What Are Antagonistic Proxies? And How Can They Help Your Story?

Understanding how story works means stripping it down to the basic mechanics that undergird storyform itself. At its simplest, story is protagonist versus antagonist. However, it’s important to understand the definitions. Although we most commonly (and usefully) think of protagonist and antagonist as vibrant, three-dimensional personalities, the functional reality is a bit simpler. Protagonist is the part of the story that drives the plot via a forward-moving goal. Antagonist is the corresponding part of the story that creates conflict by obstructing that forward momentum. So what are antagonistic proxies, and how do they fit into this mix?

It’s true that on a mechanical level, the antagonist is simply whoever or whatever stands between the protagonist and the ultimate goal. But when we start layering on all the enticing nuances and details that take story from a basic equation into a full-blown facsimile of real life, we start discovering a couple more rules of thumb.

One is that the antagonistic force needs to be consistent through the story. Just as the protagonist’s forward drive should create a cohesive throughline all the way through the story, from Inciting Event to Climactic Moment, so too should the antagonistic force present a united front that consistently opposes the protagonist for thematically resonant reasons.

But this gets tricky. As you deepen the complexity of your story in pursuit of that “facsimile of real life,” it can often become difficult to create logical story events and to keep the protagonist and the antagonist properly aligned throughout.

For instance:

  • Your story might not feature a specific human antagonist, but rather a series of humans who oppose the protagonist at different levels and moments.
  • Your story might not feature a human antagonist at all.
  • Your story might play out on a large scale in which it simply doesn’t make sense for protagonist and main antagonist to meet until late in the story or maybe not at all.
  • Your story is complex, as is life, and focuses on a system as the antagonist rather than a specific person or entity.
  • Your story focuses on relational goals rather than action goals, in which case the antagonist might, in fact, be the protagonist’s greatest lover, friend, or supporter (more on that in a future post).

These variations, and many more, show how antagonistic proxies can come in handy. And what are antagonistic proxies? Antagonistic proxies are exactly what they appear to be: less important characters who stand in for the main antagonist. Really, the use of antagonistic proxies is quite intuitive. There’s a reason the henchman is a universal trope!

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However, using antagonistic proxies comes with some pitfalls. The most important pitfall is that when you start adding in sub-antagonists without understanding the underlying function of the antagonist’s role in storyform, you can end up struggling with a chaotic story structure or a plot and/or theme that feels like it’s being pulled in many different directions. The good news is that as long you understand the function of antagonist, you can add as many antagonistic proxies as you need without derailing your story.

>>Click here to read “The Role of the Antagonist in Story Structure

Antagonist vs. Antagonistic Force vs. Antagonistic Proxies

First of all, let’s take a quick look at the differences between antagonist, antagonistic force, and antagonistic proxies.

What Is the Antagonist?

The antagonist is the force within the story that opposes the protagonist’s forward momentum. Although this term can be used interchangeably with antagonistic force, below, it usually specifies a sentient antagonist. This is the person who is an equal and opposite entity to that of the protagonist, such as the Evil Stepmother in opposition to Cinderella.

Craft Dynamic Antagonists Your Readers Will Love —in Just 3 Steps!

Cinderella (2015), Walt Disney Pictures.

Often, we perceive this term as synonymous with “villain.” However, the antagonist’s role within storyform requires no moral alignment. It is a neutral term referring only to the opposition encountered by the protagonist. Similarly, “protagonist” is also morally neutral and not synonymous with “hero.” From the perspective of story mechanics, it is entirely possible the protagonist could be the most morally corrupt person in the story while the antagonist is the most morally upright.

For example, in Catch Me if You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio’s protagonist is an unrepentant conman while Tom Hanks’s antagonist is a dutiful FBI agent.

Catch Me if You Can (2002), DreamWorks Pictures.

Just as the protagonist should be the primary actor in every major structural beat throughout the story, the antagonist should be the primary opposition in every beat. Together, they create a unified structural throughline. If you’re uncertain who or what is your primary antagonist, examine your Climactic Moment. Whatever person or force is decisively confronted here is your main antagonist. That is the antagonist that needs to provide opposition to your protagonist throughout.

