This might help in finding your Antagonist

I’m writing a short Failure/Bad story and I was feeling unclear on who the Antagonist of the story might be. The story has an IC, but this person is clearly not the Antagonist.

On outlining the storyform, I found something interesting: everyone in the story Fails to reach the Goal of Obtaining except one person - who Obtains exactly what he wanted.

This has to be the Antagonist!

The other way to tell who the Antagonist could be is to look at the Consequence. Who in the story WANTS the Consequence to happen? That has got to be the Antagonist (or one of their minions who share their mission).

As it turns out, this points to that same person. So now I’m looking at this particular person to see where they are using their powers of Avoid, Prevent, and Reconsider.

I hope this helps someone who’s struggling with finding their Antagonist.


Excellent find! This should shed some more light on the Antagonist/Consequence connection:


Discovering these things through work is the best!


This is great. For future novels it’s one of my goals to focus more on understanding the Antagonist. Who they are, what they’re doing, their plans and motivation. It all becomes clear in hindsight, when I reach the end of the story, but during the first draft the Antagonist is sometimes rather murky.

Apparently writer Stephen Cannell gave this advice to Michael Connelly. Connelly took it so much to heart that he gave his famous detective, Harry Bosch, a mug that reads “What’s the bad guy up to?” Good advice for detectives and writers.


I like it, but wanted to ask a few things.

  1. Isn’t it just the Protagonist who strives to achieve the goal? The other Players might not necessarily all “want” anything to do with the goal.
  2. Couldn’t the Player that doesn’t get what they want also be the Contagonist?
  3. What about players like the Skeptic, whose role would be to question the Protagonists quest?

Generally speaking, though… I suppose the opposite would be true too for a Success. Who is the main player that doesn’t get what they want? But again… I’d ask all those same questions.

Maybe a more precise question could be going back to the basics of Dramatica:
Win, Lose or Draw… who is the Player actively preventing/avoiding the achievement of the Goal?

Hmm…as far as Dramatica is concerned, the Antagonist definition is actually pretty clear cut: it is the person who wants to keep things the same. The Protagonist is the character who drives the objective plot towards the goal. The Antagonist, archetypally, prevents that. It’s made mention that many popular “protagonists” in media are actually antagonists insofar as the definition of one in Dramatica (like James Bond, for example). It’s the character who is trying to maintain the status quo. It’s not the popular mainstream definition of an antagonist, but Dramatica makes a point not to equate antagonist with “villain.” It’s an objective look, so bad and good do not enter the equation. Just throwing this confusing observation into the discussion!

Edit: these are worth looking at, especially the last one -

Dramatica Antagonists.)


Actually there’s some debate in Dramatica circles as to whether James Bond is the antagonist:

Actually, that article is a pretty good discussion of what makes an protagonist/antagonist.

That said, there are actually counterintuitive cases in which the “good guy” is the antagonist. There are quite a few threads on this topic, but here’s one:


The tricky thing is that there is an order that you must take into account when trying to figure out what “status quo” means.

  1. backstory - either no inequity or a “balanced inequity”
  2. First Driver upsets the balance
  3. This inequity caused by the First Driver sets up the Goal in the storymind, something to resolve the inequity
  4. Protagonist represents initiative, pursuing that goal (but note he doesn’t have to be the one to conceive it or even be aware he’s pursuing it; no one does)
  5. Antagonist represents reticence, avoiding the goal and maintaining status quo

So the status quo the Antagonist is maintaining is really “life without the Goal” – not “life without the First Driver.” They’re sort of pushing the idea that the First Driver inequity isn’t so bad that we need the Goal (at least not that particular Goal) to resolve it. “Reconsider this Goal, please.”

  • Captain America, the Antagonist in Civil War, is saying “yes it sucks that Wanda killed all those people but she was trying to save lives; these Accords will just make things worse”. (Reconsider)
  • Prince Humperdinck, the Antagonist in The Princess Bride, is the one with the evil plot that must be stopped, so you might think he’s doing something against the status quo. But his getting engaged to Buttercup is the First Driver, as is hatching his plot (or maybe he hatched it months before but it was all balanced until he took the first step, the engagement). So he wants to keep the status quo that includes his dastardly scheme and the engagement. If he soliloquyed the audience he might say “Yes my scheme sounds evil, but won’t it be grand when we go to war with Guilder?” (Reconsider)

Humperdinck is probably similar to most Bond villains…


I would say more than a focus on the status quo, the key to pinpointing the Protagonist or Antagonist is to really nail down the source of Conflict at the Concern and Issue levels, and the static plot point of the Story Goal. Once you know for sure what inequity you’re dealing with, it becomes clear who is pursuing or avoiding the Goal that’s tied to them.
Keeping things the same might not always be clear in a narrative depending on the Mindset and how closely a story even adheres to the concepts of Protagonist and Antagonist.

That being said, I second that checklist @mlucas laid out… look at the Protagonist and Antagonist in terms of the Initial Story Driver (and also the Concluding Driver).

Adding to that, another factor I think about it is that the Initial Driver puts a StoryMind at rest out of whack; brings attention to the Mind that an inequity exists.

Once that Driver disrupts the mind, there are two forces at play from an Objective POV: One force that sees a target which would bring that inequity back into balance, and a force that wants to avoid and/or prevent the inequity from coming into balance. For good or bad, that second force is basically okay with the inequity, or the perspective is that it’s not so big of a problem that there is motivation to pursue the Goal.

Compare it to a Steadfast character. It’s not that there is no inequity for an Antagonist, it’s that there’s a POV which is OKAY with the inequity. In Back to the Future, the Steadfast MC perspective describes the dilemma of a situation in which on one hand, one shouldn’t put themselves on the line in order to stave off future rejection. But at the same time, one should choose to be open-minded to realize their full potential.

It’s a bit of a hypocritical place to be coming from… but the subjective stance is that it’s okay to be in that place. Marty represents this perspective in the storytelling, and we see that not only does he live with that duality unmoved, it’s his unchanging source of drive! An opposing POV might influence Marty to realize that he’s a bit of a hypocrite… and it does! From the IC POV… but it only serves as motivation for him to stay the course (not unlike a Protagonist vs. Antagonist).

There’s a great question on Subtext that asks if the MC’s personal issues slow down the plot or not… and in that sense, you can almost see certain MC’s as mini antagonists to their own Protagonist (which in most cases is the same Player).

@jhull’s recent update to The Matrix points out that Neo’s issues slow down the plot. If the Goal is Obtaining, breaking free… and Neo as MC has to balance his self-doubts with his personal truth. Neo as MC almost the dynamic of a mini Antagonist for a while. (Of course the MC is not tied up in the OS, but just using the forces at work as a comparison).

So, I’m not sure it’s so cut and dry in terms of keeping things the status quo… and likely why there’s debate over James Bond and the like.