The next project is a rescue. This flat story that has sat in writer purgatory for a few years, waiting for motivation to do something about it, longing for the inspiration to remedy it.
I’m there ready to take it on, its finding the cure that is the problem. Thus, it is back to basics. Characters, stories are about characters. Check. Plot, protagonist wants something, antagonist keeps him from it. Wait, that could be it. I don’t have an antagonist, at least not in the traditional sense.
John Truby (The Anatomy of Story: 22 to Becoming a Master Storyteller) is my go-to guy at a time like this. He says the hero, of course, is important. So, too, is the opponent along with the rest of the cast. Truby focuses not on the main character in isolation, but looks at all the characters as part of an interconnected web. Writer’s Digest this week had a quote by mystery writer Elmore Leonard who says “the main thing I set out to do is tell the point of view of the antagonist as much as the good guy.”
Hmm. Good points, but I still don’t have a traditional antagonist. There is no detective and no criminal to pursue, my Harry Potter has no Voldemort. My protagonist has only his own shortcomings to trip over. Truby doesn’t directly address such a thing. He does illustrate his points with story examples from movies. The likes of A Streetcar Named Desire, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, andTootsie, don’t have traditional antagonists.
Another valuable resource, KM Weiland, discusses an “antagonistic force” and says, “nowhere is it written that your story has to have a bad guy (or girl, as the case may be).” She says there are several non-human antagonists. They include:
-Animal - King Kong and Jaws comes to mind
-Self - the age old existential quandary of man as his own worst enemy in which the MC must overcome his own problems before he can deal with the external one
-Setting - survival stories in which the hero goes up against nature. Cast Away is a good example. Weather related tales are an offshoot of this.
-Society - dystopia is the extreme example here, but simpler themes in which the protagonist faces poverty or inequalities of some sort
-Supernatural forces - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button would be of this sort.
-Technology - a lot of sci-fi uses overarching technological forces as antagonists.
Non-human antagonists can be anything that throws obstacles in the way or the hero getting what he or she wants. They could be a thing, an idea, or any inanimate object that the protagonist must overcome to reach the end goal of the story. As long as you have conflict (to have a story is a must) you have an antagonist.
Weiland says one mustn’t limit themselves to just one antagonist and most stories will use a combination of several.
(This article also posted at http://utahchildrenswriters.blogspot.com)