What Is the Antagonistic Force?

In all practical ways, “antagonistic force” is synonymous with “antagonist.” It functions within storyform in exactly the same way: as the opposition to the protagonist’s goal. However, I prefer “antagonistic force” when speaking more generally about this opposition, since this term is more inclusive and can be used to indicate opponents to the protagonist that are not easily represented by another person.

For instance, an antagonistic force could be the weather or other circumstances that threaten basic survival, as in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The Road Viggo Mortensen

The Road (2009), 2929 Productions.

It could be ill health or old age, as in David Guterson’s East of the Mountains.

East of the Mountains (2021), produced by Jane Charles, Mischa Jakupcak.

Or it could be a generally vague system of oppression such as the Republic of Gilead in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-), Hulu.

It could also be something as subtle as the difficulties of completing a specific task, such as renovating a new house in the classic screwball comedy Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), RKO Radio Pictures.

If you’re employing a more general antagonistic force, rather than one specific human antagonist, you will have more opportunity to employ antagonistic proxies. In these types of stories, it is especially important to recognize that the antagonistic force must present a unified opposition to the protagonist even if the actors who represent that force are varied.

>>Click here to read “How to Choose the Right Antagonist for Any Type of Story

What Are Antagonistic Proxies?

And that brings us to the main event. What are antagonistic proxies? They are characters (or situations or systems) that function as representatives of the primary antagonistic force. You may choose to use an antagonistic proxy for many reasons.

Perhaps your antagonist isn’t logistically available to show up in a scene with your protagonist, as with President Snow in The Hunger Games, whose proxies include the other tributes in the games.

Hunger Games Mockingjay President Snow Donald Sutherland

The Hunger Games (2012), Lionsgate.

Perhaps your antagonist is not a single person, as in Saving Private Ryan, which focuses on a generalized Nazi Army as the antagonistic force.

Saving Private Ryan Tom Hanks Matt Damon

Saving Private Ryan (1998), DreamWorks Pictures.

Perhaps your antagonist is powerful enough to cause and/or need others to act in their stead (as would the case with any antagonist in a leadership position), as in Lord of the Rings, in which Saruman acts as Sauron’s proxy for most of the story.

Perhaps you are bringing complexity to your story via characters who act as your main antagonist’s allies, as with characters such as Grigor in The Great.

The Great (2020-23), Hulu.

Whatever the case, antagonistic proxies should receive all your attention and skill in bringing them to life. Except in certain cases where walk-on characters make the most sense, you don’t want your audience ever thinking of these characters as antagonistic proxies. They should come to life with just as much care and attention as the major players—because insofar as they represent the antagonist, they are major players.

A Note on Redshirts vs. Contagonists

Antagonist proxies can show up in your story in many different guises. Some will be walk-ons who express opposition on the main antagonist’s behalf, then leave to never be seen again. Others will play much more nuanced roles, in which their own personal views and motives in the story will contrast the antagonist even while functioning structurally on the antagonist’s behalf.

Two main types to consider for antagonistic proxies are redshirts and contagonists.

Named after throwaway cast members in Star Trek, a redshirt is a stock character whose death is often used for convenient plot devices.

Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-69), NBC.

Whether aligned with the protagonist or the antagonist, the redshirt is intentionally a cardboard character, perhaps even unnamed. These characters are useful in stories that require cannon fodder. For example, if your antagonist is a general, then every soldier in his army will represent his opposition to the protagonist and therefore be an antagonistic proxy. However, most of them will exist only to create great odds against which the protagonist must struggle.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have contagonists. This term originated with the Dramatica theory by Chris Huntley and Melanie Anne Phillips. They officially define the contagonist as:

…the character that balances the Guardian. If Protagonist and Antagonist can archetypically be thought of as “Good” versus “Evil,” the Contagonist is “Temptation” to the Guardian’s “Conscience.” Because the Contagonist has a negative effect upon the Protagonist’s quest, it is often mistakenly thought to be the Antagonist. In truth, the Contagonist only serves to hinder the Protagonist in his quest, throwing obstacles in front of him as an excuse to lure him away from the road he must take in order to achieve success. The Antagonist is a completely different character, diametrically opposed to the Protagonist’s successful achievement of the goal.

