Finding the non-Villain Antagonist

I’ve been fine-tuning my WIP, making changes to tighten up the form of the story.

In my OS the larger enemy force is society. The IC and other characters represent different aspects of that antagonist.

But when we come to the climax, if the IC is the one who embodies society against the MC (as antagonist) it will turn out that he is a Villain. I don’t want that caricature, since in the next book of the series he is changed. And since she is a change character, the IC can’t change (I think).

Since she is against society, I’ve begin to wonder if maybe she herself is the Antagonist.

But if society is unfair (inequity) and she is trying to right that wrong, would that mean she is still the Protagonist?

How “in the front” does the Antagonist need to be to make a strong story? Can the Antagonist be out of the life of the MC, but still spinning the world to attack her? For example, the Emperor in Star Wars–there, but not seen.

Any advice would be appreciated.

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Hi Dido,
Sounds like a cool story!

In the first Star Wars (1977) Luke is the Protagonist and Grand Moff Tarkin is the Antagonist (if you have to name a single character for that role). The two never even meet! However, really it’s the Empire that’s the Antagonist with Grand Moff Tarkin as the head. So, he / the Empire is making itself felt through stormtroopers, TIE fighter pilots, etc. throughout the story.

You could do something similar in your story, with the true Antagonist being a shadowy character, with his forces reaching out to Prevent the Goal and get people to Reconsider it.

Could you summarize the Story Goal in 1-2 sentences? (preferably one) And could you do the same for each throughline? This might help you see the story more clearly and would also help people on these forums understand it.

Here are some examples from a blog post:


Another thing to note, the Antagonist archetype is actually made up of two Elements, Avoid and Reconsider. It’s possible you don’t have this archetype but rather complex characters with Avoid and Reconsider in more than one character. In that case, your IC player might have one of those in the OS (say Reconsider – getting people to reconsider the Goal). They wouldn’t be a full-out Villain in that case.

Also, there’s nothing necessarily bad about the IC and Antagonist being the same player. I think The Devil Wears Prada has that, and it’s a great movie.

I would actually recommend to just let your OS Character Elements (incl. Archetypes) fall where they may in your first draft. Your subconscious / muse probably has a better handle on these than your logical brain. I’ve always found when I try to assign Elements prior to writing, they turn out to be way different than I thought! You can use them in revision wherever something seems off.

Also note, to assign Elements you need a good handle on the Story Goal. All the Elements in the OS are in relation to the Goal.


OS: Society is persuaded by a scientist’s plan to rid the world of autonomous thinkers (Doubt, Evaluation)
MC: A young woman is looking for her autonomous-thinking parents who have been arrested (Preconditions, Evaluation)
IC: A man will do whatever it takes take to escape consequences for his actions (Deficiency, Inaction)
RS: Should we attempt to persuade people to believe what we believe? (Attempt, Evaluation)

These are the thematic summaries.

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This sounds like an interesting story @didomachiatto

The Story Goal is usually seen as specific example of the Overall Story Concern. So in your case Contemplation.

So in Home Alone, the Goal is something like “being considered old enough to take care of yourself” (where “considering” is a gist of Contemplation).

Back to your story - you say:

… is the Goal to persuade society to rid the world of autonomous thinkers? Or is the fact that the scientist has persuaded society to do this the inequity that starts the story? Or is ridding the the world of autonomous thinkers the consequence of failing to achieve the story Goal?


When the story begins, there is an inequity (which everyone agrees there is) Yet people disagree the cause of the inequity. For society, the people moving the OS, that inequity is the presence of these “misfits.” But the MC is considered a misfit, and her family has been swept away to wherever these misfits are taken. So for the MC, the way society is fixing the inequity is unacceptable–she wants it another way, (Avoid, Reconsider, Reaction, Unproven, etc).

Except for the few people who know the MC’s secret, everyone wants in different ways to rid the world of these misfits. If they can finish the job, great things will happen. If they don’t they’ll remain in this non-arrived state of flex and hoping and wishing. The MC knows the scientist has set misfits up as the scapegoat to accomplish his utopia. She also knows the larger danger from letting society move forward with this plan.

OS Domain: Fixed Attitude
The Goal: to rid the world of autonomous thinkers "misfits’ Everyone agreeing (Contemplation-“when one is fully aware of detrimental consequences and still decides on the poor course of action, there is something wrong with the way one arrives at conclusions”) the scientist knows he’s created a scapegoat for personal reasons but he evaluates things this way.

MC POV: [quote=“Lakis, post:5, topic:2259”]
the fact that the scientist has persuaded society to do this the inequity that starts the story

OS POV: The existence of misfits (MC included, though ‘NonAccurate’ and unidentified as yet ) is the inequity keeping us from utopia.

