The five types of antagonist


In a story, there are five types of antagonist. Only one of those is what you would consider a “bad guy” in any way.

A story without conflict is not interesting but did you know that there are four other ways to bring conflict other than by having a villain? I made mention of this on my blog when I wrote about combat free encounters for Role Play Games.

1. Nature as the antagonist

The weather, the environment, the setting itself – this can be the leading source of conflict. Take The Martian by Andy Weir, for example. This is a classic example of a man vs nature story.

When nature is your antagonist, you can have a thrilling story without a single character other than your protagonist.

2. Fate or the gods as the antagonist

Less commonly written exactly like this, these days, but some hidden higher power can still be the antagonist. Often presented as a man trying to outwit a prophecy, or a time traveller trying not to be steamrolled by the inevitability of history.

You don’t need a “bad guy” when fate, or time, or some god (Loki, is that you?) is in play.

3. Society as the antagonist

This is a story where the cultural setting is the source of conflict. For example, a Polish or French protagonist in the days after the Brexit vote. For example, an environmental campaigner trying to prevent global warming.

Any time it is society as a whole that is the source of the conflict you do not need a central bad guy. Of course, it can help to personify the attitudes of society in one or two characters but that causes you to stray into a different type of antagonist.

4. A person as the antagonist

This is the one you are probably familiar with. This is your villain antagonist territory. The one person your protagonist must overcome in order to achieve whatever it is they are trying to do.

Filmmakers are very fond of taking the other forms of story and crafting a villain as well. Having a villain puts a human face on things and gives the hero someone to punch. Which is, of course, cheap and not something you would ever do. (Right?)

5. Self as the antagonist

So far, we have dealt only with the external forms of conflict. But conflict can be internal as well. This is where the protagonist is also the antagonist. The angstier types of vampire story are quite fond of going down this route. It’s not just teenager vampires that this is a suitable antagonist form for, though. For example, a mother’s struggle with drug addiction would be a possible example of this kind of story.

Any story where a person is struggling to change, fighting to hold on to their own humanity, or wrestling with their own conscience – these are all self as the antagonist stories. They are most satisfying when the protagonist fails heroicly or slowly transforms finally overcoming a (usually symbolic) hurdle or personal demon.

Over to you

Which of these five sources of conflict have you used in your stories? Can you think of any exceptional examples for each form? What’s your take on introducing conflict into a story?

Where do you think supernatural stories fall in this list? Or man against technology for that matter?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Pitch us your ideas

Thanet Creative is run by our community. The same can be said of this blog. 

We accept submissions for one-off articles but invite you to join as a regular or irregular contributor. In the past, we have put out lists of suggested topics but this has not been hugely successful. So rather than restricting your imagination, this time the floor is totally open. Pitch us your wildest ideas.

When we say wild ideas, we mean your ideas. After all, those are the ideas that interest us.

  • Want to write a book review? Great. We’re looking for those.
  • Thinking about offering a short story? Perfect. We love stories. Poems too.
  • Want to rant about the state of publishing. Let’s hear it.  Editorials are something we like. Be as controversial as you feel you need to be.
  • Feel like you have something to teach about writing? Amazing – we love to learn.
  • Have an idea we’ve not even thought of before. Outstanding. Pitch it to us.

You should write for us.

The Business of Writing

This post is about the business of writing because writing is a business. I’m going to do my best to look at the numbers of publishing.

Author Buzz UK talked about the shocking truth of author earnings earlier this year. In that

Routes to publishing

There are two routes you can go down when seeking to publish.

  1. Traditional Publishing
  2. Self-Publishing

Traditional publishing tends to work better with a literary agent. That’s not a universal rule but that seems to be the general advice. The big advantage of this approach is that they do the stuff you do not want to do. They just take care of cover, promotion (maybe), and so forth.

Self-publishing requires a lower number of sales for the same profit. You will need to arrange your own proofreading and copy editing. Your sales are going to be more dependant on ebooks but you will take a lot more money per sale. This is where the business of writing really starts to matter.

Profit and Loss

The profit and loss estimate of a book is a tool used to guess how well a book will sell. It works like this. Someone looks at the number of books that sold for a book similar to your book. The cost of the print run needed to sell that less the earnings is the profit and loss.

This works because books are largely a commodity item that does not fluctuate in price. So getting the right number in the initial print run matters. You want to go for the biggest run with the cheapest cost per unit. However, you don’t want too many (nor too few) books left.

Percentage of cover price

The percentage you can get is the slice of the pie you are going to get per sale. With self-publishing, you will generally get the highest percentage of cover price. The business of writing is not as simple as “get the best percentage” because 70% of £100 is still less than 15% of £1000.

Generally, you are going to get a much smaller percentage of cover price with traditional publishing but you may sell so much more (and get an advance).

Small and independent press tend to sit int he middle. They don’t necessarily have the same marketing power but they can sometimes offer a much better percentage.

Getting traction to attract publishers

Marketing is expensive. Publishers usually have a very limited budget for marketing. Anything you can do to get free marketing (aka publicity) makes you more attractive. This is because publicity sells books.

Sites like Author Buzz UK are a place to establish a presence and build some publicity. If you are a Thanet based writer, joining in with this blog also helps.

If you can get a good following on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog that’s great. A good following is not a massive number of people but a large number of people that are interested in what you have to say.

Where is the money?

In the business of writing, the big question is where is the money? Some people will try to answer that romance, or YA, or something is the big “it”. The truth, though, is that the money is in sequels. Sequels sell easily because the first book creates a market for the other books to sell.

Once you have written and published a book – write another one. And then another one.

The Business of Writing with Brandon Sanderson

This video runs for over an hour and covers the Business of Writing. Brandon Sanderson is a giant of fiction writing. If you have the time, watch this video.