When writing fiction, whether novel or screenplay, a few basic elements must be present to tell a good story. For example, there must be a detailed setting so that the reader knows when and where the story takes place. There should also be an engaging plot, which is a series of events that hold the attention of the reader or audience and make them want to continue the story. These and other elements are like building blocks to a story. Without these elements, the story will either feel incomplete or perhaps just cease to be interesting.
However, these story building blocks revolve around the most crucial elements of a story, the characters. The characters are the “beings “who inhabit the story. Characters are not always people. Often, an inanimate object such as a house or a car takes on the role of a key character in a story. Or elemental things such as weather conditions can act as a character. Good characters can make an intriguing story even more attractive. A story’s main characters generally fall into one of two categories: Protagonist and Antagonist.
These categories may seem simple at first glance, but they mean more than a distinction between “good guy” and “bad guy”. Truly understanding the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist is crucial when creating characters that can appropriately drive the plot of a story.
So, what is a protagonist? A protagonist is the main character within a story. The word “protagonist” is a Greek word derived from combining the prefix “proto” meaning “first” with the word “agonistes” which is a competitor in a context or an actor. The protagonist often refers to the hero (or heroine) of the story.
A protagonist is the one who makes most of the key decisions in the story. Also, most of the plot points center around this person. The attitude and actions of the protagonist are primarily what moves the story forward. And they are the character or characters who deal mainly with the significant tension, obstacles, and complications of the story. Most stories are written in a way where the readers or audience know to follow this character or characters.
On the other hand, the antagonist is a person, place or thing that is hostile towards the protagonist. The antagonist is the “anti-hero” of sorts. In some stories, the antagonist is the person who is the competitor or the adversary of the protagonist to some degree. The antagonist is the one who presents most of the significant tension, obstacles, and complications of the story which the protagonist must overcome.
One important thing to notice is that an antagonist in a story is not necessarily the villain of the story. There is a very important difference between a story’s villain and a story's antagonist.
A villain is a character whose evil actions and motives are important to the plot. The major difference between the two is the word “evil”. The antagonist is not necessarily “evil” or “bad”, just the opposing person or force to the hero of the story. However, the villain is almost always opposing the hero with a deficit in morality. The exception would be in a story where the protagonist is morally wrong. An example is in a crime story where the hero is the one committing crimes. In that case, the antagonist would be the one working against their crime spree; such as the police.
Stories can be compelling without a villain. However, no character-driven story is quite as engaging without the opposing force of an antagonist.
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