The Consequence of failing: The Present–stuck like this, trying never arriving. (OS inhibitor: Attempt)

Solution: Re-evaluate. Outcome: Failure Issue: Doubt They don’t ever re-evaluate things or doubt what the leader says, so they’re stuck in the Present like this–until book 2 of the series. But the MC’s Re-evaluate is working, (so Judgment: Good) little by little on society.

From another post


Because the MC is “hiding” in plain sight, she can’t really defend herself. She can only attack the system, try to bring down the system through avoiding being caught, reacting to society by doing things to make them reconsider. The one who is pursuing her “misunderstands her,” sort of like everyone always misunderstood Darth Vader. It stands to reason that the Antagonist re-identifies the inequity that everyone else believes in.

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This sounds like awesome world-building/backstory. But what is the Action or Decision (Driver) that kicks off this story – the thing that upsets the status quo and thus (structurally) needs to be resolved? Is it the moment when the supreme leader decides he’s had enough and decides to round up all the misfits? Is it the moment when the Protagonist is discovered and therefore can no longer hide in plain sight?

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It could be one of two things.

  1. The DECISION of the main antagonistic leader to initiate a final push to finalize their Utopia. (Everyone’s racing to get the big PRIZE promised). This is not immediate but takes place a bit after the MC is in place.
  2. The Police ACTION (Arrest) of the MC’s misfit family. This starts her story.

Everyone’s in on the leader’s plans. He’s their hero. Only the MC cares about finding her family. But as she finds them she is able to know what needs to be done to right the real wrong.

From the link:

Before story, balance exists. The world rests at peace. Something or someone interjects itself upon this serene scene, instantly creating an inequity. Sensing this new imbalance, our minds label the differential a problem and naturally begin the process of resolving that problem.

According to this, the imbalance for the MC is her family’s arrest. We all care about that. But nobody else in the story gives a hoot about it. If they knew it, they’d be glad it happened because it follows along what they want to keep things balanced.

In the Star Wars example, it would be perhaps

the imposing Empire overextends itself by boarding a diplomatic ship.

With the MC’s peaceful life being taken over by the “Empire.”

In Star Wars, it’s not the purchase/ loss of R2 that is the loss of balance, though for Luke it was.

the Goal of the Story is story-wide, it is not tied to the personal issues of any one character. It is objective and universal.

In which case, the goal seems to be get rid of the Misfits.

For example, another of the links

The Empire’s aggression in those opening scenes has a meaningful connection to what is going on inside of Luke personally.

Yes. Ultimately, her family’s arrest enables the real trilogy inequity to be equalized, bringing a new peace to society. Like with Luke. Moving back, the inequity occurring before the OS story began was the claim that “the misfits caused” the great war, and this state of dissatisfaction will be satisfied when they’re done away with.

I’m very open to respin this, but it’s man against society, so it seems that the MC is antagonist. Or I suppose it could be an underdog story where EVERYONE is antagonist. The fact that she’s pretending to be someone else makes me think she’s really the antagonist in THEIR story.

So I think the point of this is that all of the OS characters are concerned with the Goal, even if they are opposed to it or unsure about it, etc. So I think it’s perfectly fine – and actually a more standard structure – to have the Goal be something like “stop the society from getting rid of the misfits” or “convincing people that misfits are okay”. If you do it that way, your Protagonist and MC can be the same player.

I should probably let others weigh in though (@mlucas :slight_smile: ) to see if I’m on the right track.

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That sounds easier to make happen. It falls with the structure (Problem: Evaluation, Solution: Reevaluation). I’m looking forward to others weighing in on this.

update: Definitely, the trilogy’s inciting incident is the arrest of her family, and that falls along the lines of the finale for the third book. In the OS of the trilogy she is the Protagonist. What do they say, “every antagonist is the protagonist in his own story.”


In studying this a bit more, I think my solution is ADDING an inciting event binding the two inequities, along the line of the Empire boarding the diplomatic ship asking, effectively looking

"objectively and subjectively at the problems incurred by seeing what one can get away with.

This will reflect the inequity she experiences “how dare they!” but tempered by the reasoning of why they are doing it. An act that hints (but vaguely) that things are not good behind the scenes of this perfect utopia. This exact scene carries in it the heart of things which will pivot as the MC gets involved. This will make the book 1 climax just perfect and gives room for the IC to change.

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Sorry, I’m a bit late to the discussion here.

There’s also Steve Rodgers in “Captain America: Civil War” and The Joker in “The Dark Knight.” What’s interesting about the former is that Steve Rodgers is a good guy. Despite this, he’s the Antagonist in the story because he fights against the dark Story Goal of “Splitting Up the Avengers.” Jim Hull’s analysis of the film explores this in more detail:

There’s also the concept that characters don’t need to consciously be aware of their elements. @mlucas provides a great example of this:

Edit Note: I originally linked to a different post of Mike’s above. I realized that while the original link I posted to above does mention the idea of illustrating OS elements without being conscious of them, the link now provided was the one I intended to post. Both posts are very helpful on the subject, though. :grinning: