How the Antagonist Functions in Different Types of Character Arcs

Most of the time when we think about a story’s antagonist, we simply think of the “bad guy.” The antagonist is the character (or force) that opposes the protagonist’s forward progression in pursuit of the main plot goal. This is fundamental plot theory, linked to the old saw about “no conflict, no plot.” The antagonist creates that conflict by presenting obstacles to the protagonist’s easy forward momentum. When the protagonist finally overcomes those obstacles, the conflict ends and so does the plot.

But the antagonist is not merely a static force of opposition. Because every story is defined by the protagonist’s character arc, the antagonist’s role will vary depending on the nature of the protagonist’s own journey. If the protagonist’s personal character arc, as linked to the plot progression, is a Positive-Change Arc, then we generally recognize that the story itself is positive, even if it ends otherwise tragically. If the protagonist presents a Negative-Change Arc, we recognize the story as tragic, usually in the external conflict as well as the internal. And if the protagonist demonstrates a Flat Arc—which essentially inspires the (usually) Positive-Change Arcs of supporting characters—we also generally experience the story as positive.

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Depending on which of these general arcs your protagonist “proves” by the end of the story, the antagonist will play a corresponding role. To create a fully functioning storyform, in which the external and internal stories (essentially, the plot and the theme) pull together, it is necessary to recognize that the antagonist’s orientation to the protagonist and to the thematic Truth at the heart of the protagonist’s arc will not be arbitrary.

Although an antagonist can follow a character arc of his or her own, the antagonist’s role within the story must function in direct correspondence to the protagonist. In short, the antagonist must function to oppose the protagonist, thus creating the necessary conflict in the plot and the forthcoming inner friction within the protagonist’s own evolution.

Many writers believe the antagonist’s arc should simply be opposite to the protagonist’s. For example, if the protagonist demonstrates a Positive-Change Arc, the antagonist should demonstrate a Negative-Change Arc. Although a sound principle underlies this idea, it does not, in itself, get at the true function of the antagonist or, for that matter, the protagonist.

Put simply, a story is always about two opposing forces—an element that seeks change and an element that resists it.

Almost always, the element of change is heroic, while the element resisting it is adversarial. This is why character arcs (and stories in general for that matter) are always about change. This is what defines character arcs and makes them work.

However, it is important to note that the change represented in Negative-Change Arcs is always regressive. It does not represent a heroic willingness and courage in moving forward into necessary evolution, as do the Positive-Change and (in a different way) the Flat Arcs. Rather, the Negative-Change Arc represents not only a refusal to enact necessary and heroic change (either personally or socially) but instead either a stubborn resistance to such change or an attempt to reverse previous changes and revert to a former way of being.

For all its simplicity, this is a complex understanding of story. It is predicated upon the idea that change is always necessary, but it is complicated by the reality that change is not always effective. Therefore, a person who resists change can simultaneously represent an antagonistic obstacle to heroic change and a voice of wisdom.

Right away, we can see opportunities for not just fleshing out antagonists (and protagonists) but also for exploring the central conflict of story as a deeply transformative question that always reflects upon life itself, no matter the story’s actual scope or events.

Today, let’s take a brief look at how you can use this simple equation (enactor of change vs. resistor of change) to strengthen your protagonist and antagonist’s relationship in any type of story.

Positive-Change Character Arc: The Antagonist as Adversary

Here we have the classic story set-up of a heroic protagonist against a villainous antagonist. The protagonist represents the good guy, if only in the sense that the protagonist is willing to confront a problematic reality and attempt to change it. Likewise, the antagonist represents the bad guy, if only in the sense that the antagonist is unwilling to confront this same evolving reality by changing accordingly—and as a result he either acts as an obstacle himself or purposefully creates obstacles for the protagonist.

This is an obviously simplistic approach that in no way accounts for or precludes the individual nuances of the characters. Just because the protagonist is predisposed to accepting the need for change, this does not mean she is instantly heroic. Indeed, the entire point of a Positive-Change Arc is that the protagonist only slowly accepts the need to release an old view of reality (the Lie the Character Believes) and embrace a new and more effective one (the thematic Truth).

