The Importance of Antagonists

Someone on Twitter the other day was asking the Twitterverse at large whether or not their protagonists had antagonists.

Well, I certainly hope so.

What drives story? Conflict. And what causes conflict? Having obstacles that your main character/protagonist needs to overcome.

(Your main character and protagonist are usually, but not always, the same character. But that’s beside the point.)

An antagonist, from the Greek antagonistēs, is anyone or anything that acts in direct opposition to your protagonist. It doesn’t have to be someone doing something on purpose. It doesn’t even have to be a person. In fact, from scene to scene, the antagonist may change. Sure, the overall story will have a major antagonist, but in a small scene where your character can’t get the barista to understand their order, the barista is the antagonist.

A story without an antagonist has no conflict, and a story with no conflict has no plot.

People will invariably point out their favorite one-man piece of literature as an example of something otherwise, but having a single character doesn’t mean there’s not an antagonist.

It may be a fish, an island, or his own mind.

Remember what they taught us back in high school English? There’s three main types of conflict: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Himself.

So any story worth anything had better have some sort of antagonist.

Otherwise it’s just someone sitting and twiddling their thumbs, and no one cares about that.

Disagree with me, Squiders? What/Who is your favorite antagonist?

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Christopher Long on 2013/09/10 at 7:26 PM

    I like the SERIOUSLY EVIL guys. They make the good guys shone more, so I prefer them. Two of my favorites are Lord Voldemort from the Potter series *simply because he’s so… over-the-top) and Nicodemus Archleone from “the Dresden Files.” Nicodemus, while still occasionally over the top (and undeniably, unrepentantly Evil with a captal “E”) is capable of a degree of subtlety that you’d never see from Voldemort.


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