last edited by CommodusIV; June 01, 2019 at 09:59 AM.

  6. #6
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    I don't think it's necessary to create an antagonist, but it can be fun. In my Ireland AAR, Éirí Amach: Irish Rising, I had a lot of fun writing the chapters with Captain Kelly and Sergeant Dempsey, the two antagonists. (I found that two antagonists are better than one. When we have two antagonists, they can discuss their plans together and they can have different strengths). The strongest reactions from readers were reponses to Kelly and Dempsey.

    You used the example of a leader of a sports team. I don't think it's necessary to create an antagonist. In your example, the antagonist could be the leader of a rival team (as Cookiegod said), another member of the same team (maybe they want to be the leader) or someone in authority over the team (like the owner, if there is one).

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Quote Originally Posted by Rien102 View Post
    It got me thinking further down the rabbit hole though... Do you think it could be possible to create a story where the antagonist would be "more in the forefront" of the writing than the protagonist could? I.E. I am thinking fo something where, let's say in a 66%/33% of the whole text, the antagonist would be the 66% and the protagonist would be the 33%? I am thinking of a situation that would be high stake politics for example. The antagonist would be described in many details, where all his scheming would be presented and detailled while, on the other hand, the "hero" would only be written in relation to his reaction to the scheming. Do you think it could be possible to create a text of such nature, where the antagonist would be more "present on the screen" than the hero?
    Maybe, but most likely it'd simply make your antagonist the protagonist and vice versa. Your protagonist doesn't have to be good, and your antagonist doesn't have to be bad.
    Quote Originally Posted by Alwyn View Post
    I don't think it's necessary to create an antagonist, but it can be fun. In my Ireland AAR, Éirí Amach: Irish Rising, I had a lot of fun writing the chapters with Captain Kelly and Sergeant Dempsey, the two antagonists. (I found that two antagonists are better than one. When we have two antagonists, they can discuss their plans together and they can have different strengths). The strongest reactions from readers were reponses to Kelly and Dempsey.

    You used the example of a leader of a sports team. I don't think it's necessary to create an antagonist. In your example, the antagonist could be the leader of a rival team (as Cookiegod said), another member of the same team (maybe they want to be the leader) or someone in authority over the team (like the owner, if there is one).
    You are right that obviously an antagonist isn't strictly necessary, and you can have any number of them. But most writers will still choose a main antagonist, the others often being his henchmen or something similar. Haven't read your Ireland AAR, but I'd assume that captain Kelly has a higher rank than the seargent, and was likely the leader. Hence he'd've likely been the primary antagonist. His defeat would thus mark the climax of the story.

    Since the protagonist and the antagonist complement each other, it's far easier to compare the protagonist with one antagonist, than with 2, or maybe 10, since those would hopefully not be completely identically.

    You also don't need, strictly speaking, to have yourself limited to one protagonist. You can have 5 or 10. But it's best to have one leader, and he can be uncertain until quite late in the story. But he again is needed for the climax, and because he'd define the main plotline of the story.

    So basically you can have 10 protagonists vs 1 antagonist, 1 protagonist and no antagonist (in which case his adversity would still need a source, which could be he his own psychological issues, or nature, society, etc.), 1 protagonist vs 10 antagonists, etc. etc.

    Most stories'll stick to 1 vs 1 because simple is more often than not best.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    An antagonist does not necessarily have to be a person. It can be a system, a viewpoint, some struggle, a quests under a doomed star. Heck, it can even be an object or a place.

    I find it bland if there are villains just for the sake of keeping the protagonist and the story busy.
    Villains themselve can have very different motivations. At least make something out of it if you include one.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Quote Originally Posted by Cookiegod View Post
    Your protagonist doesn't have to be good, and your antagonist doesn't have to be bad.
    That is something I find interesting... I must say I never went through a story where the protagonist is inherantly bad... Must be the North American side of things I guess

    Heck, it can even be an object or a place.
    That is something I never thought of... at all! the idea of a place being an antagonist is making my head spin a little...

    Tks to all to have offer ideas, views and knowledge.
    It is really appreciated!

