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external antagonist absolutely necessary?

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Dionna

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May I pick your brains, please?

Is an external antagonist absolutely necessary for a good plot? Or can the main plot line be the main character battling with an internal conflict, an ethical dilemma, an emotional war? Main character vs. himself? Or must this type of antagonist be consigned to a sub plot? 

 :eh2
#1 - August 24, 2013, 09:20 AM

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Kristen Lamb has some great blog posts about this: http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/?s=antagonist
#2 - August 24, 2013, 09:23 AM
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What a fantastic blog post. Thanks for sharing, Larissa. I especially love the point that an antagonist is not necessarily the same thing as a villain. It's really hard to parse these things out, sometimes.
#3 - August 24, 2013, 09:45 AM

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Thanks for the link, Larissa.

Dionna, I think of the external conflicts help with defining the internal ones. As the article points out, most characters are their own worst enemies at the start of the story, but other people, situations, etc. cause conflict that help the character grow, as they wrestle with and resolve their internal conflicts.

So, yes, to your question about needing external antagonists. They will push your character into that uncomfortable space where he or she has to take an action.

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#4 - August 24, 2013, 12:27 PM
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I find that while some literary novels for adults do not have an external antagonist, (or even a plot, on the level of action) when you write for younger readers you need an antagonist to heighten tension and raise the stakes.

But you can have this creature be outside the well-worn box of bully, difficult person, or adult who doesn't let the MC do/be what they want.
#5 - August 24, 2013, 01:04 PM
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Dionna

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Very interesting post, Larissa!!

I really enjoyed it, especially the statement:

"Each character is a cog that moves the machine and creates momentum. How do cogs move? Another cog must move the opposite direction. A cog with no opposition is a spinning, useless part incapable of providing any forward momentum."

WOW! That's a great definition of an antagonist!!

Still, could the Big Bad Troublemaker, as this post refers to the story's antagonist, be something like the main character's temper, or pride  that continually flares up and keeps blocking his way to achieving his overall goal?

If not, I have to totally re-think how I craft my stories, which may not be a bad thing at all!
#6 - August 24, 2013, 01:09 PM

I've never really had an antagonist in any of my books.
#7 - August 24, 2013, 01:42 PM

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If you scroll down, there are numerous posts there. I searched for "antagonist", and she's done quite a few posts on this topic.

I'm not saying she's 100% right, but it's a great place to read and give serious thought to your antagonist and your story. I'm glad so many of you find her post helpful/interesting.
#8 - August 24, 2013, 01:55 PM
KISS ME KILL YOU (Entangled Crave, June 12, 2017)
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I remember learning in school about man vs nature, man vs God, and man vs himself as viable story types. My current WIP has some characters who are in opposition to my MC and obstruct her from her goal, but are not true antagonists.
#9 - August 24, 2013, 10:56 PM
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I'm anxious to read the blog, but I'm feeling like the "antagonistic" elements of a story will be many things - characters (good and bad), emotions, back story, etc. And even if your story has an actual "bad guy" in it, that character will be layered and complex. Consequently, I like to focus more on my main character and tension/conflict - and getting that right in each scene. - and less on the antagonists/protagonists by definition.
Looking forward to what others have to say.
Jean
#10 - August 25, 2013, 11:08 AM
« Last Edit: August 25, 2013, 11:14 AM by Jean Reidy »
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That was a great link. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.
#11 - August 25, 2013, 11:39 AM

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My absolute favorite craft book, The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, talks a lot about antagonists. From what I remember, he sees the antagonist as an opposing force. It's best if the antagonist is a person who is either specifically working against the main character or is acting on behalf of a larger opposing force. He does talk about how the antagonist doesn't have to be a person, but he says that it should be something external rather than something inside the character.

Truby also says that it's best when the protagonist and antagonist want the same thing but they go about getting it in vastly different ways. And he encourages writers to create a conflict chart to see how not only the antagonist but also other characters work against the main character (and against each other). I've found all these ideas SO helpful in my writing.

I love the cog imagery, by the way!
#12 - August 26, 2013, 06:11 AM
« Last Edit: August 26, 2013, 06:13 AM by annastan »
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Dionna

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Going to get Truby's book now! This advice will certainly change how I plot my stories.

Thanks oodles, Annastan! :thankyou
#13 - August 26, 2013, 10:21 AM

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Is an external antagonist absolutely necessary for a good plot?
 

I don't think so.

Tension in a story can come from a choice, or a discovery, as well as from a battle.

I'm always leery of "every book must ..." rules. I prefer to ask, "Does this book that I'm writing right now need an external antagonist?"
#14 - August 30, 2013, 04:53 PM
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My absolute favorite craft book, The Anatomy of Story by John Truby, talks a lot about antagonists. From what I remember, he sees the antagonist as an opposing force. It's best if the antagonist is a person who is either specifically working against the main character or is acting on behalf of a larger opposing force. He does talk about how the antagonist doesn't have to be a person, but he says that it should be something external rather than something inside the character.

Truby also says that it's best when the protagonist and antagonist want the same thing but they go about getting it in vastly different ways. And he encourages writers to create a conflict chart to see how not only the antagonist but also other characters work against the main character (and against each other). I've found all these ideas SO helpful in my writing.

I love the cog imagery, by the way!
This is my absolute favorite writing book, too!  Mary Kole said something similar in Irrestible Kidlit about having the antagonist and protagonist being connected in some way. According to her, it makes for a more powerful antagonist. Like Voldemort and Harry Potter both had similar lives, but it was their reaction to these events that made them the hero/villain.

I've never written a story without an external antagonist, but then I don't write literary fiction. Honestly, I'm a little intimidated by literary fiction. I think it would be a challenge to write a gripping story without an external antagonist. For me, the main character doesn't come into focus for me until I have my antagonist fleshed out.
#15 - August 30, 2013, 07:51 PM
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I do think this might be different in literary fiction, which I tend to think of as character driven fiction. Stories like Winn Dixie or Great Gilly Hopkins don't have an antagonist per se. They are great examples of internal healing - where the story challenges certain beliefs of the main character and through those challenges, the character grows. But those challenges don't necessarily come as a result of a villain or antagonist as much as they come from deep seeded baggage the main character has. Once you know the character's "wound", and challenge the character to overcome it, this will provide the antagonism, I think. But again, like Jenn says, it depends on the story.
#16 - August 31, 2013, 12:36 PM

Dionna

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Would you say this is the take away point?:

So long as the main character changes as a result of his journey--whether there's a big, bad wolf prowling behind every tree or not--the important thing is that the events that unfold along the way is what causes him to change.
#17 - August 31, 2013, 03:42 PM

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That sounds good to me, Dionna. As long as the character's change is focused and in response to the story events, I think you're good to go.
#18 - August 31, 2013, 04:44 PM

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