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Monday, March 28, 2011

Antagonists

Ever since I received a rather scathing critique from an agent about a WIP, I've been thinking about antagonists. Not because that agent has become my antagonist--
Well, maybe she has.
But that's a good thing.
Antagonists drive the story. They play the roll of forcing the main character to reach deep inside themselves to act, and they do this by inspiring conflict. Antagonists may or may not be the villains of the story. Personally, I prefer an antagonist who is not the villain. I think it makes for a more complex and interesting story.
As it is oftentimes in writing, the more the writer becomes aware of a writing challenge in her work, the more answers are offered from life. I've seen two movies in the last few months that have helped to define that protagonist-antagonist relationship. One is True Grit and the other is The King's Speech.
In True Grit, Rooster Cogburn and Mattie have an incredibly well-developed protagonist-antagonist relationship. They both are against the villain, Ned Pepper, but Mattie inspires Cogburn to change from a drunken coarse lawman to a man who would push his limits for the sake of a girl. Mattie, as the antagonist, drives the story.
The King's Speech--wow! What a story!
King George VI, or Bertie, is the protagonist, but it's the antagonist, Lionel Logue, who drives Bertie to dig deeper and therefore be victorious over the villain, his speech defect. Again, the antagonist drives the story, forcing the protagonist to meet the challenge and change.
As I'm writing my own story, I'm thinking about these well-drawn characters. My antagonist, I discovered, had potential, but needed a lot of work.
And thanks to the agent, my antagonist, I'm going to make it happen!
A great antagonist makes for a great story, don't you agree?

3 comments:

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rebbie,

Conflict is essential to fiction. There has to be a strong antagonistic relationship, a ying and yang. It drives the story and draws readers to keep on reading. Your points are well-taken.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Rebbie: Hmm. Your post made me think about my current WIP. I think sometimes if the antagonist is NOT the villain, it makes for a stronger story and deeper conflict and more to resolve. Heck, anything can be the antagonist: the environment, or even the hero/heroine's own actions. Thanks for touching on this element of craft so essential to good story telling.

Rebbie Macintyre said...

Thanks for posting, Joyce and Jacqueline.