Narrative Writing

 

Antagonists

Just as there are six types of conflict, there are also six types of antagonist.

Study these examples.

  Antagonist Examples

1

Another Person

A murderer, sports rival, controlling parent, mean teacher, school bully—or maybe just the pretty girl who doesn't know you exist.

2

The Self

  • A father who accidentally ran over a child might be struggling with feelings of guilt.
  • A woman who has been abandoned by her husband might feel insecure and unlovable.
  • A shy girl might be struggling to overcome her terrible social anxiety.

3

A Force of Nature

A storm, flood, earthquake, asteroid, fire, tornado, virus, etc.

4

Society

A rule that that society expects you to follow; a role you're expected to play.

  • A female high school student may feel compelled to fight against a school rule which requires all girls to wear skirts.
  • A young black man may feel compelled to fight against racism and injustice.

5

Supernatural

A ghost, demon, zombie, monster, etc.

6

Technology

An evil computer, death ray machine, nuclear power plant, etc.


But keep in mind: Not all antagonists are equal; some are better than others. To put it plainly, the best antagonist is almost always a person. Why? Because people can talk, and an argument between two people with opposing goals is almost always more interesting than a fight against something that doesn't talk back.

Here is how James Bickham puts it, in his book Writing Novels That Sell.

A word of warning: In real life we often confront opposition of a vast and amorphous kind. "Society" seems against us, or the "church," or "Most people don't like that." In fiction, while the opposition may be powerful and widespread, the dramaturgy works infinitely better if the lead character and the major source of opposition are people, not organizations or social entities.

A story is the playing out of a moral equation of some kind, and it's much more fun for the reader if she can identify the sides in individual characters.

I refer you again to the concept of putting your novel on a stage before a live audience. If your play opens with a huge, bloggy, brown shape coming out with a sign on its back, "Forces of unselfish good," and then entering stage left comes a long, slinky, creepy other shape labeled "Bad guys in society," I don't think the audience is going to stay long.

People identify with people, not abstract concepts.


If you nonetheless choose an antagonist that is not a person, try at least to find someone with whom your antagonist can argue.

You get the idea. Antagonists that are abstract concepts like "injustice" or "nuclear power" don't work well. Skilled writers try hard to personify these ideas. (To personify = to give a non-human thing human qualities).

Key Point:

Good stories almost always have lots of dialogue, and the best kind of dialogue is an argument between people who hold opposing views. So, before you start writing your story, make sure you can answer this question:

Who is the person with whom my main character will argue?

Whoever that is, that's your real antagonist. The storm, or the robot, or the rule, or whatever—that's just there so that your main characters have something important to argue about.

Thinking Assignment

Who will be the antagonist in your own story?

Whoever it is, make sure they can talk!

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.

Quiz