Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Principles of Antagonism {WriterlyWednesday}

It's Wednesday.
It's Wednesday and I haven't done a WriterlyWednesday post for several weeks now.
I'm officially, seriously failing at doing weekly posts.
It's official.
But anyways. Let's forget my tardiness for a bit and focus on a very vital part to any story.
The principles of antagonism. (at least some of them, anyways)
Without a force of contradiction, something opposite of the positive elements in your plot, the story falls flat and tasteless - bland; unlike the occurings of actual reality.
And, if you're aware of this vital axiom of plot creation and development, you'll know that readers and viewers (for those of you writing screenplays) detest stories in which they cannot relate to anything. If the audience can't relate to the main character, or what he/she is feeling/struggling with, chances are, you'll lose them before they've finished half of the book/film.
Now, this isn't saying that you can't create bizarre and otherworldly fantasies, or pieces comparable to sci-fi epics. It's not about the genre you're writing; which is so important, but how you present your story.
And one of the ways to best do this is to make sure you keep the balance of ups/downs, antagonism/protagonism, good/evil in check.
The best stories on this planet involve plots with many ups and downs. And, forgetting plain stories for a moment, just take a look at your own life, and the lives of others around you!
Your life probably hasn't been all fun and games or smooth sailing for the entire trip. There've been bumps in the road, potholes and other difficulties. Maybe even tragedy and great loss, in some places.
In the midst of that, you've also had your good times, and the days when you felt you were on 'cloud nine'.
There's a saying. It's a simple one, but truth doesn't have to be exuberant or complex to be truth.
 Pinned Image
Let's take a look at a classic fairy tale, and examine the balance of negatives versus positives.
Cinderella's life begins with an event of antagonism. Her mother is dead. A negative. Her father remarries, a positive...that is, until we find out that who he marries is actually a wretched, selfish, vain woman who is apparently jealous of anyone with more physical beauty than she. This, in turn, becomes a negative. And since the event which happened prior to it was a negative, this turns the remarriage into a DOUBLE negative. Soon, the next event becomes what is called a negation of the negation, an epitome of negativity, as the wicked stepmother practically turns Cinderella into a slave, and treats her like dirt despite the fact that the girl is a sweet, selfless creature.
Enter next event, Cinderella's stepsisters go off to the ball without her. Another double negative.
Fairy godmother arrives, consoles Cinderella, helps her get to the ball after all. A positive.
Cinderella meets Prince Charming at the ball, falls in love. A double positive. (Supposedly)
But then, she has to flee home before she is changed back to her state of rags and aprons, and humiliated in front of him. In the process, she leaves a crystal slipper...apparently a negative, but also doubly a positive because it provides the means for the prince to find her again.
I could go on with the Cinderella mantra, but hopefully you've gotten the idea of positive and negative turns by now. I should mention, that the entire time I was writing this part I kept wanting desperately to insert plot failures or holes and such other obvious predicaments with the Cinderella plot. Obviously, I refrained from doing so. (You can thank me later. *winks*)
Now, this being said, fairy tales are the stuff which in my opinion consist as the epitome of cliched antagonism.
Sure, there may be some ups and downs - events which contradict the MC's goals and dreams, even putting the person in danger or compromise in some aspect. But, the balance of antagonism in Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty is predictable and unlike reality. I just wanted to use this story as an common example of ups and downs - clashes of antagonism - in fiction.
In one of my books, (actually one yet to be written) events occur which are a mixture of positive and negative. When this happens, it's called ironic ascension.  My FMC (female main character for y'all who don't know the lingo) gets what she has prayed for, for month upon month...Her father's return.
 He has been away for years and finally comes home to his family, to her joy. A positive. Only...he doesn't return quite the way Emma had been hoping. Instead of coming home, his eyes sparkling with ecstatic happiness at seeing his wife and children again, he stumbles into the parlor; being supported by another soldier. His eyes are glazed over, and he doesn't speak, not to anyone. As the family comes to discover, he has in effect lost his mind. A negative, negation of the negation, and, in this case, also an ironic ascension, since we assumed in the beginning it was a positive event.
There are MANY other stories which hold far better examples than Cinderella, for examining of antagonism usages. Unfortunately, my brain is rather fried because the fiction I've been reading lately has been LOTR/Hobbit related, and that's saying a good deal because typically I don't read much fiction period! (My time is spent reading wise on my school studies and stuff that benefits me in everyday life.)
But let me stress again. If there is not a swing of positive and negative in your plot, and ideally a good bit of it, it will fall flat and boring. I won't restate myself on the "If there are no ups or downs in your life" part. Hopefully that should be pretty memorable! ;)
Maybe when you first saw the title of this post you were thinking it'd surely be about antagonists themselves, not a vague account of the basics of forces of antagonism. Antagonists as characters certainly deserve a post of their own, and hopefully I'll write some on them at some point in the near future!
What do you think of this whole topic? Was it helpful to you to read about? What are some strong examples of ups/downs/negatives/positives in your own plots/stories?
P.s. Sorry I rambled on the ironic ascensions part...that too needs to be covered further in another post!


  1. I'm always lacking enough antagonism...I'm just the type of person that doesn't like evil, doesn't like hurting people (even characters!), doesn't even like SEEING people that's always hard for me. It's really hard for me to be deep in the story/characters AND have all that bad stuff! Gah!

    Wonderful post, though!

    1. Thanks Amanda! I know what you mean. I don't like seeing people hurt either. :P (who does, really?) In my books however? Everything is different. ;) Not sure why really.

  2. Wonderful post, Liadain! This is super helpful. I usually have a decent idea of this subject in my plots, but my characters tend to be too... perfect. Does anyone else have this problem? =] Having to force yourself to give your characters flaws and such?

    My character Safia, in my medieval/fantasy WIP, suffers through many negatives (death of her merchant father & and all she has known in a battle at sea), yet finds peace in the God she had previously abandoned. Rescue is found in a friend, and she is restored to her mother's family in a different country. But she has no idea what the future holds...

    Anyway, thanks for posting! I especially liked the statement, "If there are no ups or downs in your life..." Very easy to remember. =D


    1. Yes, I have the perfect person issue a lot, too. I've gotten a bit better about it, though. :)

    2. Sarah, thanks for commenting! That sounds like a really good balance, what you described for your character Safia.
      And, I used to have the "too-perfect-character" problem, several years ago. It takes some practice (namely, being cruel to your characters muahahaha) to get out of doing that but it certainly can be overcome!
      A good question to ask when you think your characters may be getting too "perfect" is, where are their lives going? What is the worst possible thing that could happen to them? How will they grow and mature in the next several chapters? With the second question, it may seem really drastic to ask, but I've come up with some great ideas by thinking on the crazier/drastic side. ;)

  3. Brilliant post. I'm actually glad that you didn't mention antagonists themselves, because I think some people can focus on the character of the antagonist as a block for MCs too much, when often it is more naturally-occurring events that provide obstacles.

    1. Thanks! Yes! You're totally right, I agree!