By the same token, the antagonist in a Positive-Change Arc story need not be blindly and absolutely opposed to change. What is important within the scope of the story is that the antagonist represents an adversarial obstacle to the protagonist’s story-specific change.

We see this represented in all sorts of stories, everything from blatantly symbolic clashes of good and evil, right down to Bildungsroman stories about up-and-coming young protagonists who may or may not succeed in overthrowing existing establishments (which, indeed, may or may not need overthrowing, as in the case of, say, an established newspaper adapting to the Internet age).

In these stories, the protagonist may or may not be obviously heroic, just as the antagonist may or may not be obviously adversarial. What is important is simply the recognition that any character following a Positive-Change Arc represents humanity’s heroic potential simply through the willingness to embrace change—even in the face of resistance from another.

The antagonist may represent Joseph Campbell’s tyrant “Holdfast”—keeper of the status quo who refuses to allow the protagonist or society in general to adapt to inevitable and necessary change. But the specific character will not necessarily be blind, stupid, stubborn, or tyrannical. Indeed, the character may represent an aspect of reality that needs to be currently preserved in general but not specifically for the protagonist.

We can see this in many coming-of-age stories in which parents or other authority figures represent the adversary to a “heroic” protagonist who is in the process of growing up and individuating. With a few obvious exceptions, we recognize that these older characters are not villainous in any way but simply enacting prescribed and necessarily limiting social boundaries—which the protagonist is now outgrowing.

Indeed, people need other people against whom to push and struggle and grow. Even if the other person is not quantifiably “wrong,” he or she represents to us an opportunity to grow.

Just as suggested by David Emerald’s Empowerment Triangle (which offers several implicit character-arc opportunities), an Adversary is very often a Challenger, and therefore one’s greatest teacher.

The Negative-Change Character Arc: The Antagonist as Hero

Negative-Change Arcs are always interesting in that they subvert the ideal of protagonist as hero. Instead, these arcs explore a story in which the protagonist is a character who blocks healthy change and growth and instead either clings to the status quo or reverts to an outmoded belief.

The Negative-Change Arc features a protagonist who fails to courageously embrace a necessary new view of reality (the thematic Truth) and instead stubbornly clings to or even reverts deeper into a now-outdated view (the Lie).

As a result of this heroic failure (and in some cases outright cowardice), the protagonist will experience tragic personal consequences and will likely inflict similar tragedies upon the story world around him.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the antagonist in these stories is the one who represents the heroic proposition. As in any story, the antagonist is the character who opposes, resists, and creates obstacles for the protagonist. When the protagonist is the one resisting forward change, the antagonist will be the one challenging this approach.

Very often, this means the antagonist in a Negative-Change Arc will be the “good guy”—the detective trying to take down the corrupt mob boss or the concerned family member trying to save a loved one from an addiction.

Whether the antagonist will be able to overcome the protagonist’s resistance to necessary growth will depend on the specific story. The author may wish to underline the true tragedy of the protagonist’s negative choices, in which case the antagonist’s heroic efforts will fail. Or the author may choose to emphasize the importance of transformative courage to contrast the story’s in-depth exploration of the protagonist’s destructive refusal to embrace a truer and broader reality. In this case, the antagonist may “win” in the end, while the protagonist ends tragically on a personal level by suffering the consequences of her actions.

The Flat Character Arc: The Antagonist as Either Adversary or Student

In a Flat Arc, the protagonist is, in fact, at his most heroic. Unlike the Positive Change-Arc protagonist, the protagonist in a Flat Arc is not waging a personal internal war between Lie and Truth. Remember, the Positive-Change protagonist is trapped between her own potential for either courage or cowardice. She chooses courage (and therefore change), but not until the end. By contrast, the Flat-Arc character is essentially the sequel to the Positive-Change Arc.

