The Protagonist and Antagonist of Wolfwalkers/Terminator

I’ll add reference links in the future, then because I think avoiding terminology is equally the cause of miscommunication, these days. Simple is only best if it is also a complete explanation.

Reese’s Mission is to protect Sarah. He’s 100 percent in Avoid and she is 100 percent in being pursued until the end. But, here we have a terminology problem due to equivocation because the elements of an archetypal protagonist are a crutch even if we only look at Pursuit and Avoid.

The Archetypal Protagonist (collection or semi-collection of character elements) isn’t the same thing as the Subjective Protagonist (the person we root for or against depending on how we feel, nor is this the MC by definition). The Objective Protagonist, as I’m referring to it, is the one that is building up justifications in the OS to close the goal outcome out. Even though Avoid is the Solution, Reese is clearly building up the justifications in the OS until Sarah Connor can step up to the plate and do her part to keep the time loop consistent, while Cyberdyne’s Terminators are clearly set to tear down the justifications of the pre-existing time loop.

Making these distinctions has helped us immensely to clarify goals in stories. I spoke with Julie this morning and neither of us feel the Goal was set right last night for Wolfwalkers even though the end feels triumphant. We have had to defend this position in How to Train Your Dragon quite a few times, as has @jhull , and there are a lot of similarities with the dragons going from pests to pets as the wolves go from feared to embraced, among other clues, when the goal fails.

In both films, setting the father as the protagonist goes a long way to make it a kid’s story. Where I think they differ is in the Antagonist Role. I believe we have a complex MC in wolfwalkers with Robyn caught in the middle and Mebh is set as the Antagonist while, in HTTYD, Hiccup is the MC/Antagonist. Consider the Lord Protector as a Guardian who is advancing civilization into pagan territory while Mebh, Mammy and Wolves work to scare off the townies. Clearly they want to dissuade through fear rather than bloodshed since they heal anyone who gets physically hurt. This is also evidence for why the conflict in the OS is more about the subconscious fears people have toward the pagans and the wolves as each attempts to deny the other’s ideology. Is the physical jeopardy not largely quarantined to Robyn’s throughline and the relationship throughline she has with her parents?

It seems to me that the Antagonist stole the show in this one while we got to feel what it is like to be trapped between worlds through the MC. How many little girls feel caught between following their parents rules and embracing their spiritedness? Why is that being missed? Maybe it’s because we relied on rules of thumb and tropes to keep it “simple” instead of allowing the narrative to have “as many problems as it damn well pleases” and solving from there. Would it not be better to try and understand where young women are coming from that this movie is so beloved? Was it not written for them?

Using terms other people don’t know, or using them differently from how they know them isn’t simple.

As for Wolfwalkers, I don’t see how Mebh can be the Antagonist… does she ever attack anyone?

Learning as a Process

Wolfwalkers, like most cautionary “tales,” features an Objective Story Goal of Learning. From the Authors point-of-view, the way to overcome the inequity of the story is through a process of Learning.

Groundhog Day is an example of another Learning story: Bill Murray learns through the process of the film how not to be such a jerk all the time. The same thematic emphasis exists here. The Goal of Wolfwalkers, though not stated directly, is for them to Learn there isn’t anything to fear in the forest.

Note the emphasis on process: pretty much all the confusion over understanding the structure of this film lies in the use of semantic terminology as if a single state: e.g., they Learn something and the story is over.

That’s not how Dramatica works.

As mentioned elsewhere, everything is a process out of balance.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Once you identify the Goal/Concern of a story you can then determine the Protagonist/Antagonist. The Protagonist will be motivated through Pursuit, the Antagonist through Avoidance or Prevention.

Robyn is motivated to pursue from beginning to end. While she may not be cognizant of the Learning Goal intended by the Authors, like Bill Murray’s character, she is nevertheless motivated by Pursuit to follow a course of action.

The Lord Protector is the Antagonist, as he is setup to prevent this Learning from happening. His position as Antagonist aligns him more closely with the Consequence of the story, which in this case is Conceiving. If they don’t Learn there is nothing to fear in the forest, they will then Conceive of these animals as monsters to be destroyed.

The Terminator

Elsewhere in these forums, Reese is incorrectly identified as the Protagonist of The Terminator.

He’s not.

Instead, the correct way to see him is as a Complex Guardian.

