In the last post, I discussed the various types of protagonists. Yay for the heroes! Today I was going to discuss the other guys, the ones that we love to hate—the antagonists!
But I realized before we can really dig deep into the antagonists, I have to introduce conflict because what would a protagonist and antagonist be without conflict? They’d just be a couple characters strolling down the street and waving ‘hi’ at each other. A little boring…
This post will only be a quick overview of conflict, so I will discuss conflict more deeply in a later post.
What is conflict?
It is the heart of your story. It is the tension between the protagonist and someone or something else that pushes your story forward. Read this and think how much this story does or doesn’t interest you:
Terry and Sam were lying stretched out on the beach, the sun turning their skin warm and golden.
“Hey Sam,” Terry drawled. “Are you glad we came to the beach? I’m sure glad we came to the beach.”
“Yes, I love the beach,” Sam replied. “Are you getting hungry?”
“Yes, I am. Would you like a sandwich? We have tuna and ham. Which would you like?” Terry asked.
“I would love a ham sandwich.”
“That’s good because I love tuna,” Terry replied.
The two men quietly ate their sandwiches and looked at the waves lapping on the sand.
“Should we go home now, Terry?” Sam asked.
“Yes, I think we should.”
The two men stood up and left.
Deadly dull, isn’t it? Now try this one:
Terry and Sam were lying stretched out on the beach. Sam dozed quietly, soaking up the sun. Terry lay on his side, turned away from Sam, back rigid, legs tight, and toes curled under. His entire body was as unyielding as the concrete breakwaters thirty feet out into the sea.
“Hey.” Terry spat the word out as if chewing on a slice of bitter, unripened papaya. “Are you glad we came to the beach?” He sneered without looking back at Sam.
Here we have only covered a tiny portion of the story, and already it’s more interesting. What makes the difference? Conflict.
Without conflict, there can be no antagonist, and without some kind of antagonist, there cannot be much of a story.
There are six types of conflict.
Character versus themselves
This kind of conflict happens within the character. This might be a struggle with illness or morality. Think of Emma by Jane Austen, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear, and the films Cast Away, My Left Foot, and A Beautiful Mind.
Character versus character
This is an external conflict between two or more characters that can be as brief as a fistfight or as long as the multiple fights and battles in Game of Thrones. Other examples are S.E. Hinton’s YA novel The Outsiders, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
Character versus nature
In this case, it is an external conflict in which a character is pitted against some form of nature: temperature, extreme weather, a natural disaster, a wild animal, etc. Think Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and parts of Collins’ Hunger Games, as well as the films Cast Away, and The Revenant.
Character versus the supernatural
When the protagonist is up against metaphysical phenomena such as ghosts, monsters, demons, zombies, and so on. Think about the Harry Potter series, Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Character versus technology
In this case, the protagonist is pitted against technology of some kind. Think about the novels Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, or pretty much any novel by William Gibson.
Character versus society
Protagonists here are in a battle with the power of society for survival, freedom, or morality. Think Orwell’s 1984, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, or Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.