Within the simple equation of story as two opposing forces, the contagonist’s role of “hindering” and “throwing obstacles” clearly aligns with that of the antagonistic force and should structurally function as an antagonistic proxy. However, the contagonist is a character who offers much more room for thematic exploration.

The contagonist exists within shades of gray. The contagonist may be an ally of the antagonist, a lone operator, or even an ally of the protagonist. The contagonist is often the “devil on the protagonist’s shoulder”—not so much a character who threatens to stop the protagonist through direct opposition, but rather one who tries to convince the protagonist to give up.

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Contagonists offer the opportunity to take your story out of a simple two-point opposition and into a dimensional conflict with nuanced thematic arguments. Both Robert McKee’s thematic square and John Truby’s four-cornered opposition offer helpful models for implementing a contagonist.

However, as always, what’s most important is ensuring that whatever contrast the contagonist offers to the story is still ultimately in support of the main antagonistic throughline at every important structural beat.

4 Ways Antagonistic Proxies Can Help You Plot Your Story

As we close out, here are four quick tips for how to use antagonistic proxies to your advantage depending on your story’s needs.

1. Logistics

One of the main reasons to employ antagonistic proxies is practicality. If it isn’t logistically possible or sensible for your main antagonist to visit your protagonist at certain crucial moments, you can often employ an antagonistic proxy. For instance, whenever you see a protagonist  in a story being served a subpoena, the character doing the serving is likely a walk-on acting in the antagonist’s stead.

2. Manpower

The more powerful the antagonist, the higher the stakes. This means it can be helpful to give your antagonist allies. These could be employees, soldiers, supporters, family, or friends. Depending on the scope of your story and the consequences you want your protagonist to face for pursuing the plot goal, you may need to bring in large swathes of antagonistic proxies to boost your antagonist’s power level within the story. These supporting characters can all be redshirts, or they can be fleshed-out personalities in their own right. Either way, their actions reflect your antagonist’s opposition.

3. Realism

In some instances, it just won’t make sense for your antagonist to perform certain tasks (such as that subpoena). If your antagonist is powerful within your story world, then she may need to employ ambassadors and liaisons (or, ya know, assassins) in her stead. Even in lower-key stories, it may still make sense for your antagonist to ask a friend to intercede with the protagonist. (We see this often in romance stories, in which the two romantic leads function as each other’s antagonists.)

4. Tension

Employing antagonistic proxies is not only realistic in many instances, but it also ramps tension for when the protagonist finally meets the real antagonist for a sit-down. In some stories, this will not be necessary, since the protagonist and antagonist will confront each other in almost every scene. But in other stories, you can utilize increasingly powerful antagonistic proxies to build up to the final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist in the Climactic Moment.


Antagonistic proxies are likely to show up in all but the simplest and most straightforward stories. They are valuable assets for enhancing the interest and complexity of your story. As long as you understand the underlying function of the antagonist’s role in story structure, you can use your antagonistic proxies to strengthen the entire story.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What are antagonistic proxies you’ve used in your stories? 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.


  1. I have used antagonist proxies in my Wolves of Vimar fantasy series. In Book 1 it was dire wolves sent by the antagonist to at least stop, preferably kill, the protagonist and his companions. In a later book, the antagonist sends a henchman (fully fleshed out as he is important) to poison the rulers of the country of Vimar and otherwise sow discontent.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Both are good examples. I’m not sure if your wolves were anthropomorphic or sentient, but animals, androids, and other such beings can also be used as the antagonist’s tools or proxies in certain situations.

  2. I always like it when I read one of your posts and reflect back to my own two books and realize that I might have got it right. In both, there is no one antagonist. In the first, the antagonist is mainstream society’s prejudice towards heavy metal and metalheads. In the second, as most people in the story bully the protagonist, they are all pretty much the antagonist. Your thoughts?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yay! That’s always a good feeling. 🙂 An antagonistic can be primarily thematic, in that the antagonism that is blocking the protagonist’s forward momentum is more of an idea or prevailing ideology than anything else. From a structural perspective, it is still often efficacious to represent that generalized antagonistic force by giving it a specific face of some sort–whether it’s a specific person leading and/or symbolizing the opposition, or a named group (e.g., “the Nazis”). This isn’t always necessary, but it often does offer a more cohesive throughline.

