Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Antagonist Never Changes?

So we all know that every story needs a protagonist. And that usually the protagonist has a breakdown that leads to a breakthrough, whether a fictional character or a person who really lived. As the protagonists in our own lives, this often holds true.

Every story needs an antagonist. We learned that in high school English. But sometimes the antagonist is a shadowy character, not fully formed. And that lack of development could be the reason one’s story isn’t as rich as it could be.

* Screenwriter Raymond Singer, who presented at the Hamline program in July 2008, believes that the antagonist has what the protagonist wants. I have processed this idea with several of my stories and often this holds true, but not always.

* Martha Alderson states in her blockbuster plot program that ¾ of the way through the story the antagonist still prevails. But by the end of the climax, the protagonist does.

* Darcy Pattison writes in her book Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise, a workbook used at her novel revision retreats, that a story is best served when the antagonist is a fully fleshed out character, not just a character’s inner demons. She suggests that the antagonist and protagonist should meet face to face at the climax and that only then can the protagonist prevail.

* Novelist Janet Fitch says that the antagonist never changes, as opposed to the protagonist who must change by the end of the story. This idea has resonated with me deeply, but I do believe that in many stories the change in the protagonist helps create one in the antagonist. Civil rights’ activitists in the 1960’s, bravely sitting at a lunch counter or riding a bus, forced a change in their racist antagonists by their actions.

Do any of these suggestions about antagonists resonate for you? What antagonist in your own life can give you insights for your story’s antagonist?


  1. I'm still working on the perfect story to get even with my own 11-year-old antagonist, Claire. She'll surface one of these days, and I may even call her Karen.

  2. I love antagonists! They can (here I'm taking from John Truby's book THE ANATOMY OF STORY) drive the protagonist to greatness.

    Great conflict and high stakes demand heroics, and a formidable antagonist can deepen the conflict in creative ways in high-stakes situations. A sports analogy (sorry!)--if the Lakers blow out the Celtics in the Finals, then Kobe Bryant doesn't have to play like a star. If the Celtics play tough and the game is close, then Kobe Bryant must get creative about doing what he needs to do to get his team to win.

    A very powerful way for a protagonist-antagonist conflict to be resolved is for the protagonist to find some way to exit the power competition and find something deeper, something truer, perhaps some connection with someone else. Rocky doesn't beat Apollo Creed (in the first film)--he takes the champ the distance, and that, along with connecting with Adrian, is Rocky's victory.


  3. Yo, Andy, sounds like something you might use sometime. You know, in the future.

  4. A while back in this blog I posed a question about whether you wanted to be the protagonist or antagonist in your life story. Andy, I want to be your kind of protagonist who exits the power competition to find something deeper and truer.

    Deb, I just finished Deb Wiles' novel Countdown last night. The character Marjorie is your kind of formidable antagonist.