Antagonist's Motive

Question: In my plot the antagonist is seeking revenge while the protagonist's main motive is to stay alive. Is there anything specific I need to add to the plot since the antagonist has the motivation that moves the story along?


Answer: A protagonist usually has two essential functions. He pursues the story goal and he considers the importance of the story goal.

In some stories however, it is the antagonist who pursues the story goal while the protagonist tries to prevent the goal from being achieved. It sounds like you're writing this type of story.

But even in this type of story, the protagonist still must consider the importance of (in this case) preventing the story goal. Obviously, he wants to stay alive. But the story may be stronger if he has other considerations, other reasons for wanting to stay alive, that concern the big picture. Will the world of the story, the lives of the other characters, be worse if the villain succeeds? Can you make the protagonist want to survive for the good of others, not just himself?

For example, consider the story of Les Miserables. In that story, the protagonist is an ex-con who broke parole and is being pursued by a policeman who wants to throw him back in jail. The reader has a certain sympathy for the ex-con, since he was falsely convicted in the first place. But that sympathy leaps to a whole new level when he adopts a penniless orphan girl. From them on, his staying out of jail is necessary to give the girl a chance at life. Earlier, the ex-con also risks being caught to stop another innocent man from going to jail.

Considering that he is the only person who can help these people, gives the ex-con a much stronger and more sympathetic motive for thwarting the policeman's aim.

The advantage to these considerations is that they show how the protagonist is a better person than the villain. After all, if the villain is after revenge, presumably he feels he has been wronged. You don't want the reader sympathizing with the villain, so make the protagonist someone who deserves to live.

Of course, all this assumes you're writing a story with a happy ending. If you're writing a tragedy, along the lines of Oedipus Rex, then the protagonist will more likely consider his errors and the agony they have brought him. The reader will then be sympathetic towards his plight, but still see that his death is necessary for the greater good.

Comments for Antagonist's Motive

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Nov 14, 2012
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by: Anonymous

Hate to disagree, but I think that stories are so much better when you feel bad for the villain. That means that when the villain is about to be defeated you can't stop turning pages, and maybe even cry a little. Let's take The Phantom of the Opera, for example. This is my favorite movie (the 2004 version) because throughout the story you find out that all The Phantom wants is to be loved, and at the end, he discovers that he cannot force Christine to love him, so he lets her go be with her true love, Raoul. Especially when he sings along with his music box, it shows that underneath a stalker- killer, there was an innocent, lonely man. I didn't cry at the end, I sobbed.

Nov 14, 2012
Response
by: Glen

Ah, but the Phantom is the protagonist, not the antagonist. Is is the Phantom who pursues the goal of a spiritual union with Christine based on music (since he is incapable of physical love).

The effort ultimately fails, which is what makes the play a tragedy. (Christine offers him one brief kiss, but chooses a physical life with Raoul rather than the spiritual union the Phantom seeks.)

The antagonist, I would argue, is the world at large including the opera company members who have rejected the Phantom because of his appearance and try to prevent him from realizing his aim.

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