The reason people think of Reese as the Protagonist is because they’re thinking of the Goal as a state that is reached. This is a common mistake with stories that have a Goal of Obtaining.

The Goal is a process.

The future sends back a robot to kill Sarah Connor. The goal is not for her to “escape” or “destroy the monster” as one would think when faced with a Goal of Obtaining. The Goal, instead, from the authors point of view is that Sarah gain control over her life and direct it the way she sees fit.

As Protagonist, Sarah is motivated by the monster Pursuing her. As Influence Character and Complex Guardian (Help, Conscience, Avoid), Reese is motivated to run away. His whole message is that she start Avoiding/Preventing instead of succumbing to Pursuit.

The Dramatica Storyform is a schematic of Author’s intent. It’s important when looking at a story through the eyes of Dramatica, that you always look to the message, or Premise, being presented to the Audience.

Antagonists are not defined by attacking someone. They are defined by tearing down justifications in the OS.

Simplicity in explanatory discourse has nothing to do with the general audience’s perspective. We are trained professionals so this conversation is not intended for the uninitiated. When we are ready, we can attempt to present simplified language for the purpose of training or enrolling the uncertified.

This is incorrect and misleading. Antagonists in Dramatica theory are defined by the motivations of Avoid and Reconsider.


Thanks for responding, I hope this discussion gets us closer to our goals. Let’s focus on Terminator first, because I don’t agree with the premise. I do agree that the OS is a process of obtaining. However, I would Argue that John Connor is the Guardian and Reese is the Protagonist when it comes to building up justifications in the OS.

I’m sure you can think of a story where a Protagonist is missing either of those two elements and yet still performs the function. So, I and others aren’t going to buy that without clear and convincing evidence since it has not held up over time.

As mentioned when you signed up, this is a forum for the Dramatica theory of story - not your version or interpretation of the theory. Dramatica is complicated enough without discussions about Antagonists somehow “building up justifications in the OS” (which is a complete misunderstanding of the theory–and super confusing for someone actually trying to learn the this stuff).

It sounds like you want to explore what you consider to be advanced theoretical concepts–and this is not the place for that. Writers come here to learn how to use Dramatica theory without getting lost. The internet is infinite, and I encourage you to start your own blog or forum where you can discuss these matters further.

I’m more than willing to let you link to whatever you create in a post here - but if you continue to spam the forums with responses that don’t even address what was said before (as if you are having your own conversation), then I’ll have to kick you from the server.

I’ve done it before for the same kind of behavior (and always in August for some reason), so I encourage you to find a way to become a better part of the community.

Do what you feel you must, but this is far from what you are accusing me of and it is not in the region of the forum where that should be an issue. This is where you said this was allowed previously.

It’s really sad to see you back down from handling this discussion fairly because it is not how anyone should be treated for pointing something out like this.

You once told me that the beauty of Dramatica is that we don’t back down, yet you threaten me when I am merely having an honest discussion about our theory.

If I were you I would either deal with the discussion professionally or let @chuntley do it or let us take this offline as requested. But, I can only encourage you to stay on mission.

To restate this a different way, were we to be able to ask the author what they were doing with the movie, he would say: I wanted to take a weak-willed waitress and turn her into the leader of a future resistance by way of a machine and a man coming back from the future.

This makes it seem like Sarah is the Protagonist because she’s the person everyone is pursuing. Is that what you are going for?

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To put my observation another way.

We don’t have an imposed limitation on whether an MC or an IC can or can’t be the protagonist only because the crucial element (like Pursuit or Consider) got used up, do we?

And, my answer would be — You can have your Protagonist still be that character, MC or IC, as long as they are they perform the function in justifying the OS even if they have a complex set of elements traditionally reserved for an “Archetypal Protagonist” because what really matters is the argument being made and the hierarchy on both sides of the debate.

The theory book clearly states the Protagonist and Guardian are together and the Antagonist and Contagonist are together while the other four can be flexible.

I think the Waitress job is an MC position, but I love your logline for the whole story.

I think the Author is saying the OS is showing what it is like for the legendary mother of a future general to be saved by her son through the efforts of one of his bravest troops sent to protect her from his own retroactive abortion at the hands of a terrifying machine.

This is a SLASHER film. The woman is in danger and freaked out EMOTIONALLY!

Plus, Sarah kills the machine, but she doesn’t alter the timeline. She can’t alter the timeline or John is never born to send his Dad back to her. She’s just a bad-ass after terminating the terminator because John and Reese kept the process going. Ultimately, it takes all three of them to keep up the process. But, she is the least empowered one of the three when it comes to the mission until the last act, IMHO.

