Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

A Complete Guide to Protagonists and Antagonists

Today we're diving deep into the heart of any compelling story - the characters. More specifically, we're focusing on the central characters that drive the narrative: the protagonists and antagonists. These complex characters, with their relatable character flaws and well-developed traits, are what bring a story to life. So, let's get started!

A Complete Guide to Protagonists and Antagonists

The Protagonist: The Heart of the Story

In the realm of creative writing, the protagonist is the central character around whom the entire story revolves. They're the ones we root for, the ones we relate to, and the ones who lead us through the engaging story. They are the characters that readers invest in, the ones that bring the story to life.

What is a Protagonist?

A protagonist is the main character of a story. They're the ones who face the central conflict, the ones who must overcome obstacles and make tough decisions. They're not always the traditional hero - sometimes, they can be quite the opposite. They can be the lone hero, the anti-hero, or even the villainous protagonist. Regardless of their role, they are the characters that readers follow throughout the story.

Different Types of Protagonists

Protagonists come in all shapes and sizes, each with 2-4 common character traits that make them unique. For instance, Woody from "Toy Story" is a compelling protagonist who's loyal and brave, while Elizabeth Bennet from "Pride and Prejudice" is witty and independent.

In some stories, the protagonist may not be a person at all. In story-focused games, for example, the player often takes on the role of the protagonist, driving the game plot forward through their actions.

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The Antagonist: The Force of Opposition

While the protagonist is the driving force of the story, the antagonist is the force that opposes them. They're the ones who create obstacles, the ones who add tension and conflict to the narrative. They are the antagonist characters that challenge the protagonist, pushing them to grow and change.

What is an Antagonist?

An antagonist is a character, or sometimes even an inanimate or intrinsic force, that works against the protagonist. They're not always the villain of the story - sometimes, they're just characters with opposing goals or values. They can be individuals, groups of people, or even societal norms and expectations.

Examples of Antagonists

Like protagonists, antagonists are complex characters with 5-6 common character traits that define them. For instance, in "Toy Story," Sid is the antagonist who threatens the safety of the toys, while in "Pride and Prejudice," societal norms and prejudices serve as antagonists.

In some stories, the antagonist may not be a person at all. In story-focused games, for example, the game environment or the player's own limitations can serve as the antagonist, creating challenges and obstacles for the player to overcome.

Protagonist vs Antagonist: The Central Conflict

The difference between a protagonist and an antagonist lies in their roles within the story. The protagonist is the character who propels the story forward, while the antagonist creates the obstacles that make the story interesting.

This dynamic creates the central conflict of the story, driving the narrative and shaping the characters. Whether it's an external conflict with the antagonist or an internal conflict within the protagonist, these conflicts are what make a story compelling.

When Protagonist and Antagonist are the Same

In some stories, the protagonist and antagonist can indeed be the same person. This usually happens when the protagonist has a personal conflict, such as a struggle with addiction or a moral dilemma. In these cases, the protagonist's own flaws or fears serve as the antagonist, creating a compelling internal conflict.

The Protagonist-Antagonist: A Complex Character

A character who serves as both the protagonist and antagonist is a complex character with a rich inner life. They're often faced with difficult topics, making them some of the most memorable characters in literature.

For instance, in the video game "The Last of Us," the protagonist Joel becomes an antagonist of sorts when he makes a morally questionable decision. His actions, driven by his love for Ellie, create a compelling internal conflict that adds depth to his character.

Crafting Your Characters: A Few Tips

Whether you're writing a heroic protagonist, a villainous antagonist, or a character who's a bit of both, here are a few tips to help you create memorable characters:

  • Give them relatable flaws

    No one's perfect, and your characters shouldn't be either. A relatable character flaw can make your characters feel more real and add depth to their personalities. Try asking your characters questions to draw out what’s unique about them.

  • Develop their traits

    Well-developed characters feel like real people. Spend time fleshing out their traits, their likes and dislikes, and their fears and dreams.

  • Show their growth

    Character development is key to a compelling story. Show how your characters change and grow over the course of the narrative, also called a character arc.

  • Make them active

    Your protagonist and antagonist should be an active participant in the story, not just a passive observer. They should make decisions, take actions, and drive the narrative forward.

Wrapping Up: The Dance of Protagonists and Antagonists

In the end, the dance between the protagonist and antagonist is what makes a story engaging. These characters, with their conflicts and struggles, bring the story to life, making it resonate with readers.

So, whether you're crafting a silent protagonist for a sort of game plot, or a classic hero for a traditional superhero movie, remember to give them depth, complexity, and a worthy antagonist to face. After all, it's these characters and their struggles that will bring your story to life.

Until next time, happy writing!

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