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How to Write a Novel: The Antagonist doesn’t have to be a Person

I know. I know. I did a blog post on antagonists, but I did one on antagonist in the form of people and characters. That’s just one type of antagonist, An antagonist is someone or something that stands in the way of the goal of the protagonist. It’s that simple. By that definition, it means that your antagonist doesn’t have to be evil although they commonly are. The types of antagonists have grown over the years. There used to be three mainly, but now there are usually six and it’s not always the same six either. So I’m going to do this my own way because it seems like some of them are just sub-antagonists types of another group. So here they are.

Man versus Man

This is the obvious one. The antagonist is a man and it’s very common throughout writing and literature, even if one of the other types show up at the main antagonist. This is a physical person standing in the way of the protagonists. Examples of this are Joker, Voldemort, Dracula (in the original novel), The Vultori (I think I spelled that right), and Team Rocket.

Again, these people don’t have to be evil. They just have to get in the way of the protagonist. Say in your novel, two girls, are vying for the affections of some guy (cliché, but it works). One of the girls is your antagonist and one girl is your protagonist. In a novel, we’re always in the side of the protagonist, but that doesn’t mean the antagonist is evil. The antagonist in this case can be her sister, her cousin, her best friend, or simply her school rival, but the reason she is the antagonist is because she’s standing in the way of the protagonist getting the guy she wants.

Sub-version: Man versus Society

Some make this one its own separate category, but I don’t. Society (or culture, government, tradition etc…) is determined by man. It’s determined by the thinking of man and therefore, society man versus man, but a larger body of man and how they think. This is things like the situation in V for Vendetta. Batman is kind of like this in recent incarnations. The overall plot and storyline of Star Wars can fall into this category too (The Empire, the Sith, oppression, even the Jedi in some).

Man versus Self

This doesn’t mean the protagonist is literally battling himself, but what it does mean is that the protagonist is facing a moral dilemma or a difficult choice or is unhappy about something with themselves and wants to change it. The antagonist is internal or an idea. It’s like Juno (I hate this movie, but it’s an obvious example). Her dilemma is whether or not to give her baby up for adoption.

In that new movie Charlie Saint Cloud (Zac Efron’s  in it), his dilemma is breaking his promise to the ghost of his brother. Even in Harry Potter there is an internal conflict with Harry, especially in the second one, where he wonders if he’s good or not, is he really the person he thinks he is and he wonders this throughout the series. No subversion in this one, at least not to me. It’s very straightforward.

Man versus Nature

It’s really self explanatory. The antagonist is nature and the protagonists goal is to survive. It’s that simple. Movies really love to play on this, but books do too. The problem is that I read a little too much in my niche (which is fantasy) or not enough in some cases (blame that on school), but anyway to give examples, this is stuff like what if the world goes into another ice age, the poles suddenly change, natural disasters, diseases breaks out and kills most of the population etc… In other words, it’s all about the protagonists trying to survive until they can get to a safe haven or something. There’s usually a lot of science involved to explain these phenomena.

Sub-version: Man versus the Supernatural

The supernatural, as I’ve seen defined, are events in nature that can’t be explained through science, at least not yet. The proof? It was original thought by the people of the time that the black plague was a curse from witches and that the flu had something to do with the stars. So anything supernatural can technically fall under nature from vampirism, to zombie attacks, to ghost, spirits etc… I count it as just a subtopic of nature. I mean the word is super-natural.

Man versus Technology

With the advent of technology, there are all kind of horror stories going around about if technology gets out of control and begins to control humanity or if some computer virus gets out of hand and takes control. It’s a little farfetched sometimes, but the fact of the matter is that there isn’t a lot that isn’t control by some aspect of technology. Even gas stoves have a little technology in them and the thing is man makes technology to be smart and damn near error free. It sometimes catches things the human eye can’t (I wish Microsoft word’s proofreader were better in that aspect…) and it can outsmart the human mind if the chess game I play on the computer is any indication.

This was what The Matrix was all about and it was really one of the earliest (correct me if I’m wrong) horror stories of technology getting way out of hand and overpowering humanity. The thing about computers is that their very logical so if you need a weakness or a way to beat technology in your novel, confuse the hell out of technology by making man do something that’s completely irrational as man can sometimes be.

So now the question is, which one do you choose to have in your novel. (Shrugs) It doesn't have to be just one. It can be a combination of two or three of them if you want, but it really depends on the novel and the style of writing. Pick the one that works best for you.

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