This works if the person on the other side actually listens and takes in what you’re saying. It’s quite apparent here, and throughout many of the User Group Meetings, that is not happening.

Again, you bring up this idea of “justifying the OS” even though it’s been explained to you several times this is not what happens.

If it were anyone else I would direct you to the 25 years+ of material, both written and audio, where it is clearly explained that this is not the case. But I don’t have the time to get into non-productive arguments anymore.

Yes. Objective Story Elements (like Pursuit and Consider in the Protagonist) are part of the Objective Story Throughline, which means they relate back to the initial inequity (first Story Driver).

In Terminator, Arnold shows up naked and starts killing people on the way towards controlling how the future turns out (Objective Story Concern of Obtaining).

In Dramatica (btw I realize you probably know this, just putting it out there for clarification), the Archetypes break down into these Elements:

  • Protagonist (Pursuit and Consider)
  • Antagonist (Avoid/Prevent and Reconsider)
  • Guardian (Help and Conscience)
  • Contagonist (Hinder and Temptation)

To identify the Protagonist of a story, you look to the first Story Driver and ask, “Who is motivated by Pursuit?” in relation to the resolution of the Obtaining Goal. More often than not, this comes across as the character who is “pursuing” the Goal (Cobb in Inception or Maverick in Top Gun). As a result, many conflate the idea of a Protagonist with “the one pursuing the Goal of a story.”

This is not always true.

It can be easy to confuse Protagonist for Pro-Goal and Antagonist for Anti-Goal, because a) it’s in the name, and b) it holds true 70-80% of the time.

However, there are cases where the one motivated by Pursuit is not necessarily “pursuing the Goal.” This where you often run into the “reluctant Hero” or “refusal of the call.”

In Dramatica, being motivated by Pursuit means there is an imbalance of Pursuit reflected in that character. Whether too much, or not enough, that imbalance (or inequity) motivates them throughout the story.

This definition accounts for all stories–whether in pursuit of the Goal, or a mere participant along the way.

In Terminator, Arnold shows up, motivating:

  • Sarah through an over-abundance of Pursuit, and a vacuum of Consideration over her role in future events
  • Reese to Prevent her death and Help her run away (Avoid) through an over-abundance of Conscience (fear of consequences)
  • Arnold…?

If Reese is motivated by Avoidance, where does that put the Terminator, shouldn’t he be the Antagonist?

The Reason for Objective Characters

One of the purposes of story is to reflect an objective account of problem-solving (inequity resolution). Authors do this through Plot (the Objective Story).

The reason a Story has “Acts” because it offers an opportunity for the Author to show how different elements react or respond to different contexts. Once all four contexts (Concerns) have been addressed from a particular POV, that Throughline feels “complete.” The Author has shown what works and what doesn’t from every angle.

And this is why a rock can’t be an Antagonist.

And why the Terminator cannot be the Antagonist.

Arnold is not motivated by anything. He is not an Objective Character. He is a rock–from beginning to end. He does not respond to context shifts, nor does he reflect any value to the message of the story.

He is like an avalanche, or a volcano.

He simply exists for Reese and Sarah to work out the argument of the story (the Premise).

The Connection between the Objective and Subjective

With Dramatica, Authors can finally identify the nexus point between character and plot (subjective and objective, respectively). Known as the Crucial Element in Dramatica, and featured heavily in Subtxt’s Premise Builder, this crossover point defines the message of the story.

It also grants you insight into the Objective motivations of your primary Subjective Characters (the Main Character and Influence Character) as the relationship between the two of them helps formulate the argument of the story.

In a Changed Main Character Resolve/Success story like The Terminator, the Main Character should be motivated by the Problem Element–the Influence Character by the Solution Element.

In this kind of story, the Influence Character offers up the “solution” for the Main Character to follow. By doing this, and positioning the Main Character opposite, the Author effectively communicates the message of Changing in order to achieve Success.

In The Terminator, Reese offers up the Solution of Avoidance (run away) to help resolve Sarah’s Problem of Pursuit (being pursued).

A Relativistic Appreciation of Story

The very best part about Dramatica, and perhaps the most difficult aspect for writers to grasp, is this idea that all the Storypoints are related to one another. You can’t look at one Storypoint to the exclusion of others, lest you fall victim to confirmation bias.

