Identifying an Antagonist

by Stacy
(Portland, OR)

Question: I've recently come across Dramatica theory and it has helped me a lot. I am writing the first book in a three book series. One issue I'm still having trouble with is identifying my antagonist.

My understanding of the antagonist is someone (or something) that stands in the way of the protagonist reaching their goal, be through physically preventing or urging the protagonist to reconsider their goal.

My protagonist/MC is a woman who is very sick and must find a cure for her sickness. However, in order to find a cure she must confront her own personal demons and learn to confide in people, trust others, and eventually confront her past. She would rather ignore her sickness and claims that it's not as bad as it may seem. The Influence Character is someone who cares deeply for her and urges her to actually do something about it.

The MC and the IC travel together to find a cure, but they keep running into dead-ends on finding a cure that sends them down another path. Each path makes the MC confront more of her past and pushes her more out of her comfort zone.

The MC tries to avoid a cure because she fears confronting her past while the IC convinces her at each step to push past that. When the IC is no longer in the picture, he has had such an impact on her that she can finally trust and confront her past to get the cure.

All this leads me to say that the MC's inner fears and demons are actually the antagonist. Her constantly double guessing herself stands in the way of her achieving her goal. But can
the protagonist/MC be the antagonist? Can she actively be seeking her goal for a cure while also avoiding it?

Other than her own fears and confronting her past, the only thing keeping them from solving the goal of a cure is actually finding something that will work. They must travel to do so. No one is actively preventing her from finding a cure.

Please help and thank you in advance!

Answer: It seems to me that the antagonist functions in your story are represented by the "demons" from the MC's past.

Presumably, you will have your MC confront these demons, whether they are in the form of other people, her memories of other people, or aspects of herself.

In some stories, the MC will journey to her past (via dream, hypnosis, or imagination) and interact with the people in her memories who are holding her back. Or you might have her journey to see these people in the present, assuming they are still alive, and as a result of the encounter change her conception of them.

In other stories, the main character may confront aspects of herself in a dream or her imagination. A dark shadow or "voice in her head" can hold her back as effectively as a physical monster. The antagonist may be a personified aspect of her personality.

You could also create a character in the present who is similar to someone in the MC's past and triggers a response in her that is counterproductive. Learning to deal with this person in the present may solve her problem in the past.

In any case, it helps to put a face to the thing that is standing in the MC's way.

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