Storytelling 101: The Protagonist, the Antagonist, and the Conflict

by: Ian Blaylock

When people talk about television and films today, usually they talk about how something looks, and how good the story was. In the age of the $200M+ blockbuster often times films may look really good, and use CGI, or other technical tricks to make a film really stand out, but without a good story, the whole thing can seem very pointless. Whether you love him or despise his name, George Lucas spoke the truth when he said, “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”

george

So, if story is so important, how do you craft a story?

The truth of the matter is that there is a variety of different ways to tell a story. Some writers like to construct every bit of their story before they write it out fully, while others prefer to jump in and see where they end up at the end of their first draft.

My goal with these posts is just as much to help me in my writing as much as it is to try and explain the basic elements of creating a story. I will use terms from different sources, and try to get to what is important about each step of the process. While I will do my best to share what I have learned, I will also point to other sources that may be of help to a writer.

A final disclaimer about my advice is that there are always exceptions to the rule, but I will try to share things that are found in the vast majority of stories.

Let’s begin!

For our first week, we should talk about the three main parts of a story: the protagonist, the antagonist, and the conflict.

The protagonist is the main character. They are the character that the audience follows, and the character the story is about. They’re pretty easy to pick out, and their name sometimes appears in the title of the story like: Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Batman, etc. Now, protagonists don’t all have to be heroes, or morally good, but their actions shape the story.

Opposing the protagonist is the antagonist. Usually they want the opposite of whatever the protagonist wants. In the Hunger Games series, President Snow wants things to stay as they are, while Katniss Everdeen and her allies seek revolution. In The Princess Bride, Buttercup wants to marry Westley, and Prince Humperdinck wants her all to himself. In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker and the rebels want freedom, but the Emperor wants order and control. It’s important to have opposing forces in a story, otherwise the story would be over before it even started. Characters just achieving their goals without trial is boring. Struggle is interesting!

The struggles of a character come in the form of conflict. Conflict is the driving force of the story. In Star Wars the Empire wants to build the Death Star, so that it can enforce the law. The rebels think this is a terrible idea, so they plan to blow it up. Conflict is related to what the story is about. If you want to write about a runner winning the big race, they probably had struggles. They probably ran against people that were much better at running than them, or maybe the runner fell and got hurt, and had to practice harder for the big race. The point is that there must be obstacles that the character has to overcome. They don’t have to be huge like destroying Death Stars, either. In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, the conflict is that Charlie Brown has to make Thanksgiving dinner for his friends, but he also has to eat dinner at his grandmother’s house. He can’t disappoint his grandmother, but he also can’t cook!

snoopy

(Luckily, Snoopy is there to help.)

Next week we will discuss setting, and some of the different types of stories.

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