By looking at the Crucial Elements in relation to the individual subjective Throughlines in relation to the Objective Story in relation to the Story’s Dynamics, one gains a comprehensive understanding of narrative conflict.

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I really appreciate this thorough reply. I’m thinking through many things before I get back to you.

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Okay, some thoughts.

First, I love this level of detail when thinking about story, so thank you for delving into it. Second, the level of detail may mean that I have to watch the movie again to answer accurately, but for now, I’m answering based on how I remember things.

My primary concern here is this: once you strip The Terminator from being the Antagonist, and you paint a reluctant and fearful waitress who does nothing to stop the T-100 as the Protagonist, then an uncomfortably large chasm between How Stories Are Experienced and Meaning.

We have a central character—Sarah Connor—who is the focus of the movie. Some thing wants to kill her—and her death achieves the goal of that thing. That… that sure seems like the Antagonist.
(Even in a movie operating with complex characters.)

Negatives of Traits // “mirrored” duplication of traits
If we scour the archives, we’re going to find out that we talk about all traits in terms of “having” or “lacking”. What’s her problem? She’s too helpful. What’s his problem? He’s not helpful. Both traits are the element Help.

We have never done this for OS>Pursuit because you gotta have the protagonist driving the action! This is worth thinking about for two seconds. First: storytelling might require a “positive” pursuit character, but meaning certainly doesn’t. So, the idea that Sarah Connor has “reluctant pursuit/negative pursuit” can’t be off the table, and @jhull is putting it on the table here.


The classic reluctant hero is John McClain from Die Hard. He doesn’t want to have to save the day, but he’s got no choice. He fully embraces Pursue but is vocal about wishing he didn’t have to.

Maybe another example here is Jennifer Lawrence’s character in Winter’s Bone who trudges through the plot, encumbered by MC Problem>Inaction.

These characters feel very different to me from Sarah Connor, so I’m not on board yet with her being a “reluctant hero”. Her “refusal of the call” feels a lot more like “stop” to me than anything else.

But still… let’s keep digging.

In The Jungle Book, Baloo and Bagheera are “flips” of each other in the IC role. IIRC, one is “gotta follow the rules” and the other is “you don’t gotta follow the rules” so they are complements inside the IC Mind.

Is it worth considering that (inside the OS) the T-100 is one side of the pursuit coin and Sarah is the other? (I dislike this, but figured I’d throw it out there.)

The Terminator

The Terminator is a single-minded killing machine, or maybe he’s a mindless killing machine, like an avalanche or a rock. But this implies that someone who is so thoroughly sopping with one trait can no longer be an OS character, so I don’t like that. Nevertheless, on the face of it, the idea that they aren’t thrusting and parrying—that they are just an endless force—does make them part of the back ground of this story, the same way an avalanche would probably be a Driver in another movie.

So we have to ask if finding the Sarah’s, killing them, imitating the mother… are these enough to make the role that of a player, or are they still part of the fabric of the story?

In general, it’s accepted that this movie has OS Problem>Pursuit. But let’s think that through:
• The T-100 wants to prevent Sarah Connor from having a child
• Reese wants to prevent the T-100 from killing Sarah
• The general approach to not dying is: attack when attacked, but mostly—run.
• The big action scene at the police station is all about preventing the T-100 from running rampant

Should we have OS Problem>Avoid?

Now Sarah’s got Avoidance as her crucial element, which she finally abandon’s towards the end.

Part of the reason I’m suggesting this is because I’m having trouble getting behind this:

Isn’t Reese the one motivated in the beginning by Arnold showing up? Sarah doesn’t react much besides getting weirded out by the coincidence of the other deaths.
Doesn’t everyone have a vacuum of Consideration if they don’t represent the trait? What makes her void more important than that of other people? When Reese says, “Come with me if you don’t want to die!” why isn’t this “Consider this fact” vs “Reconsider what you think of me”. Likewise, when he explains everything to the police psychologist, he’s saying “consider this” no?

That’s all I got for now!


As with all things Dramatica, you want to look to what is shown to be problematic–not merely an instant of it (this would harken back to the Wolfwalkers meeting where it was suggested that the OS Domain was in Mind. Yes, many of the OS characters had “fixed attitudes”, no, that was not shown to be problematic in the story as a point of resolution).