  10. #10

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Quote Originally Posted by Rien102 View Post
    the idea of a place being an antagonist is making my head spin a little...
    It'll be easier once you detach the idea of 'antagonist' as being an individual or role a particular 'actor' would play, and rather, consider it for the plot device that it is - the variable, usually personified but also sometimes not, that the protagonist needs to overcome. One of multiple, perhaps. It has nothing to do with good or evil, hero or villain, an individual or many, an individual or simply a thing. It can involve any or all of them, but what you seem to be familiar with is a common, but narrow interpretation of the term.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    An antagonist does not necessarily have to be a person. It can be a system, a viewpoint, some struggle, a quests under a doomed star. Heck, it can even be [...]
    ... a grammar nazi.
    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    I find it bland if there are villains just for the sake of keeping the protagonist and the story busy.
    Villains themselve can have very different motivations. At least make something out of it if you include one.
    I can always relate to hate and the wish to make someone's life as miserable as possible.
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  12. #12
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Yes, Captain Kelly had higher rank, but I saw Kelly and Dempsey as equally the antagonists. Kelly was better at coming up with plans, while Dempsey was wiser at putting the schemes into practice, and together they were an effective team.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rien102 View Post
    That is something I find interesting... I must say I never went through a story where the protagonist is inherantly bad... Must be the North American side of things I guess
    One of the things I liked about the movie Troy was that there were reasonably decent, but flawed, characters on both sides. As I see it, the protagonist is more interesting if they have flaws.

    I think Derc's point about villains having different motivations is a good one - I fond it helpful to think about what motivates both protagonists and villains.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Yes, Derc knows a lot about antagonists. Being a German does that to you.
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  14. #14

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Thank you to all who came into this discussion. It was very interesting but, mainly, you have offered me great insights and a lot to think of... form the nature of the antagonist, to the type, to its motivations... this is a lot to digest and to work with. Thanks again!

    If you have some time, please offer me some more of your knowledge with my little trial text. https://www.twcenter.net/forums/showthread.php?797125-quot-A-First-Command-quot-(pretty-short-story-few-chapters)

  15. #15

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    I know I am late to this party (the chairs seem to already be up on the tables...), but I had a thought I haven't seen above, so I thought I'd share.

    In addition to all of the points about the antagonist not needing to be a person, not needing to be bad, etc., I think it is important to keep in mind that if your antagonist is a single character, as is often the case, then it is incredibly important that the antagonist be a proper character, and not merely a poster for the "bad guy". The one thing that makes someone (or something) an antagonist is that they stand in the way of the protagonist's way. That does not, however, mean that the antagonist is evil or out to get the "good guy". You can have two characters who are both aiming for worthy (or perhaps neutral) goals, but who cannot both be simultaneously successful. Thus, they will by necessity stand against one another, even if neither is "in the wrong", so to say. And with that, I think it is also worth saying that if you want an antagonist who somehow embodies some "bad guy" characteristics, then also make an effort to show how he is not only a bad guy. For me, the best example of this will always be Magneto from X-Men. He is in most of the movies an antagonist, if not the the antagonist, and while his plans are often seemingly diabolical and utterly opposed to those of the X-Men (and humanity), he is not simply a "bad guy". He is an incredibly complex individual who is worth a lot of sympathy and support, and at the end of the day he really turns out to be more of a tragic hero than a proper villain. He is still the antagonist, but not a force of evil or something like that. I think that is something to bear in mind when writing and planning characters. All of them are people, and all of them are both good and bad. What makes them "the bad guy" or "the good guy" is nothing more than where they fit into the story and the agenda the protagonist (and readers) have.

    So, long story short, if the antagonist is a person (or human-like character), then make him or her a real character, with fully-fledged wants, desires, emotions, and driving forces.
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  16. #16

    Default Re: Nature of the antagonist

    Dang! No apologies! You made my noggen worked a bit while reading the post. Interesting way of looking at things and it made me think a bit more about the whole idea of the nature of the antagonist (the Sandman portrayed in the bad SpiderMan 3 came to mind about "antagonist" not being an absolute baddy...)

    Thanks a lot!

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