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sunandshadow

Without An Antagonist

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Many how-to-write books state that without an antagonist, there is no plot. An antagonist contributes to plot by causing a problem for the protagonist to struggle against and a target which can be battled and defeated decisively, making for a dramatic climax. But, is an antagonist the only way to get these things, or just the easiest? The problem can come from other places than the antagonist. In a mystery, the problem can be generated simply by the protagonist's obsessive need to know something. In other cases the protagonist's struggle may be against himself - does this make the protagonist also the antagonist? What if you have 2 characters and each struggles both against himself and against the other character? Are they bothe protagonists? Both antagonists? Both... both? That's a formula for a romance novel, and I don't know about you, but I would feel odd calling either a hero or a heroine the antagonist. What about an abstract antagonist like a storm? Is it really legitimate to consider an abstraction a character? How do you fight back against wind and rain? If a problem can be created without an antagonist, then that problem can also be solved without confronting an antagonist - but without a confrontation, is the solution to the problem dramatic enough to serve as the climax? Personally I believe that it is possible to use as a discovery, transformation, or decision as a dramatic antagonist-less climax. What do you all think? Can you think of any examples of dramatic, structurally sound books or movies which don't have an antagonist? One example that comes to my mind is the movie _The Hallelujah Trail_. The movie has several distinct factions and leaders: The colonel, his cavalry, Mrs. Massingale, her temperance marchers, newspaperman Horace Greely, Wallingham the wagon train master, his irish teamsters, Oracle Jones, his militia, two indian chiefs, and their indians. Major non-human players are a dust storm, a swamp, and exploding champagne. The problem is caused beause everybody has a strong opinion about what should be done with 40 wagonloads of alcohol. The sneaking and politicking between these several factions make for a very dramatic (and hilarious) movie, with a dramatic climax where the problem is solved when the different factions plans interact in an unexpected way which decisively removes from play the alcohol everyone was struggling over, with no final battle and no one being defeated. A wonderful movie without an identifiable antagonist. So... where can I find a how-to-write book which teaches how to write this kind of story?

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Almost no high level stories use antagonists. The concept of an antagonist is like the concept of having santa clause, where most of the time it is an unnecessary personification. The following is a small list of examples of stories with no antagonists. You may find villainish roles. But 'fighting the villain' is not what the story is about.


The Wedding Banquet, Finding Neverland, Hero, Memento, Catch me if you can, Forrest Gump, American Beauty, Beautiful Mind, Saving Private Ryan, Three Kings, The Aviator, ...

Finding Nemo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Perfect Blue, Millenium Actress, Monster Inc., Tokyo Godfathers, Beauty and the Beast, Area 88, ...


The most ancient form of writing without antagonists (or even characters) is poetry. So if you know how to write a poem you will know how to write a story without any antagonist.



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An antagonist contributes to plot by causing a problem for the protagonist to struggle against and a target which can be battled and defeated decisively, making for a dramatic climax.

An antagonist is a concentration, manifestation, or personification of a set of believes or a point of view in an argument. In your statement, the Force is what causes the conflict, not the Representation of the Force. An antagonist is a choice of representation for the Force.



When a painter look at a blank canva, they don't compose the painting thinking in terms of characters. You might say that a painting doesn't have a plot. That is not true. For strong paintings, there is still rising action, climax, and resolution, as you discover what the painter is try to convey through the image.

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um...Sure, the classic interpretation of antagonist is of an seperate opposeing character to the storys protagonist...However antagonist in general means more then that:

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an·tag·o·nist (n-tg-nst)
n.

Something, such as a muscle, disease, or physiological process, that neutralizes or impedes the action or effect of another.



for example Hamlets antagonist was his inability to take early action leading to his infamous "to be, or not to be" monalogue..the "fatial flaws" found in most of shakespears tragities were antagonistic in nature.

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Estok - so how would you represent overcoming Society's prejudice against and non-acceptance of a family without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?

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Hmmm...Writing a story without an antagonist. I'm not sure how you go about doing that. The antagonist is the personification of an idea, or concept that the protagonist is in conflict with. It doesn't have to be a person could very well be something less tangible.

For instance in beauty and the beast the antagonist is Gaston who represents the prejudice and discrimination that Belle and the beast face from society. The defeat of Gaston represents overcoming this obstacle.

In your example of the Hallelujah Trail from your description I would say the 40 Wagon Loads of Alcohol was the antagonist

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how would you represent overcoming Society's prejudice against and non-acceptance of a family without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?


One way you could achieve this by having a wedding being the antagonist. If the two main characters where trying to get married, then societies prejudice could be represented by the two main characters difficulties in organizing and pulling off the wedding.