This is a character who has already come to peace with and now represents a brave new viewpoint, which is needed in order to positively transform the story’s external reality. The Flat-Arc protagonist does not personally change over the course of the story (at least not in relation to the central thematic Truth). Rather, the Flat-Arc protagonist is a catalyst for change, representing a call to transformation for the supporting characters.

In these stories, some of the supporting characters will answer this call and be positively transformed into heroically facing the new paradigm represented by the protagonist. Others from among the supporting characters will resist this change, choosing to cling to the thematic Lie and falling into regressive negative patterns.

Your antagonist in a Flat-Arc story can potentially fall into either category. It depends on what type of story you are telling and specifically what type of Truth the Flat-Arc protagonist represents.

If the thematic Truth will require broad social change (on the scale of the community on up), then the antagonist is likely to be an adversary—a person or force who outright resists the need for and the enacting of a new paradigm.

If, however, the story is “smaller” and more relationship-focused, it is possible that the antagonist may instead be a character who is in fact on a Positive-Change Arc. This character will initially resist the protagonist’s Truth, but will eventually overcome her own personal Lie and embrace the change. This is very often the paradigm for romance stories, in which one lead character follows a Flat Arc that constructively impacts the other lead’s Positive-Change Arc. By “meeting” each other within the story’s thematic Truth, they are then able to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

Particularly in some stories with unchanging Flat-Arc protagonists, it is possible to see antagonists who initially seem to be more progressive in their desire to embrace change than is the protagonist. At first glance, this would seem to indicate these antagonists are more heroic than the static protagonists. However, a closer look shows that the change these antagonists are trying to enact is, in fact, not progressive but regressive.

A good example is Thanos is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unlike many, he possesses the ability to recognize the untenability of the universe’s overpopulation and therefore the need for a new “Truth” that would accept, adapt to, and address the problem. At first glance, this perspective seems more forward-thinking and progressive than that of the story’s heroes (who aren’t even thinking about these problems). But Thanos proves himself an adversary in that his solution is to regress to a previous “Truth” by massacring half the population.

Thanos Infinity war Snap

***

Stories work best when their underlying pieces are placed in direct relationship with one another. Fortunately, these fundamental pieces are very few  in number: really, there is only the protagonist and the antagonist. Once you understand their relationship to each other within various types of story, you can successfully build compellingly dimensional characters upon their foundations.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What is your antagonist’s role in your protagonist’s character arc? Tell me in the comments!

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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. Dennis M. Montgomery says

    Many thanks to you.

    I’ve been wanting to write a more dimensional villain for some time, but didn’t know where to start. Now, I have some ideas.

    I also what you to know that you and David Farland and others in the writing community have inspired me to rewrite my novel (all 600 plus pages). Why? Because there are elements of writing I know or aware of now that I didn’t know in 2019. This doesn’t mean I dislike my book. In fact, there things in it that I’m quite proud of and won’t change, nonetheless there are defects like a poorly motivated villain that needs addressing to.

    Have a nice week.d

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sounds like you’ve had a transformative couple of years! Exciting. 😀

    • I think I know what you mean about wanting to rewrite. I am very nearly at the end of my fictional novel. I’m a bit stuck with the ending, but that doesn’t bother me as much as the bits that I don’t like.
      I have edited several times and it flows a lot better but there are still ‘sticky’ bits that I don’t want to totally throw away, but improving them is awkward – if that makes sense?

  2. Another thought provoking article. I struggle with antagonists and this is some useful advice about how to think about them. I think that in my eternal WIP I’m closer to the Thanos model, but one thing I’d note is that the Avengers never justified Thanos’ claim or even discussed it at all, and that does make him less understandable. In my eternal WIP, my antagonist is pursuing what he sees as a laudable goal, which is at cross purposes with the protagonist’s journey. I do scenes from the antagonists POV and try to make him a relatable, if more than a bit obsessive, personality. I’m trying not to make this a black and white story – the heroes have things they’ve got wrong, and the villains have things they’ve got right, but it’s been a lot of work and its still not hitting the notes quite right.