  3. Thanks for this excellent post! I believe my Contagonist fits very well with what you described.

    I have a System as an antagonistic force. The protagonist, another main character, and the contagonist are all opposing this System, but each is doing so in a different way. The protagonist wants to improve it, the other main character aims to peacefully remove it, and the contagonist seeks to cause chaos to eliminate it. I’m comfortable with these characters. However, I have another two main characters who are content with the System, but they’re affected by the contagonist’s actions and ultimately join forces with the protagonist to improve the System. The issue is that I feel they don’t have a genuine antagonistic force since they’re okay with the System, and the contagonist is not directly opposed to them. Is it possible for these two main characters to have a different antagonistic force for their individual goals, still related to the theme, such as a lack of skill or struggles for survival?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It depends how integral they are to the main structural throughline, as represented by the protagonist. If they are integral to that, they probably need to be tied in with the main antagonistic force. The more ancillary they are, the more room to explore more abstract faces of the antagonistic force within the theme. However, that can get tricky, since you want to bring complexity to the plot, rather than watering it down with complications, as I’ve discussed in these posts:


      • Thanks! I don’t know what I read in those articles that made me realize (or remember) that these two main characters are content with the System because that’s part of their Lie, but they don’t know it until the midpoint. I need to give more clues in the first part of the story, at least for the reader, that the System is what caused their lack of skill or struggles to survive, then these characters should use that realization as a motivation to join the protagonist. I think this makes more sense, it doesn’t add complications and it could add some complexity by showing more consequences of the System.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Definitely. Using cast members to flesh out the arguments for the story’s Lie and Truth is the single best way to “show” a story’s theme.

  4. The perspective of broadening my thinking for antagonist and protagonist is helpful. Yes, I’ve used antagonistic proxies. Arguably, even when you have a clearly defined antagonist, that person can be thought of as a proxy, in that he is in some way a tool of a deeper force – the ideas that form the antagonist’s truth and the protagonist’s lie. I wonder how you would classify a support character who is sometimes helpful, in terms of the overall story conflict, and sometimes not. Think in terms of a protective lover who is a wonderful part of the hero’s life, offers healing and emotional balm, but makes a potential sacrifice very difficult. Yes, I’m remembering Dreamlander here.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Arguably, even when you have a clearly defined antagonist, that person can be thought of as a proxy, in that he is in some way a tool of a deeper force – the ideas that form the antagonist’s truth and the protagonist’s lie.”

      Very true. The rabbit hole can always go deeper!

      Love Interest characters are interesting in that they often function to alternately “reward” or “punish” a character according to his alignment to the story’s thematic Lie and Truth, respectively.

  5. Another solid breakdown of this.

    Maybe the classic example is *Jaws.* When the real threat is just a big fish, a story needs to spend more attention on a selfish mayor who brings human weaknesses to the shark problem. Or any story that has characters trapped in a hostile environment needs to find some of the “team” has agendas, flaws, and other conflicts that do more to get in the way.

    Or of course Sauron — and his title Dark Lord, and his newer namesakes Dark Vader and Voldemort. A grand lord of a villain is one we *shouldn’t* see that often, if his armies and secrets can keep a proper barrier around him. That means a good story needs to use those barriers in their own right (and a better one needs ways to let us know the archvillain anyway).

  6. Petra Veenstra says

    Thanks for your post about the antagonist and those who represent him! If I understand it wright, Gollum is the contagonist for Bilbo?
    I am writing about a daughter, her antagonist is her father. The father sends a guy to lure her on board of his ship. The catch:the guy falls in love with her and she reluctantly with him. Despite his feelings he makes her going on board, because he can’t resist the reward from the father. Untill the moment, she almost dies. The father is the true antagonist, but what is the love interest? he works with the father first, is an antagonist proxies. But later?

