7 Ways to Make Sure Your Protagonist and Antagonist Are Stuck Together

When you think of the relationship between your protagonist and antagonist, the first thing to pop to mind usually isn’t their being bonded at the hip. They’re different from one another. They don’t want to stick together. They want to get as far away from one another as possible. That’s what creates the conflict!

True enough.

Revision and Self-Editing by James Scott Bell

But don’t overlook that the grease in the wheels, the flour in the strudel, the spit in the spitwad is glue. Something has to be keeping your protagonist locked in the conflict with the antagonist—and vice versa. Otherwise, why doesn’t one or the other of them just walk away? In his book Revision and Self-Editing, legal suspense author James Scott Bell explains:

[A] major area to explore is adhesive. What is it that bonds the lead and the opposition together? If this adhesive isn’t strong enough, the readers will wonder why the plot should continue at all.

7 Ways to Keep Your Protagonist and Antagonist Engaged in the Conflict

Let’s take a gander at seven possible adhesives you can use to keep your protagonist and antagonist stuck like glue.

1. Duty/Obligation

In China Miéville’s steampunk fantasy Perdido Street Station, the main character Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin can’t walk away from his antagonists, the monstrous slake-moths, because he was the one responsible for loosing them on the city.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

2. Hatred/Vengeance

In my medieval epic Behold the Dawn, the antagonist Gethin the Baptist can’t walk away from the protagonist Marcus Annan, because he needs Annan to help him find and punish the men responsible for torturing him years ago.

3. Survival

In Richard Connell’s short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” the protagonist Sanger Rainsford is forced to hunt down and kill his deranged antagonist, a Russian aristocrat, before the aristocrat kills him.

4. Love

In my historical western A Man Called Outlaw, the protagonist Shane Lassiter, caught between his adopted father and the woman he loves, can’t walk away from either because of his complicated feelings for each of them.

5. Enjoyment/Obsession

In Christopher Nolan’s movie The Dark Knight, the demented Joker pursues Batman out of obsessive enjoyment of their cat-and-mouse game. (This particular adhesive is also used frequently in romance stories, in which the protagonists are also the antagonists for much of the story: think Pride and Prejudice.)

6. Greed

In Sam Peckinpah’s movie The Getaway, bank robber Rudy Butler (one of many antagonists) pursues his partners, protagonists Doc and Carol McCoy, because he wants the stolen money for himself.

7. Pride

In William Faulkner’s Flags in the Dust, Miss Jenny and “Old Bayard” Sartoris take too much pride in the family name to turn away “Young Bayard,” despite his drunken, destructive tendencies.

Take a look at your story. Could your protagonist and antagonist walk away right now without any repercussions? If so, it’s time to go super-glue shopping!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Whats the adhesive holding your protagonist and antagonist together? 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. Courtney says

    I think I just got a book idea reading this. Yay! In this case, a minor antagonist is trying to keep himself away from the protagonist, but the setting intervenes and forces the two to interact.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So many stories necessitate the hero and villain being separated physically. But it’s always fun when we can bring that conflict home in face-to-face encounters.

  2. I was thinking co-dependence or some similar kind of self-destructive behavior. The true life story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen springs to mind. Characters that can’t stay away from each other, no matter the damage they can cause, are some of the most rewarding to write about.

  3. Pamela Reese says

    multiple layers of ‘glue’…the protagonist feels honor bound to protect others from the antagonist (who holds the military might), he is also driven by the desire to kill the man who held him prisoner for a decade and killed many of the people he was imprisoned with. The antagonist, for his part, is driven by greed for power more than wealth, and the desire to see the protagonist dead for interfering in his plans and challenging his right to rule. Toss in a female main character both sides want for different reasons… they’re kinda stuck in this mess.

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