    Anyway, thank you for this. For many (most?) stories, a good antagonist is make or break. I know at least some authors struggle with antagonists, wanting to either make them too vile or not actually define them at all.

    TTFN
    Andy

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree about Thanos. He had a good point, just not a good plan. In reversing the Snap, the Avengers righted his wrong but only further contributed to the original problem, as was at least touched on some in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier miniseries.

      • This is where writing gets difficult. It’s actually not clear that overpopulation is anything like the problem Thanos presented it as. The original popular work on overpopulation “The Population Bomb” came out in the 1960s predicted worldwide famine in the 1970s and 80s on a scale that still hasn’t happened and were actually further from now than we were then. There are no signs of natural resource exhaustion and many forms of pollution are down, with carbon being the conspicuous exception. Now, the sources I’ve read may prove to be wrong and we may be the 2030s will be the decade the bomb goes off. Regardless, Thanos never presented any sort of case for his world saving actions and when an antagonist or a protagonist fails to do that, the reader isn’t pushed to seriously consider the problem and the solution.

        On the other hand the question of what the ideal population levels of the planet is, is a complex one, and a lot fewer people would have sat for even Ironman and Thanos having a six hour discussion of environmental and economic theory. Well, I might, but I’m a weirdo, so there you go.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Well, to be fair, Thanos was talking about the *universe*, not just Earth. 😉 But, yeah, I hear you. It’s important to be sensitive to genre demands.

    • The problem with Thanos’ solution is that he didn’t have to destroy half of the population to solve the problem he presents which is hunger of masses. With the technology we have today, we can create vitamin pills that can replace a full course meal, and taking this even further, we can genetically modify the future generations to have smaller stomachs or no stomachs at all. Rather than trying to find solutions like that, he chooses to kill off half of the population, which, according to statistics, will cause a greater population boom in the long run. Avengers is all about creating a world where everyone can live happily and be safe. Therefore, killing off half of all the living things is out of question for them. Besides, universe is infinite from where we stand. In my opinion, giving the interstellar transportation technology, which Thanos posses, to the worlds which suffer due to lack of resources and help them move around the galaxy is a much better solution than just killing them.

      • I’ve always wanted to make a fan film about a bunch of Earth eggheads who commandeer a space ship, visit Thanos and give him a 6 hour powerpoint presentation about how his plan is not only morally questionable, but also technically a terrible “solution” to the supposed (and unproven) problem he claims to fight.
        It would have probably been scientists stuttering and mumbling about population growth and rising efficiency in the use of resources, as well as wildly different situations on different continents, planets, galaxies… And in the end, Thanos would have most likely said. “Huh,” snapped them out of existence and gone about his day.

        But I must say I’m absolutely love how Marvel explores the “fallout” of the flashy super-battles, be it the trade of alien tech in Spiderman or the effects of the Snap in Falcon&Winter Soldier (and Spiderman).

  3. I always feel really confused by the flat arc romance character where the the lover is an antagonist. I usually write with two positive changes arc characters and an outside antagonist. In my current work, both lovers must overcome the idea they are unworthy of love, one because of a deformity that made him an outcast, and the other because he killed his lover in order to save Native American women and children. He knows in his heart he did the right thing, but he still carries a lot of guilt. The two protagonists come together to hunt a serial killer, whom I’ve thought of as the antagonist. But I guess that’s a subplot.

    Could my protagonists be each other’s antagonists, despite both being on a positive change arc? I think my sweet, shy, introspective character is a Coward archetype, and the hard-bitten, surly, rugged character is a Bully archetype, if that helps. That seems to make them at odds, but both are definitely on a positive change character arc.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      To the degree that they creating obstacles for each other within the mutual “goal” of the relationship, they will technically be each other’s antagonists. However, this can also be more of a subplot, with the main arcs being Flat in relationship to an outer antagonist. This is not uncommon in suspense stories with romantic subplots.