  7. Paul Shen-Brown says

    I have two proxy characters in my Twilight’s Rift trilogy. One is straight-up bad guy, the richest man in the Human Entrepôt and president of the Spencer Corporation (named for Herbert Spencer, of course). This one gets assassinated near the end of the second book. The other, a corporate rival, drives much of the plot, but at the beginning of the third book is forced to face what his lifestyle has caused and reaches an apotheosis, turns 180˚ and becomes an ally for the protagonists. I hope it doesn’t come out too deus ex machina, though.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      As long as the antagonist’s arc is structured with as much care and realism as the protagonist’s, it shouldn’t feel like a deus ex machina.

  8. Hmm. I have two main antagonists – brother (adopted) and sister (and the brother’s henchment who come in at the showdown). I have back stories for making them human and to some extent one can understand why the sister does what she does, but not the brother, who is also the twin of the second protagonist – even though both are unaware of each other’s existence.
    The main female protagonist is married to what is initially a protagonist like her and then becomes an antagonist after an affair resulting in separation and much later he subsequently rapes what he sees as his property i.e. his ex wife.
    I wonder if this is not over-egging the pud. but it seems to work out in the end!
    Be interested to see your comments on that one – please 🙂

  9. I’ve got a force and a proxy, and a third character who wants the protagonist to do what he needs to do, but that he avoids doing until the end. Not sure if that qualifies her as a contagonist, although he might see her that way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You can tell if a character is either a Mentor (what the Dramatica system refers to as a Guardian) or a Contagonist according to their alignment with the story’s thematic Truth/Lie. A Mentor character will encourage the protagonist (through example if nothing else) to evolve toward a positive Truth, while a Contagonist character will ultimately try to influence the protagonist toward the Lie.

  10. K.M. –

    I love this post. I was so confused about defining my “antagonist” because there are three of them, as well as the forces and proxies that support them. None of three are directly related, and their actions to block the protagonist occur at different points in the story as it evolves. Much like a three act play. Where one “disappears” and is replaced by a new one whose agenda and conflict with the protaganist is different than the others.

    But eventually they all circle back to bring about the destruction of the protagonist without knowing that they are facilitating one another until the end of the final act. Complicated but very compelling – according to others I have shared it with.

    Thank you for helping me understand how to navigate this difficult conundrum. And a quick note: reading the other commentators’ ideas also has given me significant guidance and ideas. So here’s a nice shout-out to them!

  11. I’m not reading October Sky by Homer Hickam Jr. (nonfiction, but a memoir structured like a proper story). The ultimate antagonist force is the coal mine which threatens to ruin young Homer’s life. The most prominent antagonist proxy is his father, Homer Hickam Sr., the mine superintendent who wants his young son to forget his dreams about rockets and get a job in the mine when he grows up. He downplays his symptoms of black lung disease, while his wife (Homer Jr.’s mother) at one point tells him ‘the mine has killed you, but I won’t let it kill our boys.’ Throughout the story, young Homer Jr. sees his classmates who live in poverty because the mines in their towns reduced output and ‘cut off’ their parents, former miners who had to quit because they got injured in the mine, a valley covered in coal mine waste where no plants grow, etc. Meanwhile, Homer Jr. pursues his dream of becoming a rocket scientist by literally launching rockets. In the middle of the book, when his father is trying to make him give up on rockets and pursue the path of a mining engineer instead, he takes him down into the depths of the coal mine for a tour. That’s the first time Homer Jr. faces the coal mine antagonist directly, and it’s literally and metaphorically the opposite direction as rockets which lift up into the sky.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t read the book, but I saw the movie many years ago. This is a good breakdown on the topic.

  12. Heather Willis says

    After realizing my head-of-the-empire antagonist couldn’t show up till the end of the book, I added several proxies, including an assassin who is threatening to become one of my favorite characters. The good guys extract information from him and get him in trouble, so he has a personal vendetta against them. I think this adds a personal dimension to a conflict that’s mostly about values, as well as a nice spike of danger for the protagonists (oh no, we manipulated somebody who was a lot more powerful than we realized and now he’s personally out to get us).

