Protagonist as Antagonist

by Simon Genee
(The Netherlands)

Question: In my fantasy novel, I've got three main characters.


One is a classical good guy: young, inexperienced, always trying to do the right thing.

The second one is more like a gray area: He's a nice guy, but torn up in his desire for revenge. (Even stepping over innocents to get it.)

The third one is an anti-hero. He's an angry, cunning, relentless bounty hunter.

I was wondering if the antagonist of my anti-hero could be a classical good guy, someone who would normally be a protagonist is a more stereotypical fantasy novel. I'll describe what I mean:

The empire in which my story takes place is overrun by the second character, who is oppressing the people of the empire in his thirst for revenge. However, the emperor's nephew managed to escape, and is trying to gather allies to retake the empire and overthrow the second character.

The third character, however, has grown tired of bounty hunting by this time in the novel. He accepts a final mission: to find and kill this 'nice guy.'

My question is very simple: would this be an acceptable scenario for the reader? The hunt for this character would give my anti-hero a viable Story Goal, I think.

Answer: Dramatica theory uses the terms "antagonist," "protagonist," and "main character" a little more precisely.

The protagonist is the character who is leading the pursuit of the story goal. The antagonist is the character intent on preventing the story goal from being achieved. The main character is the primary point-of-view, through whose eyes the reader views the story.

The main character can be the protagonist, the antagonist, or any other character.
The classic hero is both main character and protagonist. However, some main characters are also the antagonist (e.g. James Bond) in cases where the protagonist pursues a villainous goal.

In your story, you have to decide first what the story goal is. What is the effort or problem that involves or affects most of the characters? Is it...

1. Revenge, in which case your second character is the protagonist.
2. Ridding the kingdom of the second character, in which case the nephew is the protagonist.
3. Killing the nephew (a variation on #1), in which either the second or third character could be the protagonist.

To decide, ask yourself whose aim or plan dominates the story and affects everyone? Whose action or decision initiates the story? Who seems to be leading the charge towards the goal? He will likely be your protagonist.

As for the main character, you could conceivably tell the story from the point of view of any of these characters. The question to ask yourself is whose decision or action at the climax will ultimately determine whether or not the goal is achieved? That will likely be your best candidate for main character, since the resolution of his inner conflict will be key to the outcome.

I think your bounty hunter would make an interesting main character, since he can easily have a moral dilemma as his inner conflict (hired by a villain to kill a good guy). The outcome could be either...

Comi-tragedy: he kills the good nephew and is left racked by guilt.
Tragi-comedy: he spares the nephew, thereby failing to achieve the goal, but in doing so resolves his inner conflict happily.

Comments for Protagonist as Antagonist

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Jan 08, 2013
Thanks!
by: Simon

I think method 3 describes the story the best. However, I don't know if I want the bounty hunter to be conflicted about killing the nephew. That would imply he's actually just a misunderstood good guy, while he really is an anti-hero. I think I'm going to balance the inner conflict between him trying to kill the nephew, and saving the ones he truly holds dear.

Thanks for the answer (which was given really fast!)It's good for me to hear that a professional thinks there might be a future for my plot :)

Jan 08, 2013
By the way.
by: Simon

By the way, what I got wrong about Dramatica was that I thought the protagonist is always the Main Character. Thanks for clearing that up for me!

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