      • I hadn’t thought about it that way. I like that. My main antagonist is a serial killer (before that was a word) who thinks he’s helping his victims and society. His high self esteem is juxtaposed against the two protagonists struggling to see themselves as anything other than flawed men. I need to read your book on theme again. I feel like that makes sense but I can’t quite pinpoint it.

  4. Grace Dvorachek says

    The antagonist in my current WIP is probably along the lines of Thanos, but even more justifiable. I’ve made him realistic through a tragic backstory, and he also has a strong connection to one of the MCs. During the first part of the story–where his antagonistic qualities aren’t revealed–he’s what I like to call the “Lie Mentor”. This makes the bond between him and the MC stronger, because the things he says soothes the MC’s Lie as it gets ruffled by plot events.
    Much of the reason he’s even doing “bad guy” things is because he’s trying to protect the MC. So he’s heartbroken when, at the Third Plot Point, the MC rejects him and his Lie. But his loyalties go deeper than just the MC, so he bravely rises to live by his Lie no matter what.
    It’s almost like the MC in reverse. At the same plot point, the MC is heartbroken at having to reject the antagonist. Yet he, too, rises above the circumstances–but to embrace and live by the Truth.
    This particular bad guy’s journey has helped me realize even more that antagonists are humans, too. They have emotional struggles, heartbreaks, moments of indecision, justifiable motives, people they care about, people who care about them, and reasons that seem almost… right. But, of course, that’s what makes them so scary–they make the Lie so much more appealable to the MC.
    I used to have those smooth, one-dimensional, moustache-twirling, British-accent-speaking villains who exist solely to torment the MC and hunt him down. But once I started seeing them for real characters–and not just “bad guys”–it made my antagonists so much more believable.
    Thank you for this post!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “The Lie Mentor”–I like that! And that’s usually a good sign that you’ve chosen a thematically appropriate antagonist.

  5. The most brilliant thing I have read for a long time. It will take me some time to fully digest this before I can make an intelligent reply. Thank you.

  6. Reading your books and blog have helped me so much with creating a believable antagonist. I didn’t want him to be cartoonishly evil but struggled to get a handle on any rationale for his behavior that would make him otherwise. The idea of the ghost and the lie helped me understand him and my other characters so much better.

  7. pvonstackelberg says

    I am finding that my stories increasingly treat antagonists and protagonists in the same way when it comes to character and story development. This is at least in part, because of my interest in transmedia storytelling — telling one or more related stories across multiple media platforms.

    A well-developed storyworld (aka universe) is central to many transmedia stories and franchise films, books, etc. The Marvel Universe is an example of a storyworld that is at the heart of multiple stories.

    I thinking getting away from the model of protagonist = good/antagonist = bad will help a writer develop a much broader and more interesting cast of characters to populate an expansive storyworld . It also gives a writer much more leeway in exploring the shades of grey around a problem or value rather than having everything cast as black/white, good/bad, etc.

    If you look at the 1993 film The Fugitive, Harrison Ford plays Richard Kimble in the role of the protagonist. Tommy Lee Jones plays U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard, the antagonist. When we examine the nature of each of these characters, we clearly see both are “good” people. In fact, Gerard is everything we would expect of a traditional hero protagonist. Kimble and Gerard just have different, conflicting goals.

    If you look closely at the goals of these two characters, there is a subtle but significant difference…Kimble has escaped and wants to remain at large (sub-goal) so he can find the one-armed man who murdered his wife (story goal). Gerard, on the other hand, is focused simply on ensuring Kimble does not remain on the loose; he doesn’t care one way or the other about finding the guy who murdered Kimble’s wife. Gerard’s goal conflicts directly with Kimble’s sub-goal and only indirectly conflicts with Kimble’s story goal.

    Looking at the needs, wants, fears, flaws, weaknesses, goals, etc. of both a protagonist and antagonist is a very productive way of looking at your story’s premise and controlling idea from different perspectives.

