Does every story need antagonist?

by Ell

Question: If I have a problem to solve and the hero has already enough obstacles, do I still need a bad guy?

Answer: Not every antagonist is human. Sometimes Nature can be the antagonist. Society, a supernatural force, an animal, or a machine can be the antagonist.

Even a human antagonist doesn't have to be an evil person. He or she could oppose the protagonist with all the best intentions, or simply have a different agenda that is incompatible with the protagonist's aim. Sometimes too, different characters can take on the role of antagonist at different points in a novel.

All that matters is you have an entity that opposes or seeks to prevent the Story Goal from being achieved.

My guess is that your antagonist is somewhere in that list of obstacles you've created. But you'll know if you need an additional antagonist if the story goal will seem too easily achieved.

Without an adequate antagonist, there's often little to stop the goal being achieved in the first chapter. Or the goal may seem so easy that the hero's success is no big deal.

Readers enjoy stories about characters who must face tough problems, and antagonists are there to make the problem tough.

So, no, you don't need a comic-book style villain to be the antagonist. A guy in a black cape and long moustache hatching evil plans would be out of place in many novels.

You just need to make sure the protagonist has a big enough problem to tackle.

Comments for Does every story need antagonist?

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by: Anonymous

so if you write a book about a guy making a sandwich no one will like it but if you make the same book but add traffic and closing stores and anything else you can think of people will like it

to Anonymous
by: Glen

Not exactly. You can't just add random obstacles and call them the antagonist.

First you have to know what the protagonist's goal is. What he trying to accomplish by making a sandwich no one will like? What problem does that solve? Why does it matter?

For instance, is he trying to get fired so he can start following his dream of a different career? Is he wanting revenge on the restaurant owner? Is he hoping to ruin a gangster's lunch in order to provoke a fight?

Once you know what his objective is, you can create an antagonist who is opposed to this goal.

For instance, let's say your protagonist wants to get fired. But he has a boss who refuses to fire him. Instead, the boss wants to train the protagonist to be a proper chef. So no matter how bad a sandwich the protagonist makes, the boss sees it as a learning opportunity and hovers over him, making sure his next sandwich is terrific.

Or maybe the boss is the protagonist's father who keeps arguing that the protagonist should give up his dream of a different career and spend his life running the restaurant.

See, only if you have a meaningful goal can you have a proper antagonist.

Flipped antagonist
by: Anonymous

Okay, so what about the characters in Flipped? Who is the antagonist and protagonist?

re: Flipped
by: Glen

Unfortunately, I haven't seen "Flipped." However, it is important to remember that the protagonist and antagonist are part of the overall or external story throughline. In some stories, such as thrillers, the overall throughline is front and centre while the character and relationship throughlines may be only lightly touched on.

In romances, the opposite is often true -- the relationship and main character throughlines are the foreground while the overall throughline is put on the back burner. In some romances, the overall throughline may be merely a gimmick to make the two lovers spend time together, or it may be underdeveloped.

Usually, the story is better if each of the throughlines has a complete arc, even the ones on the back burner. (By back burner, I mean that each stage of the arc may be illustrated with a minor event, or even just a line of dialogue, rather than a significant sequence of events. Back burner throughlines may get very little space on the pages.) However, a romance with no overall throughline can suffer from a lack of narrative drive, whereas developing the overall throughline can turn it into more of a page turner.

To some extent this is a matter of taste. Some romance readers are content without much of an overall throughline, while other readers would find such stories dull.

Hero as Antagonist?
by: Anonymous

In a story I'm planning, my quote-unquote "Hero" is the one who causes the problems she has to face. Do I still need an antagonist?

To Anonymous
by: Glen

If your heroine is causing her own problems, it could be one of the following:

1. Decision Story, in which the heroine needs to make a decision to take her life in a new direction. Her life is generally dissatisfying or frustrating, perhaps because of previous decisions she made, and this unhappiness builds until she makes a new decision at the crisis.

2. Discovery Story, in which the heroine may be worried about some aspect of her life, because she doesn't understand what is going on. Maybe what she is seeing is a reaction to her own actions, but she doesn't understand the connection. There is some mystery behind the disturbing events. At the crisis, the heroine will discover the truth, at which point everything falls into place and she then knows what to do to handle the situation.

These stories are more internal. Nonetheless, the antagonist could take the form of a character who is trying to prevent her making the right decision (in a Decision story) or finding out the truth (in a Discovery story).

However, sometimes it can seem like numerous elements in the story world rather than a single person are conspiring to make it harder for her to make the necessary decision/discovery at the crisis.

The point is there should be some resistance, some reason why she cannot make the right change immediately, otherwise there is no story.

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