Have I Been Looking At Things Backwards?

BLACK ORCHID PosterVaughn 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.

This entry was posted in Vaughn's Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Have I Been Looking At Things Backwards?

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Fascinating idea, Vaughn. I’m going to ponder on it today as I imagine my heroic protagonist.

    So nice to start off on Monday with a whole new take on things.

    Kate

    Like

    • Vaughn Hardacker says:

      Thanks Kate, your input is always appreciated and looked forward to…

      Hope to see you at the Maine Literary Awards.

      Like

  2. David Plimpton says:

    Thank you, Vaughn, for the helpful and interesting way to view protagonists and antagonists.

    Could you also view the roles as shifting or switching when the hero reacts to the prior moves of the villain and then perhaps back and forth as the levels of conflict intensify. Also I think it is often more interesting to the reader if the protagonist/hero and antagonist/villain are not diametrically opposed, but like each other in some ways, with varying degrees of consciousness and reflection about their similarities.

    Thank you also for the reference to “Dramatica” and its discussion of character. It gives me a chance to mention “Story” by Robert McKee (1997) on screenwriting, but in my untutored view also largely applicable to fiction writing, with its discussion of the elements of story, story design, genre, inciting incident, composition, crisis, climax, resolution, principle of antagonism, character, problems, and solutions.

    I like to think it has helped me immensely in my fiction writing. But readers and editors are better judges of that best.

    Like

    • Karla Whitney says:

      Vaughn, You nailed it. Such simple definitions and questions are often the most critical. Identifying and clarifying these roles seem to be key. Thanks for the tip on “Dramatica”.
      I agree with David, here too. McKee’s “Story”, both audio and print, is a writer’s bible.

      Like

    • Vaughn Hardacker says:

      I too have read and refer to McKee often.

      One could argue that the protagonist and antagonist may actually shift roles. Take George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series…it is often difficult to tell who falls into what role. He uses different characters as main character in each of his chapters as he writes in different POVs.

      It just goes to show the problems with placing hard labels on characters…

      Like

  3. David Plimpton says:

    Thank you, Vaughn, for the helpful and interesting way to view protagonists and antagonists.

    Could you also view the roles as shifting or switching when the hero reacts to the prior moves of the villain and then perhaps back and forth as the levels of conflict intensify. Also I think it is often more interesting to the reader if the protagonist/hero and antagonist/villain are not diametrically opposed, but like each other in some ways, with varying degrees of consciousness and reflection about their similarities.

    Thank you also for the reference to “Dramatica” and its discussion of character. It gives me a chance to mention “Story” by Robert McKee (1997) on screenwriting, but in my untutored view also largely applicable to fiction writing, with its discussion of the elements of story, story design, genre, inciting incident, composition, crisis, climax, resolution, principle of antagonism, character, problems, and solutions.

    I like to think it has helped me immensely in my fiction writing. But readers and editors are better judges of that, I guess.

    Like

  4. Skye says:

    Hi Vaughn, you make perfect sense to me; in fact, in many of the classics, the protagonist was the anti-hero: Macbeth or Mersault. I love your definition, and quite honestly, I like the title of your novel, too.

    Like

  5. Rita Olson says:

    I’m so glad to leave all the workings of how to write a good book up to you……I would just rather read them. :o)

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s