    With the development of expansive storyworlds like the Marvel or Star Wars universes, it becomes increasingly important that all characters have some depth (or potential to develop that depth) to them as their roles may change from story to story. The switch of Anakin Skywalker from protagonist in the first trilogy of the Star Wars films to the antagonist in the second trilogy shows a tragic (fall) character arc that spans six films.

    With Marshal Gerard, we see the antagonist in the 1993 film become the protagonist in 1998’s sequel U.S. Marshals. In terms of character arcs, Gerard’s is flat; he changes very little from the first film to the second.

    Doing full character development of a large cast of characters can be time consuming and divert a writer from the task of finishing a story, so it may be impractical to delve deeply into each character in the cast. However, at a minimum, developing the protagonist and antagonist in the same level of detail is important not just for the story you are working on now, but for other stories — your sequels, prequels, and so on — that may emerge from your storyworld.

  8. In the WIP I’m revising, I came up with a clear concept for the antagonist before I even knew who the protagonist was. While figuring out what the protagonist is like, I often asked myself ‘what traits would pair best with this antagonist?’ For example, which weakness would make it hardest for this protagonist to oppose this antagonist? In many ways, my protagonist was shaped to fit this antagonist, rather than vice versa.

  9. My antagonist is on a flat arc. His biggest job in the story is to hold a mirror to the protagonist and make her admit that she’s changed. She’s a monster, just like him. He’s delusional, violent, and suicidal but he’s also understands the situation more clearly than the protagonist who has been in denial for decades. The antagonist, while he sees change as inevitable, the only consequences he sees are blighted hopes, broken dreams, and loss of humanity.The protagonist has to accept what the antagonist has told her and then look beyond that to find new hope, new dreams, and a new definition of what it means to be human. This ties back to the book’s theme of being human when you’re not human any more.

  10. Fantastic post and comments – really looking forward to this antagonist series – such a juicy topic. I’m revising a middle grade novel where the antagonist is doing the wrong thing, but for the reason of trying to save someone he loves. For the protagonist to succeed in her heroic quest she must help unravel the twisted dynamics of the antagonists family. In other words for the protagonist to succeed in her positive change arc, she must bring about a positive change arc for the antagonist.

    I do think it important that we explore the depths and humanity of antagonists far more deeply. Since stories inform how we see the world then continuing to create good vs evil characters means that we as storytellers are selling the Lie that people can be divided into good and evil. And that makes it much easier for political leaders etc. to engender hatred and perpetuate wars.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, the wrong thing for the right reason, or the right thing for the wrong reason. So much grist there.

  11. I love the posts in this blog! Thanks for sharing. This was yet another great post! I only wish that there were more examples from movies. I wonder where to put Darth Vader and General Tarkin from Star Wars. After all, Luke and Obi-Wan want to revert back to what was, that is, way of the force, whereas General Tarkin doesn’t care about the force and wants to rule the universe with technology, hence portraying a positive change arc according to this post. However, in the end, Luke “wins”. I believe the thematic truth is that technology doesn’t need to destroy the faith and they can work together to achieve greatness (?), but then, Luke also seems to portray a positive change arc? Can anyone speak to this?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I would argue that “the Force” in these stories is more like an element of nature. So “returning” to it is like returning to clean air or some such. (Insofar as Luke did try to rebuild the Jedi Order in the Extended Universe stories, it was largely a failure with many destructive consequences.) Specially within the context of the original trilogy, Vader, Tarkin, and Palpatine are all trying to maintain the status quo of the Empire. The Rebel Alliance does want to return to the glory days of the Old Republic, but in essence they never do. Their end result, necessarily, is the creation of the *New* Republic which is a totally different animal (and to the degree it’s not, it has a lot of the same problems as the Old).