    I am still confused about the concept of the contagonist. Is this a person whose plot goal is aligned with the protagonist’s, but who wants the protag to follow the Lie? In this case, would Boromir in the early part of the Fellowship be a contagonist? Or Aunt Alexandra in To Kill A Mockingbird – she wants Atticus out of the situation but she wants him to get there by caving to the system’s values? Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, both good examples of Contagonist. Basically, you can think of the Contagonist as a devil on the protagonist’s shoulder (in opposition to the Mentor/Guardian’s angel). It is a character whose personal goal *can* be in alignment with the protagonist’s, but whose methodology causes them to try to tempt the protagonist away from the Truth back into the Lie.

  13. Thomas Zampano says

    Thanks for your article on antagonists. Your feature of reading the exact text and having the text available for me to read simultaneously helped me comprehend more fully despite a learning disability. Keep the simultaneous presentations coming.

  14. Logistics manpower realism

    logistics manpower tension

    logistics tension realism

    manpower tension realism

    the human consciousness and awareness operates in three dimensions

    I like to visualize things this way because of that

    versus dynamics are not reflective of real life

    real life plays out in threes and triangles

  15. Antagonistic proxy, that’s a good name, because then it doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. TV Tropes uses “The Dragon” to refer to a specific type of sapient proxy: the head henchman / right hand of the villain, e.g., Darth Vader to the emperor. They’re staples of kids cartoons or anime (Princess Azula for her father in Avatar: TLA; Envy for Dante in Full Metal Alchemist). If seasons go on, and on, it may turn out the Big Bad is actually a Dragon to a greater, heretofore unknown power.

    The Dragon is free to move around on the chessboard (like the queen, I suppose), but the key is that they are also what the hero must test himself against. It is not possible for the hero to even get near the Big Bad unless he defeats the Dragon first.

    But I like “antagonistic proxy” as a concept because it has a greater flexibility. Especially when the system is the enemy, as in HBO’s “Chernobyl,” where random bureaucrats and rules represent the overarching evils of the Soviet Union. Books with pages deliberately removed by the censors. Or measuring devices that only go to a specific amount so that you’re told, “no, there’s only this much radiation” when in fact you actually need to flee the area. And the one full-range scanner is locked away because only certain people are allowed to access it. The people involved don’t have to be evil, or villainous themselves.

    Antagonistic proxy is a good way to look at this, it’s an excellent arrow to add to one’s storytelling quiver. Thanks!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      ” If seasons go on, and on, it may turn out the Big Bad is actually a Dragon to a greater, heretofore unknown power.”

      Exactly. This essentially describes Darth Vader’s role in the original trilogy.

  16. Elizabeth L Richards says

    I am fairly early in the plotting of a historical novel set in Macedonia in the 1890s. The protagonist is searching for an archeological treasure and following clues to her lost family. The antagonistic force is a Mother & Son who are fomenting rebellion because they believe they are descendants of Alexander the Great and heirs to Macedonia and Greece. Other members of the rebellion are clearly antagonistic proxies to these two.

    What’s not super clear is which of these is the antagonist. The son, who becomes a love interest before revealing his true colors is the obvious protagonist. But the Mother starts as a mentor to the protagonist and is a strong driver of the rebellion and I am inclined to think that she is the “real” antagonist. Does it really matter, though, if both antagonistic characters carry almost equal weight? It may become clearer later as I plot more but I’m curious about other thoughts.

    I did think about other obstacles that my Protagonist faces that are part of the setting—the Ottoman government, the weather (winter), being a young woman in the 19th century, the language, etc. Those obstacles are not under the control of the antagonists but they will hinder her and help them. For example if she struggles through a winter storm to prevent a henchman from some evil deed. Again does it matter if you classify the setting as an antagonistic proxy or merely as a random obstacle? Just wonder if thinking of them as proxies might deepen the way you handle them in the plot.

    Thanks as always for asking me think deeper.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Although weather as antagonistic force is rarely under the control of a main human antagonist, it still functions as an antagonistic proxy insofar as it is operating in the antagonist’s favor. You can also think of it, depending on the context, as a symbol for the antagonist’s power. There are some interesting things you can do with that approach if you decide to explore it.

      • Would Climate Change with the recent rise of catastrophic weather events, and the actions of the fossil fuel industry over the past 50 years fit this construct?

