Protagonist, Antagonist, and Internal Conflict

by SonofaPen
(Lincoln, NE)

Hi, I'm trying to plan out my novel, which very closely follows my life from the past few years, and I'm having difficulty knowing whether I'm going in the right direction. I know there needs to be a protagonist and an antagonist, but I feel that in this case, the protagonist's internal conflict creates an antagonist inside himself. It's written in sort of a stream of consciousness format, similar to Catcher in the Rye.

I've been reading about the best way to go about portraying this, and I found an article which examined the movie Flight. In the article, the author described the antagonist as being the protagonist's alcohol/drug abuse. However, after the movie's inciting incident, the antagonist received a "face," which was the government/airport investigators who were looking into the airplane accident.

The idea of the abstract antagonist having an external "face" makes sense to me somewhat, but I don't know what that would be in my story. When I originally started writing, I had created an "alter-ego" within the protagonist who represents his low self-esteem, anxiety, sexual deviance, anger, and suicidal ideations. The concept may be able to work, except I know that antagonists are made greater when they have a reason for avoiding the story goal (which I'm still a little shaky on knowing exactly).

Perhaps you've addressed the concept of a protagonist and antagonist existing in the same body, but I didn't find an article.

Any advice is appreciated! Thanks!


Answer: As you've probably noticed, the articles on this site are largely based on Dramatica. As such, terms such as "antagonist" have a more precise definition than you'll see elsewhere. Dramatica separates the objective and subjective storylines, which otherwise can
get muddled (hence the confusion between whether an antagonist can be internal).

In Dramatica, archetypal characters such as "antagonist" and "protagonist" are part of the overall story throughline. The Story Goal is also the concern of the overall story and isn't just the protagonist's goal, though he most strongly represents the effort to achieve it.

The main or principle-point-of-view character, who may or may not also be the protagonist, has a personal concern or goal which is different from the Story Goal.

If your protagonist and main character are one and the same, the protagonist will be pursuing the Story Goal (an external goal) and at the same time be trying to resolve his internal conflict related to his personal goal or concern.

I confess I haven't seen Flight, but from what I know about the story, it may be that the Goal is to prevent pilots from flying planes while intoxicated and causing accidents. In that case, the government investigator might be the protagonist and the pilot would be the antagonist and main character. So while the pilot is trying to avoid the Goal in the overall story, his personal throughline concerns the effort to resolve his inner conflict over his addictions--perhaps by mastering his desire to abuse substances or to stop pretending he can fly a plane while under their influence.

You do have the option of illustrating different facets of a character by personifying them as characters within the main character's imagination. For instance, you could have his "good" self and his "evil" self appear as separate people in his dreams and argue over what course of action he should take. But this approach may be more contrived than you had in mind.

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