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Writing on Wednesday

I Love Antagonists

You may read this and think “Chris, you love the villain?” Yes, I do, but first I want to clarify an important point. All villains are antagonists, but all antagonists are not villains. In the future, I will go into depth on the topic. Antagonists are the heartbeat of a story. Without them, our hero has no need to leave home and go on a journey.

The reason I love antagonists is they create conflict. Conflict is the essence of the story. Antagonists are the creators of conflict.

In our personal lives, we all love an antagonist. Let me set the scene

(cue dream ripple fade)

You get home from work. Your significant other is ready to tell you about their day. You are ready for this story because your significant other works at a place that can be an episode of The Office. They tell you “Honey, I had a great day at work. All my co-workers were great and our boss was wonderful.”

(cue crickets)

You didn’t want this. You wanted conflict. A good story requires conflict. Wait, a story is built around conflict or it is an anecdote. What was the above story missing?

The evil boss. Jill who talks too loud. The guy who eats everyone’s food. The story was missing an antagonist.

Now, imagine Dear Husband or Dear Wife comes home and says their boss did… (insert any plot of an episode of The Office with Michael Scott) or my day was like the movie Office Space. Now, you are entranced and more importantly, you secretly desire for the next day to come in order to hear what the antagonist did to your Sweetie.

The antagonist is what keeps readers turning pages. Without Sauron desiring the One Ring, Bilbo would have lived happy in Hobbiton. Without Darth Vader, Luke would have lived a boring life on Tattooine. (Technically, he wouldn’t have been born.) It is their overarching goal that makes conflict come to life on every scene.

The antagonist not only creates the conflict, but forces the hero to step to the plate. Without the Robber killing Uncle Ben, Peter Parker would have never stepped up to be a hero. Without the mugger, Bruce Wayne would never have wanted to take up the mantle of the Bat and fight injustice. These guys may never go down in each respective hero’s rogues gallery, but I would argue they are the greatest antagonists they ever faced, because they were the ones who set them on the path. Spider-Man can beat up the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, and The Lizard until the cows come home, but they will never be the mugger that shot and killed Uncle Ben. The same thing goes for Bruce Wayne.  In a later blog, I may argue that these heroes fight these guys vicariously through each super villain.

Presently, a friend I know works in a call center. Around him, people try to sell customers a certain service. His favorite thing to do at lunch is listening to the other guys around him.

“That lady was crazy. She said ‘I don’t want your bleepity bleep service. It’s horrible. Come take this bleepity bleep out my house and I don’t want to play a bleepin’ thing.’”

Now, all calls aren’t that severe, but many are. I love to hear him relate the stories, because I love to hear how the customer gave them conflict and created a conflict lock.

Best-selling author Bob Mayer teaches the conflict lock. Hero wants something. Antagonist wants something.  Conflict occurs when their paths cross.

Back to the previous example, the customer wants to get rid of service. The salesman wants her to keep it so he can get paid. Conflict. Two parties want something that conflicts with the goal of the other. CONFLICT LOCK! Understanding the conflict lock and conflict is the key to having great scenes in novels, movies, and video games. Once you recognize the conflict lock, you begin to see the antagonist as the heart of the story and the individual scene.

If I can be frank with you, I think the reason I love conflict is because I am a storyteller and ho drum vanilla life is just too boring and real-life conflict is a great source for story material.



2 thoughts on “I Love Antagonists

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Gives me a whole new outlook on antagonists. And you’re right, real-life conflicts make for great stories.

    Posted by Amy | July 25, 2012, 11:25 am

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