        • Paul Shen-Brown says

          I’m not the expert here, but it seems to me that it could. It depends on what you are going for. Climate Change is a force of nature, but one that has been immensely magnified by human action. You might see the Oil Barrons as the antagonists and climate change as a proxy, or vice versa. Or you might think in terms of post-Cold War Capitalism as the antagonist, the Oil Barrons as proxies, with Climate Change as a consequence, or as your theme.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, definitely. Climate change would function as an antagonistic force, since it is not sentient, but could be represented by any number of antagonistic proxies, such as those Paul suggested.

  17. I don’t know if you mentioned The Great before, but glad you made the shout out. It’s a very funny, provocative show. Season 3 seemed to start out slow, but it got into a groove and ended the series with some closure.

  18. When reading through your posts about Antagonistic Proxies, I clicked on a link to your 2013 post “Are Your Bad Guys Dying in the Right Order?”
    In that post you stated “… the true climactic confrontation is always going to be as much about your character’s emotions as his physical actions.”

    Have you ever posted anything specifically about this? If you have, could you you direct me to the link? If not, perhaps this would be a good topic for you to address?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      By that I was referencing the importance of the structural culmination of the character’s arc as well as the external conflict. But I will put in the idea bank!

  19. This is very helpful! I do have a question though. You said that the antagonistic proxy might be a henchman of the main antagonist, but could it ever be the other way around? In a couple of my stories, there is some kind of bigger threatening character in the background, but he’s not in direct conflict with the protagonist, whereas there is a less powerful character who is in direct opposition. Would that character be the antagonist instead, even though most of the actual threat comes from this background character? Or do I have it backwards?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If the less powerful character is acting on behalf of the more powerful character and/or is representative of or enabled by the larger more symbolic antagonist, then the less powerful character would still technically be the proxy. However, for practical purposes, if the larger antagonist doesn’t actually oppose the protagonist in the plot, then from a structural perspective the lesser antagonist *is* the antagonist. For example, in Inglourious Basterds, the structural antagonist is Hans Landa, even though he is, thematically, a proxy for Hitler.

  20. Inspired by this post, I used The Character Arc Workbook to flesh out my contagonist. I can totally slip in his skin now. He’s gone from being a cardboard proxy to someone I feel like I know. Thank you for this article and that book and workbook!

  21. Wonderful post, and very timely since I was just thinking about this for my story!

    Though I’m curious…could an the threat of the antagonist be an antagonistic proxy? For instance, I’m looking at a pinch point, but it doesn’t really make sense for the antagonist or his agents to show up. However, I’m noticing that my protagonist’s behavior is changing because she’s paranoid that everyone around her could be working for the antagonist. So although the antagonist isn’t there directly, she’s absolutely feeling the weight of his influence around her. Would that still qualify?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, definitely. Any pressure the protagonist feels from the antagonistic–real or imaginary–can function in the antag’s stead.

      • Terrific, thanks! That definitely got me thinking more about how to interpret the antagonistic force and its proxies!

  22. Paul Shen-Brown says

    That’s an interesting concept: the character’s fear as a proxy for the actual antagonist. Thinking of it that way can lead to some pretty deep stuff, especially in terms of how people manipulate other people, and how people can stop being manipulated.

    • Right? It hit me because in this case the character normally would have jumped in to help other people, but instead she finds herself holding back out of fear that the antagonist or his agents might be present. So normally in a pinch point I’d be more explicit about showing the antagonist’s influence, but in this situation the protagonist’s fears about the antagonist seemed to do that as effectively as if the antagonist had actually gotten involved.

      • Paul Shen-Brown says

        Cool! I imagine that will mean a whole lot of internal monologue, as your VPC works out what is holding her back, how she feels about it, and how she will eventually overcome it. Fun character arc kind of stuff.

  23. Not even worrying about antagonism for just a couple seconds, I feel like “proxy” has been missing from my writer’s toolset, not to mention vocabulary, for way too long.

    But that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here because this is a casual space where writers meet online, and I just want to declare my newfound sense of earnestness and dedication as a (long-format fiction) writer. Rock on, writers.

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