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I remember a movie, with George Clooney as a sailor in a tempest trying as hard as possible to survive. Would you say that this tempest was or was not an antagonist?

What about charriots of fire? Is the chronometer an antagonist? Is it the time limit? Is it the other runers, that are only discovered rather late in the movie? Is it the solitude the preacher has to face, in order to run? Is it his own pain? Is there nothing to overcome?

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I believe antagonists don't have to be personified or villified, and that challenges can be antagonistic, if the story problem is well defined. I believe the personification can help because viewers need someone to focus on when booing the entity that opposes their hero. I don't buy that without an antagonist, there is no plot. Antagonistic forces can sufficiently raise challenge for the hero for the audience to go along for the ride. Andromeda Strain is an example of this. The andromeda virus itself was relatively innocuous, just attempting to survive as organisms everywhere, not really an embodified antagonist with negatively dispositioned characteristics through willful intent to oppose the team, yet, it gave them all plenty of challenge because of the limitations the writer put into the settings: it happened in a limited laboratory environment, some people were not affected when everyone else died, the lab limitations, such as the laser security system, really put a hitch in progress.

I think it can be done, it's in the plot design approaches and techniques you employ, and how you employ them in concert or opposition to each other.

Adventuredesign

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Original post by sunandshadow
Estok - so how would you represent overcoming Society's prejudice against and non-acceptance of a family without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?


Is your Society a one dimensional Force that only represent prejudice? Who is not accepting a family?


"without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?" This is a non-clause.

Reflection of a society exists in all level of the society. Think about the stories about vietnam war veterans. You don't need social leaders to represent a society. You may get a better result if you don't concentrate society as one being, so that the reader get a better sense that the main character is being 'surrounded' by society and is 'attacked on all sides' like in vietnam, as the main character compare which one is more hellish: to face physical harm and death, or to face the eternal torment of the soul.

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Original post by sunandshadow
Estok - so how would you represent overcoming Society's prejudice against and non-acceptance of a family without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?


Is your Society a one dimensional Force that only represent prejudice? Who is not accepting a family?


"without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?" This is a non-clause.


I wrote that because often a religious or political leader, or occasionally a social queen, is used as a concretization of society. Just like your santa claus example, something must be ok if the grand high mucketymuck says so, even if all the peasants were opposed to it yesterday.

Quote:

Reflection of a society exists in all level of the society. Think about the stories about vietnam war veterans. You don't need social leaders to represent a society. You may get a better result if you don't concentrate society as one being, so that the reader get a better sense that the main character is being 'surrounded' by society and is 'attacked on all sides' like in vietnam, as the main character compare which one is more hellish: to face physical harm and death, or to face the eternal torment of the soul.


But, I want society to change at the climax of the story. How can I, with versimilitude and drama, show a big vague thing like vietnam changing? It's much easier to show the main character changing the king of vietnam, rather than vietnam itself. I'd rather show the characters changing vietnam itself, but I don't see how to do so.

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how would you represent overcoming Society's prejudice against and non-acceptance of a family without concretizing society in the form of some social leader?


Do some research...interacial marrages, homosexual partners trying to raise kids, a family of followers of a minority religion liveinging among families of majority ones...there are tons of modern examples to generate ideas from.

For example lets say the story revolves around a interacial couple (although to be fair interacial marrages are far more tolerated today then they were as recently as the 1970s) say a black man and white woman moveing into a fairly upscale nieghborhood...maybe thier intolerant nieghbors simply shun the family, don't come over to greet them, avoid them at all costs...and maybe those liveing next door call the police and the merest hint that the TV is possably too loud or some other agrivateing activity the intolorant nieghbors become hyper sensitive to.

now there are many ways to dramaticly build then resolve the issue

...maybe a house down the street gets burglerised and the intolerant nieghborhood all think the interacial couple had something to do with it (nieghbors reluctance to let go of racial stereotypes acts as an antagonist)

...maybe a more openminded family down the street becomes friendly, and thier intolerant nieghbors begin to spread rumors of infidelity that come back to affect the interacial couple in some way (personnel fears and insecurities in the relationship act as antagonist)

...maybe a child of a nieghbor gets hurt, and the interacial couple does nothing to help as they incorrectly fear the child is acting inorder to taunt them (possable false suspision the nieghbors are intolerant acts as antagonist)

really lots of ways to do this without putting all your antagonistic eggs in one basket.

just remember its realy only those "how to write books" that suggest an antagonist is a character acting in opposition...in the critical literary world, the antagonist can be anything from ones own thoughts, to vast armadas of warships, to even the existance of life itself.

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