What’s a Contagonist How to Keep Story Conflict High Without the Antagonist

What’s a Contagonist? (How to Keep Story Conflict High Without the Antagonist)

This week’s video explains what a contagonist is and how you can use this important character to augment and contrast your antagonist.

Video Transcript:

We all know what a protagonist is. We all know what an antagonist is. Can’t have a story without either one, right? Without some kind of antagonistic—and most likely human—obstacle between our hero and his story goal, we end up with no conflict and very little plot. That’s your basic story formula in a nutshell. Pretty simple—until you find yourself in a story situation in which the antagonist has to be largely absent for a good chunk of the story.

This scenario could happen for any number of reasons, not least among them the fact that if the protagonist and the antagonist need to kill each other, the story will quickly end the moment they’re in the same room. So they simply can’t meet until the big battle in the climax. But what do you do in the meantime? If the protagonist and the antagonist can’t go mano a mano, then where is your story’s immediate conflict and tension coming from?

This, my friends, is where the contagonist makes his grand entrance.

The contagonist is an antagonistic character who will get in the protagonist’s way, try to lead him astray, and just generally cause conflict and tension. He differs from the antagonist in that he isn’t necessarily directly opposed to the protagonist. They may very likely be on the same side with the same overall story goal—which means the contagonist will often get to be present with the protagonist, even when the antagonist cannot.

The Blinding Knife by Brent WeeksBrent Weeks’s fantasy The Blinding Knife gives us a great example. The primary antagonist—the daunting Color Prince—never even gets within eyesight of the hero within this second book in the trilogy. But Weeks gives readers a tremendously powerful contagonist in the shape of the hero’s formidable father–who wants his son to be on his side, but who definitely isn’t above creating all kinds of threats—and therefore much needed personal conflict and tension that would otherwise have been missing, with the main antagonist so far away for so much of the story.

So maybe it’s time to figure out your story’s contagonist!

Tell me your opinion: Who is the contagonist in your story?

Whats a Contagonist How to Keep Story Conflict High   Without the Antagonist

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. My character, Samantha Storms, is fighting bad guys like Victor, but doesn’t approve of how StarGirl does her things and thinks that she’s not good enough since StarGirl just rounds up the bad guys and Samantha kills and tortures them, though she enjoys it, but StarGirl thinks she can stop Samantha. What would you call her? Samantha, I mean.

  2. Michael Saltar says

    Is this the same as the nemesis?

  3. K.M., if a story adheres to the Hero’s Journey, would the Guardian archetype and/or the Shapeshifter archetype function as contagonist?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Never the Guardian: the Guardian archetype stands in opposition to the Contagonist. But the Shapeshifter could definitely be a Contagonist.

  4. So in one of my stories, the protagonist and the supporting character (his friend) enter a tournament where they compete against each other for the same thing. There’s already an antagonist, but would this conflict between the protagonist and his friend make the supporting character a contagonist or just another antagonist?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Possibly. It depends on how intrinsic this contest is to the overall conflict. If it’s just the one scene, then it isn’t likely the friend is filling the role of contagonist. It’s also important to examine the character thematically. The contagonist does more than just oppose the protagonist; he also functions to try to lure the protagonist away from the right path.

  5. I’m still not sure if this character is a contagonist- she acts as a proxy for the antagonist to send the protagonists to kill their friends (the protagonists only realize later they’ve been sent to kill their friends).

  6. Does every story need a contagonist? While my protagonist doesn’t come face to face with the antagonist until the climax, there’s definitely a ton of tension, conflict, and action via the mini antagonists.

    Madi

  7. I’m writing a story where my contagonist essentially wrecks my protagonist’s life. The protagonist will lose her personal freedom and be wrenched far away from her main goal as a result of being tempted off-track by the contagonist. The contagonist will certainly exploit the protagonist’s belief in The Lie in order to do this. (So far, so good.)

    The way I see it, I have two main problems:

    1. How do I keep the reader from feeling jarred? My contagonist will essentially sail my protagonist down the river (with lots of delicious conflict involved), where she will then meet her antagonist(s). Past that point, however, the contagonist will likely become irrelevant and disappear from my plot. We may be well past the mid-point of the novel by that time. Do you think this could make the reader feel jarred? Might the reader have some unresolved feelings about what the contagonist did to wreck my protagonist’s life?

    2. My protagonist can’t save the world. The root of all of this suffering relates to much greater societal problems (a morally corrupt society) which are going to be far out of her reach. There will be three primary acts in this story, which take place in three major settings:

    1. The normal world.
    2. The hellish world the protagonist is dragged into by the contagonist.
    3. The world the protagonist is then “sailed down” to, where she will meet / battle the antagonist(s).

    During the second and third parts, the protagonist will be struggling to get her life back. At the end of the third part, there may be a way for her to finally get What She Needs (though her life will be drastically altered.) The main problem this leaves me with is that there is no way for my hero to fix all of the evil that resulted in her troubles. The corrupt society will keep on trucking. The contagonist will keep on trucking (and will obviously hurt lots of other people). I may be able to find some way for the antagonists to get some kind of comeuppance, but my protagonist’s ability to do anything is severely limited by the oppressive, corrupt society.

    Sorry, I know that’s a lot. If you can answer any of this for me, it would be greatly appreciated!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Any character that plays a major role in the first half of the story needs to be given some kind of continuity in the second half, otherwise it will feel like a foreshadowing plant that is never paid off.

  8. Hannah Killian says

    I wonder if the character my protagonist is forced to team up with is a contagonist. He’s on the same side regarding the story goal, but they both differ on the best way for the protagonist to protect his family. He (the protagonist) thinks he should go home, but the other character thinks the protagonist’s family would be safer if he stayed away from them. This other character is also a deuteragonist.

  9. Thank you for explaining what a Contagonist is. I had no idea that the term existed until I read your post.
    In my story, I have a protagonist, antagonist and a love interest. The central part of the story takes place with the antagonist on Earth, doing his nasty work, and the protagonist another planet.
    There is another character on the same planet as the protagonist, who is doing things to help protagonist protect his world but hindering him in him in his efforts to identify the antagonist.
    I was at a loss to identify that character’s role. Now I know.
    Thank you again.
    Antaeus

  10. This is a very interesting post. In my novel, the antagonist and the protagonist do not confront each other till the last chapter and this worried me a little. I knew there was sufficient conflict and I realise now that I had created a contagonist. He is the protag’s husband who creates all kinds of difficulties for her in the pursuit of her goal. He is also indirectly related to the main plot. My novel was recently accepted by a traditional publisher. 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. […] The contagonist, this one is not as commonly understood. Short answer, they oppose the work of the guardian. They push the main character’s development backwards, that isn’t an excuse not to have a fully developed protagonist. Unlike the antagonist, they may or may not oppose the main character on purpose. But they do have to oppose them. A good example would be Borimir from The Lord of the Rings. Here’s a more in depth article on the contagonist. […]

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