  12. Sandra Simmonds says

    This was such a great article – love all your articles! I’m writing a YA where the MC is on a positive-arc but opposed by the antagonist who is a school bully. I’m a novice writer, so writing from ‘gut’ but thought that it would be bullying that would push my MC to make positive change in his life – now I understand what my gut was saying! The interesting thing in your article was how theme and antagonist and MC lie can be entwined to strengthen and deepen the story and characters. I’m excited to explore my draft story in relation to theme and plot development. Thank you.

  13. Stranger than fiction, our memoir of hellish 1990s UNHCR camps and corrupt NGOs has the working title “Under the Pump: Water for Refugees”. The protagonist of our book is its main author. The antagonist is the UN. 3 decades on, it is still perceived as heroic. Huh!
    In the first part of our book, which is about Walda Refugee Camp in the Kenyan desert, the protagonist has a positive change arc. This is swiftly followed by a tragic negative change.
    In the second part, about Kenya’s massive coastal camps, he has a flatter arc. The antagonistic UNHCR has the opportunity to change, but its flabby leadership is no match for the burgeoning industry of profiteers from conflict. Flatness and negativity in a single book. Aargh!
    Fortunately, our supporting characters—the few who slogged to save lives—are inspirational. Character drives all.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s nice to use various arcs over the course of a series. Makes for a lot of complexity.

  14. My biggest antagonist is aging. To be more exact, the issues that aging can bring that might prevent a person from aging in place. Illness, loss sight, movement etc.
    To examine this, I used a recent widow who has a very romantic view of the area and time she grew up in.
    Once she returns there, she finds that it has aged too. In ways that are even worse than she has. So the area becomes a metaphor for her aging.
    She determines that she will return it to the lovable area it was when she was growing up.
    And also renewing all her old friends and making new ones. Returning to the feeling of community, safety, wonder that she felt back then.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Interesting. Since “aging” is essentially an agent of change, this would seem to align the antagonistic force with the “heroic principle,” acting as a teacher for a protagonist who initially resists that change.

  15. All the antagonist needs to do is oppose the protagonist.
    That really clicked for me. These last two days, I’ve gone back through all the scenes of my WIP from start to finish to see if the she has been doing her job, and if she has been building her opposition throughout the story. That simple way of looking at the relationship showed me why some of the scenes weren’t working. Thanks!

  16. Rich Linsley, III says

    Can an Antagonist and a Protagonist be the same character? I am hoping that there is some literary sources I can go back and read through how its done.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Man vs. Self is, of course, a time-honored storyform, so there’s nothing wrong with writing a book that centers primarily around a character’s inner conflict.

      However, that conflict will almost always manifest in the outer world as well. The best way to think of conflict is as a series of related obstacles that prevent the character from reaching her overall goal until the end of the story. The best way to think of an antagonistic force is as whoever or whatever is presenting those obstacles. (The antagonistic force’s moral alignment within the the story is irrelevant as far as the foundational conflict goes.)

      Take a look at what is consistently standing between your character and her goals throughout the story. Whatever you find, that’s your primary antagonistic force.

  17. Mender Mae says

    It’s interesting that you said, “Almost always, the element of change is heroic” – because I agree with you, but I was analysing superhero arcs lately, and find that they almost always represent the force acting against change.

    Batman stops the Joker etc. It’s always the bad guys with the plan for change, and Our Heroes reinforcing the status quo.

    This pattern shows up in a lot of detective novels too, where if you have a homicide detective solving cases, their job as the hero is to respond to and stop change.

    And it made me wonder if the reason they take on this role, of being the hero by preventing change, is because these types of characters largely have a flat arc. They change a little, but by and large end the story the way that they started.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally. Flat-Arc stories still represent change, but the change occurs in the world or characters around the protagonist with the protagonist acting as the catalyst. For example, Batman Begins ends with Inspector Gordon telling Bruce Wayne “you’ve changed everything.”

  18. Hallo, Do you still plan to do a mini series on all of the archetypical antagonists of your six different arcs and their beats/ keypoints? (predator, dragon, invader, cataclysm, death blight and evil) I sure need some help there. 🙂 thank you and kind regards

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