Antagonist Necessary?

by Zoe

I'm writing a story about a 21 year old girl, who meets her grandmother on a plane back from Paris and learns about her late mother and more about her adoptive aunt. The grandmother then passes away and the girl (Violet) decides to travel the world as a photographer.

She meets two men in different countries who she befriends, and meets a girl who eventually decides to travel with her. She has a sort of love triangle with these guys, who she can't seem to choose between. Then, she finds her real mother who everyone believed to be dead and blah blah, family reunion, she chooses one of the guys, becomes a professional photographer, etc, etc.

What I can't seem to find out is who the antagonist is, and are these characters really necessary? It's possible the adoptive aunt is the antagonist, as she is overprotective and unstable, but she's not a bad character and is only featured at the beginning and end of the story. Do I need to have a typical antagonist for my story?

Answer: The purpose of an antagonist is to embody the argument against the story goal. So it helps to first know what the story goal is.

For example, might it be for the main character to reconcile with her mother? Or is it for her to discover the truth about her past?

Once you know what the goal is the antagonist will be the person who argues and acts against it. Perhaps the aunt tries to prevent or discourage her from discovering her past or reconciling with her mother. You can give the aunt a reason for her attitude. Alternatively, perhaps the antagonist could be the mother who, for some reason, doesn't want to be found and the aunt is there as a forewarning of the dangers of pursuing the goal.

What this adds to the story is that it gives the protagonist something to push against. Conflict with the antagonist will test her determination and her need to achieve the goal. In turn, that lets the reader know that the goal is important to the protagonist, and that the journey is worthwhile. The protagonist will be forced to grow because of the effort required to pursue the goal. She may have to grow in her resolve, or she may have to change her approach to doing things.

Of course, you are also free to split the functions of the antagonist. For instance, one character may try to get the protagonist to reconsider or give up, while the other actively tries to prevent the goal. (For instance, one of the two men might take on one of these functions.)

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