I believe that a central concept in storytelling is the Protagonist and the Antagonist. These two (or more) character(s) form the basic conflict that drive the story’s plot forward. But what exactly are they?
Here’s what they aren’t:
1) The Protagonist aren’t always the Hero or Heroine.
2) The Antagonist aren’t always the Villain.
3) The Protagonist and Antagonist aren’t always a person.
Now then, let’s dive into the concepts and develop a greater understand of what these two entities are all about.
The Protagonist is often the Main Story Character. They can be either Hero or Villain, sometimes both. What qualifies the Protagonist as such is that they are searching for something within the story, either to fulfill a prophecy (Fantasy), meet a goal (Adventure), develop a greater understanding of themselves (Literary), or simply get the bad guy (Pick one, this can be universal).
I mentioned in my “Aren’t” List that The Protagonist isn’t always a person. The Protagonist can be as ephemeral as an idea such as Freedom for an oppressed people, or more obvious as a squirrel trying to get a nut. The idea is that something is being strove for and that in itself is the determining factor.
For the sake of this discussion, let’s make our Protagonist the Hero or Heroine. They are strong or weak, brave or timid. Whatever their initial characteristics, they are called to an adventure by some inciting event. The Inciting Event is something I will cover in another discussion. In short, the Inciting Event is that which spurs them to activity.
The Protagonist can also be an Anti-Hero/Anti-Heroine or even the Villain. How do we do this? Actually, it’s not that hard because the same rule still applies. An Anti-Hero or Villain Protagonist is still searching for something. Maybe you’ve decided to write a story about a Villain who gets wind that a Hero or Heroine is coming to destroy them and the Villain wants to protect their power. So, their quest in this case, is to stop the Chosen One from destroying them. A different perspective, but one that’s worth exploring as a writer.
The Antagonist is a little easier to define as they serve a very simple purpose in that they exist to keep The Protagonist from reaching their goal.
There is a certain freedom involved with an Antagonist. The Antagonist isn’t limited (but can be) by morals or ethics. This means that there is a wide open field of options to oppose the Protagonist, from simple discouragement by a close friend or family member to all-out warfare with armies and a cast of thousands of minions.
The thing about The Antagonist is that they have the ability to swap roles with The Protagonist depending on where the story is going. It all comes down to Perspective and Point of View. If you have a character that starts out opposing the Protagonist and then joins them, you have just created a new Protagonist, albeit a secondary one. Of course, now you have to create a new Antagonist, but if you can create one, you can create another.
The Antagonist can also not always be a person. Anything that keeps The Protagonist from reaching their goal can be an Antagonist. A rock slide, cold bug, big nasty biting bug, swamp monster, whatever, can assume the role of an Antagonist. Granted, some of these are there to be defeated by the Protagonist, but they still carry the crown as long as they exist in the story.