Vaughn Hardacker here: In 2002 I realized that there was more to writing than just sitting down and putting words onto a page. I had to learn the craft. One of the first things I learned was that every story, whether it a mystery/crime story, a romance, or even a children’s story must have as a bare minimum, two characters: a protagonist and an antagonist. I set out developing two characters for my first Houston/Bouchard novel, SNIPER. I started with my hero, AKA the protagonist, Michael Houston and then my villain, the antagonist.
In an effort to refresh my knowledge of the craft, I started reading DRAMATICA: A New Theory of Story by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley (available at dramatica.com). The one thing that immediately struck me was in their discussion on characters, they maintain that in any story there are several distinct types of characters: the main character, the protagonist, and the antagonist. They define each as:
Main Character: The player through whom the audience experiences the story first hand.
Protagonist: The prime mover of the plot.
Antagonist: The character diametrically opposed to the protagonist.
In many stories, the hero is a combination of main character and protagonist. When taken in the context of the definitions above it is possible to argue that in most cases (especially in mystery and crime/thriller fiction) the villain better fits the definition of the protagonist. It is the villain, not the so-called hero, who is the prime mover of the plot (this is possibly more likely in the thriller genre). It is the villain who acts first forcing, for one reason or another, the hero to react. Throughout much of the story it is the actions of the villain that are the prime movers of the plot.
A couple of examples:
In Bram Stoker’s classic romantic tale of horror, Dracula, it is the villain, Count Dracula who is the prime mover of the plot, not the hero, Doctor van Helsing. Dracula moves, van Helsing reacts.
In every James Bond thriller it is the villain (Dr. No, Ernst Stravo Blofeld, etc.) who acts first and Bond who reacts.
In each of the cases above, I would argue that it is the villain who is the true protagonist and the antagonist is the main character or the hero. Who in your story is the protagonist; who is your antagonist; and who is your main character?
Vaughn C. Hardacker’s latest thriller, BLACK ORCHID, was released by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. in March 2016. Skyhorse has also placed is fourth thriller, WENDIGO, under contract. He lives in SAtcokholm, ME where he is currently working on several new projects.