Jump to content

Welcome to Christian Writers!

We are a friendly community built around Christian writing, publishing, reading and fellowship. Register or sign in today to join in the fun!
Zee

While on the Subject of Villains...

Recommended Posts

I figured I had better ask...

A story doesn't need a strong antagonist or villain to be a good story, as long as it has compelling problem or problems that need to be solved, right? 

I think this is true. Or perhaps I'd better say I hope this is true, because the way my current story is constructed, there is no "bad guy," but a series of mistakes, misunderstandings, and difficult circumstances that lead to the problems the characters have to overcome.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps I shouldn't use the book Moby Dick as an example, because I recall you saying you found it boring, and maybe that was why. (I loved it.) But that would be an example of a story where a difficult environment and a character's personal issues are what create and drive the problem of the story, rather than an actual antagonist setting out to foil everyone's plans.

I feel it is a realistic way to tell a story, but perhaps not the easiest.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Actually, in Moby Dick, the whale was the antagonist.  It's really, really tough to hold a reader's interest without an antagonist, trust me on this one.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's a great question, Zee. I'll probably be mulling over it for a while this evening.

What genre is your book? I agree with suspensewriter. It would be very hard to write a good story without an antagonist to thwart the protagonist. In some genres, I would even say it's impossible.

But I know it can be done although it's difficult... I'm just doing a mental inventory to find some examples.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll have to think on this one. Right now the story is about 2/3 written, and the final third or so planned out in my head.
 As previously discussed, the main character stepped down into a secondary role, as I realized the original secondary character's story was more compelling. (This wasn't such a big deal, because her part was already mostly written as well.) 
But adding a "really truly" villain/antagonist to the story this late in the game seems impossible. Besides, I suspect any bad guy I would try to write would be laughable.
The way the story currently stands, one important character does something stupid, and another does something deceptive, and between them, they create a whole lot of problems for themselves and their friends, all with the best of intentions. Maybe this isn't great fiction, but it is, unfortunately, realistic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Star Trek (nerdalert again, I'm always bringing up SciFi and Fantasy) is famous for having episodes where the conflict is not due to a villain, but due to an external phenomenon or just character interactions. As @suspensewriter said, it is very hard to hold reader (or watcher) interest if there is no villain to vanquish. I think it comes down to strong and well-liked characters. If you get to that point, people will even like to just read about/watch them play chess or go out for brunch. But it's hard to get to that point; it takes a lot of time and investment - and even then, the chess game or brunch has to be done right. 

Edited by PenName

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Zee said:

But adding a "really truly" villain/antagonist to the story this late in the game seems impossible.

 

You can do it, Zee.  Like for example, the revolutionary conflict allows for a lot of possibilities.  Your antagonist doesn't have to be a person; remember the example of Moby Dick.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There are different kinds of conflict - Man vs. Man, Man vs, Nature, Man vs. Self. In NEVER CRY WOLF, the antagonist looks to me like 'civilized man's unawareness of the wonder of wild wolves.' Yes, there are venal White hunters, but I took them to be a symptom of a larger problem. 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Like @Johne said, there are a variety of conflicts. I would simply add Man vs. God (think Jonah, and good luck winning ...). And like @suspensewriter said, a story needs a villain or antagonistic force to really work well. Even in well-beloved stories like Johanna Spyri's Heidi have an antagonist (or antagonistic force) step forward at some point. In Heidi, it starts with the village people and their mistrust of Grandfather (Man vs. Man). Then, in Frankfurt,  Fraulein Rottenmeier and Heidi's own desires - namely the desire to go home conflicting with the desire to stay with Clara, take center stage (Man vs. Man and Man vs. Self). We cheer Heidi on, hoping that she'll overcome each difficulty, and love her for trying. 

 

Now as much as it is possible to create "abstract" antagonists in the form of compelling problems, it is far easier to pull the story off as a whole if the antagonistic force has a mask, a face and name that the characters can unite against. In Heidi, even though there are multiple conflicts, Fraulein Rottenmeier wears the mask of antagonist, and this is even carried through into the end when Clara learns to walk, defeating Rottenmeier's belief that the young lady would never walk. This is why even in survival stories, an element of nature becomes the main antagonistic force. Be it a wolf, mountain, rising storm, impending floods/fires/tornados etc. Those survival stories work well, because the readers/viewers can see what needs to be defeated. 

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think this depends heavily on genre. For example, in romance, while the antagonist is sometimes a rival lover, the real and most difficult conflict is often internal (man vs. self). So the antagonist and the protagonist are the same person (or internal forces within the same person).

 

I don't think it's always a matter of creating an external villain to be vanquished, but seeing what the conflicts have in common to see if the real antagonist is internal (self) or external (like nature). You may find that all the conflicts you've created point to one of these antagonists. If that's the case, it may be a matter of playing up the antagonist that's already there in the conflicts you've created.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Zee said:

I figured I had better ask...

A story doesn't need a strong antagonist or villain to be a good story, as long as it has compelling problem or problems that need to be solved, right? 

I think this is true. Or perhaps I'd better say I hope this is true, because the way my current story is constructed, there is no "bad guy," but a series of mistakes, misunderstandings, and difficult circumstances that lead to the problems the characters have to overcome.

Might help to understand what an antagonist is.

