Does your WIP have an antagonist? Just one? Are you sure?
My question is asked only partly in jest. Not to be antagonistic, but I’m guessing that many if not most of you have several layers of antagonism in your work, whether you’ve created them consciously or not.
I’ve had antagonism on my mind lately. And not just because it’s tax season. Or because of the latest Game of Thrones trailer. (Well, maybe the Thrones trailer is a small part of it.) What initially prompted it was this thought-provoking essay by WU’s own Jo Eberhardt. Which spurred me to sort out my own antagonists, and how they fit into what I’m trying to build. Granted, my WIP is an epic fantasy trilogy, but I still feel like I have quite a few. And for a moment there, I questioned if I had too many. It certainly got me thinking. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized that most of my favorite stories have multiple layers of antagonism.
Why would I want to offer anything less? So maybe this is a good thing…?
In the interest of exploring the idea, I thought I’d attempt a list of the various types of antagonism, from the specific to the obscure. This might get tricky, so we’d better start with a definition, to make sure we’re all on the same page. Merriam-Webster’s is:
Antagonism – noun
- the opposition of a conflicting force, tendency, or principle
- actively expressed opposition or hostility
[Note: I apologize in advance for using fantasy/sci-fi examples, but that’s my wheelhouse. Besides, as WU’s resident geek it almost feels like a contractual obligation.]
The Antagonism of Setting: Okay, yes, I said I’d go from specific to obscure. And, yes, the concept of the setting itself being antagonistic is sort of obscure. But in many cases, a story’s setting reveals some of the earliest forms of opposition—often before we’ve encountered an active villain. Think about it. Harry Potter (eventually) gets his letter and ventures out for Hogwarts, Ned Stark feels honor-bound to go to King’s Landing, and Frodo and his companions must leave the comfort of the Shire.
Often our heroes are pushed from their comfort zone, or even compelled into danger. The outside world looms as their first obstacle. Using setting as a force of antagonism is an excellent way to grab and hold a reader’s attention.
An Active Villain: Ah, back to the specific. And obvious! Not every story has one, but when we think of antagonism, the first thing that springs to mind is an individual whose aims and/or desires are directly counter to those of our protagonist(s). It springs to mind because having an embodied central antagonist is tried and true storytelling. What would Harry Potter be without Voldemort; Star Wars without Darth Vader; Lord of the Rings without Sauron? [Read more…]