Protagonist and Antagonist Assignment

by Britney

Question: This website is the best thing too happen to me as a writer in quite a while. I love, love, LOVE the information and ideas shared on this website.

I do have one question though: how would you categorize a main character who acts as her own antagonist? Her unwillingness to accept her circumstances hinders her growth until (at the climax or shortly beforehand) she changes her behavior and assumes the role of protagonist in seeking to fulfill the story goal?

Would you define the MC as the protagonist and whatever it is causing her unwillingness to assume her designated responsibility (perhaps self-doubt, a lack of faith, disbelief, etc...) as the antagonist?

Thanks for all your hard work!

Answer: Thanks for the kind comments.

Generally, a character cannot be both the protagonist and antagonist, because the two motivations would cancel each other out.

However, a main character can be either Willing or Unwilling. Willing characters gladly take on the task of finding a solution to the story problem, unwilling characters must be forced into it. (This is different from an antagonist who actively tries to prevent others from solving the problem.)

Usually, the reason a main character is unwilling is because the approach needed to solve the problem is contrary to their nature.

For instance, if the main character is naturally a Be-er, someone who tries to cope with a problem by changing herself, she will be uncomfortable in a story where the problem must be solved by action. In other words, she would rather try to fit in with the dangerous street gang rather than punch them out.

On the other hand, a Do-er, a character who tries to solve problems with action, would be uncomfortable in a decision story, where she must solve the problem through deliberation and choice.

It would be like asking Laura Croft to stop fighting and raiding tombs and just focus on developing her sensitive side - totally against her nature.

(If you want to see a humourous example of an unwilling character, you might check out the film Kindergarten Cop, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a man of action forced to be someone he is not. On the other hand, Romancing the Stone provides a great example of a Be-er forced into an action-adventure role.)

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