Dramatica doesn’t work when you use it like MadLibs, e.g. Jeffries in Rear Window has to be in “universe” because he’s in a wheelchair…no, there is nothing shown to be problematic about his being in a wheelchair throughout the story.

What is problematic about Reese saying “Come with me if you don’t want to die?” Same with “consider” this fact, etc.

Now, what is problematic about Sarah sitting at the table in the discotheque, considering what she should do…?

The Want vs. Need Problem

Anytime you find yourself using “so and so wants to do something, or so and so needs to do something” know that you’ve moved out of the Storyform and into Audience Reception. It’s not what the character wants to do or needs to do, but rather what they do–what the Author shows them doing–that is the substance of a Dramatica Storyform.

That’s because 80% of the time it works out. To be accurate 100% of the time, you need to remove the generally accepted notion that the protagonist is the one “driving the action.”

And the easy way to zero in on the Crucial Elements is to look at what the two principal characters do throughout the film:

Is Sarah mostly running away (Avoid) and Reese is mostly chasing after something (Pursuit)? If so, what exactly is Reese chasing?


Is Sarah mostly being chased (Pursuit) and Reese is mostly running away/preventing (Avoid)?

When you look at the balance of these two Elements - regardless of Success/Failure which one sounds more like the film itself?

This is interesting. Are all character traits problematic then? I don’t generally think of sidekicks being a problem, to overgeneralize.

(I agree that this isn’t a problem for the Story as a whole, but in fact it’s a problem at the end when he has to defend himself agains the killer in his apartment and is limited because he’s stuck in the wheelchair.)

“Do I want to go with this madman who has been stalking me, away to god-knows-where?” certainly seems like a problem. Somewhere around this point, she bit him in order to get away, so it’s not like she trusts him.

Well, he’s demanding that they consider it. They don’t, and 30 cops die.

Nothing, because it allows Reese to set up an ambush and save her life? Or has she reconsidered the idea that maybe she’s in trouble (now that she’s seen that she’s being followed)?

Clearly, this one.

“Problematic” is a short-cut for inequity/imbalance. They aren’t “traits” (though they often appear that way) - they are opportunities for the Author to explore the effectiveness/ineffectiveness of a particular mode of problem-solving (again, shortcut, as this doesn’t really hold up that well in Holistic stories where inequity/imbalance makes more “sense”).

Which is why it doesn’t hold true as a position of a Domain perspective - it has to be the ENTIRE story in order to qualify as valid Main Character Throughline illustration (and shown to be problematic (inequitable/imbalanced) in each Act.

Right, which is why Consider fits better with Sarah. Reese does not exhibit imbalances/inequities in his application of Considering (saying that doesn’t seem to be particularly inequitable for him). Sarah having to weigh the pros and cons of it…does.

And I would interpret her sitting at the table unable to move as someone paralyzed by Consider.

Reconsider in Dramatica isn’t simply a different consideration (that would be Consider) - Reconsider is constantly changing one’s mind, unable to sit still with a single Consideration.

And the “clearly this one” answer is a really good indication that these are the inequitable points of story at work.


I brought this up because I frequently see it stated, and I think it’s one of the most damaging pieces of advice that a young writer can get, usually because it results in them merging the Protagonist and the Main Character.

In light of this convo, here are three thoughts:
The Terminator is probably the worst film to use to talk about this—at least early in the conversation—because Pursuit/Avoid are both facets of the Protagonist/Antagonist and the Crucial Elements.
• The thing driving the story is always the inequity. As you so aptly said in the Wolfwalkers DUG, “The guy’s name in Lord Protector. Protection is the problem.” And this is what’s driving the story. What we should be talking about is how that gets translated to the story, not “Who is the Protagonist?”
• When we do that, we have to remember that it is really handy to have a clear Protagonist/Antagonist and I’m not sure where that leaves this comment:

Good Will Hunting is infamous for having no clear Protagonist or Antagonist because the characters are complex and well-rounded, so it’s movies like this that are probably the best source of conversations of how Pursuit/Avoid and “Who’s driving this story?” and how the real motivation ties back to an inequity. I think that this could have been a good addition to the conversation around Never Rarely Sometimes Always because it covers side characters like the jerk paying in the grocery store trying to flirt with the cousin.

To top it off, because theory is one thing and application is another, I developed a story overnight about a Pursued Protagonist to see if I could make it feel right, and I think it feels right. I don’t have all the pieces yet, but it passes the sniff test.