 

An antagonist is anyone or anything that is working in opposition to the protagonist -- intentionally, or not.

-- Nature

-- Society

-- Self

-- Others

 

In the movie "Castaway," the antagonist was nature. (Weather took down the plane and he had to fight nature constantly on the island.)

 

In "A Christmas Carol," the antagonist was self. Scrooge was fighting himself.

 

In "Elephant Man," the antagonist was society. Society says that people that deformed were of no more use than sideshow acts in circuses. Joseph Merrick proved them wrong.

 

Enough examples of "others" that we often confuse the word "antagonist" with the word "villain," but if you read enough MG novels, you start catching on that they aren't villains as often as people think. After all, who is the villain in Maniac MaGee?

 

And it is perfectly okay to have more than one antagonist. I said Castaway's was nature, but some of it was self. And, I'm sure Merrick had to fight himself too. It is part of man's nature to want to give up, and yet, we fight not to. I also said Scrooge was his own antagonist, but a lot had to do with societal norms, too, even if Scrooge never wanted to conform.

 

The main antagonist in my story is the US government/others; however, since the stuffies have to survive until they get to the point of taking on City Hall, I have a story that includes every form of antagonist I can think of. And most of the antagonists aren't even making it personal. Rats just use stuffing as nesting material. Dogs like to chew on toys because of the smells and tastes. Humans? Well, have you ever had malice when you threw away a toy? And, it still rains on the just and unjust. So, yeah, there are no villains, but there are plenty of antagonists.

 

Does that help on who your antagonist is? 

Edited by Spaulding

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

Actually, in Moby Dick, the whale was the antagonist.  It's really, really tough to hold a reader's interest without an antagonist, trust me on this one.

Hmmm, I see Moby Dick like Frankenstein. It's not "the monster" that's the problem. It's the people. With that, Ahab is the antagonist. He's a man possessed. Ismael is the protagonist. But, it's been a very long time since I've read the book or seen the movie.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What about the conflict between the Turs and the Sevs? It's the government that is running the Turs out of the city. While that may or may not be personified in a single person, it is certainly an obstacle in the story.

 

Or am I in the wrong story?

Edited by carolinamtne
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can think of some stories that are void of antagonist and held my interest anyway.

-- Winnie the Pooh.

-- The Giver. (Yes, there is an antagonist, but that's not discovered specifically in Book 1. Something was off, but, since the antagonist didn't show up, it was hard to pinpoint what, until the climax and ending.)

-- Paddington Bear. (They created an antagonist for the movie, and I would have preferred they skipped that part.)

 

Also, Tom Sawyer would have been just as good without Injun Joe slipped in there toward the end.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Winnie the Pooh?  Paddington Bear?  I hate to say it but those are kids books.  Adult fiction needs an antagonist of some kind.  Maybe its best found in the conflict of the Turs and the Sevs?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

While we're on the subject of Mark Twain...

 

The central conflict in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is internal to Huck. There are real villains in some of the side stories, but they pass through the narrative, leaving their mark but not affecting the outcome.

 

Who wouldn't "light out for the territories" after finding out that a great moral decision was actually all for nothing?

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, carolinamtne said:

What about the conflict between the Turs and the Sevs? It's the government that is running the Turs out of the city. While that may or may not be personified in a single person, it is certainly an obstacle in the story.

 

Or am I in the wrong story?

 

You've got the right story, Carolinamtne. I suppose perhaps I do have an antagonist, if a hostile government and a set of very adverse circumstances counts. They've certainly got enough problems already, without having one particular person out to get them as well.


 I think I'm just going to let it roll as it's currently written/planned, and we'll see if the tension is gripping enough to sustain the story.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, suspensewriter said:

Winnie the Pooh?  Paddington Bear?  I hate to say it but those are kids books.  Adult fiction needs an antagonist of some kind.  Maybe its best found in the conflict of the Turs and the Sevs?

Wait. What's wrong with kids' books? o_O

 

xD

 

Okay, let's go older lit. My Side of the MountainThe Old Man and the Sea? The Call of the Wild? The Shining? The Martian?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 9/19/2019 at 3:17 PM, Zee said:

Perhaps I shouldn't use the book Moby Dick as an example, because I recall you saying you found it boring, and maybe that was why. (I loved it.) But that would be an example of a story where a difficult environment and a character's personal issues are what create and drive the problem of the story, rather than an actual antagonist setting out to foil everyone's plans.

I feel it is a realistic way to tell a story, but perhaps not the easiest.

For A proper interpretation of Moby Dick, see "The Wrath of Khan". Khan really is Ahab, maddened by a desire for vengeance, a hatred so great that he was willing to die, as long as it put him within striking distance.

 

Ishmael is caught between the weakness of Starbuck (Joachim) and Ahab's madness. In the movie, Joachim is both Ishmael and Starbuck.

 

There's a few embellishments, but essentially they are the same story - with fragments of Moby's dialogue actually embedded into "Khan". Ricardo Maltalban really amped up the classic Gregory Peck madness for Khan.

Khan's last words are the same words as those of Captain Ahab...

Quote

to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee."

 

So, analyzing the antagonist, it's really the story of Ishmael trapped in the midst of the villains against a force of nature. Moby is not the antagonist - Ahab is. 

 

I turn the thread back over to you.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.