Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Antagonist: giving the dark side a face

In the classic movie Jeremiah Johnson, starring Robert Redford, the comment is made that the greatness of your enemies is a measure of your greatness. 

I'm not sure I want to be a part of that universe, but the comment does point out the crucial relationship in a story between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Here are the important literary terms related to this subject from about.com:
  • Protagonist: the main character or hero in a work of literature.
  • Antagonist: the opponent of the main character in a work of literature.
  • Foil: a character who serves as a contrast to another perhaps more primary character, so as to point out specific traits of the primary character.
I am in the process of choosing unusual and even unsavory characters for some of my flash fiction stories, honing my skills by developing characters I would avoid in real life.

As mentioned in an earlier post, here are some characters I've included in recent flash fiction stories:

  • a ninety-year-old retired English teacher who decides to "cull" a neighbor (published)
  • a grandmother who tells the story of how she once found a head in her bread dough 
  • a man arrested for public nudity on St. Patrick's Day
  • a sci-fi Adam and Eve story (submitted)
  • a family that makes a Saturday high school detention a picnic opportunity
  • how insanity and spiders do not mix (published)
  • how an Alamo car-rental agent plays Cupid (submitted)
  • a gambler who bets his jackpot against a job as a farmhand--and hopes he loses
  I think my wife, though, has the best and final comment of antagonists: sometimes the most interesting characters are those who traits are not so easily categorized.

Sometimes the guy on the horse doesn't wear a white hat or a black hat but a hat of grey--or is it just the way the shadows play beneath the cloud-dappled sky?

Copyright 2010 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved

1 comment:

  1. I was always taught that the antagonist was not just the opponent of the protagonist, but rather the main character that provided resistance to the protagonist. The protagonist seeks to achieve something. The antagonist erects barriers and tries to prevent the protagonist from achieving that objective.

    The most successful antagonist is one that evokes fear, loathing, and other negative emotions in the reader. This way, we are more inclined to root for the protagonist. We also want the story to end in such a way as to punish the antagonist for doing things that we feel are wrong.

    The most potent antagonist I can think of is the Joker from the "Dark Knight" movie. He was deeply disturbing in his disregard for others. It was frightening to think that someone, maybe us, can be so heartless and evil.

    We saw this movie 2 years ago at the Minnesota Zoo when we walked into the IMAX theater there. I thought it was going to be a 20-minute "about the Dark Knight" type of show, but it turned out to be the whole movie.

    After the movie, Pranjal was almost violent for about 30 minutes. Namita was also disturbed and close to being distraught. It was only when we went down to the aquarium and sat there for about 20 minutes that everyone calmed down.

    Thanks for the great post. You got my mind going with this one.