Antagonists: How the masters do it.

Here are my takes on the antagonist breakdowns of the stories we looked at last week (for main character want, need, flaw, symptoms).

Andy Weir’s The Martian
This is a story about a guy who’s left behind on Mars and has to survive until he can be rescued.

  • Antagonist:  This is a man vs. nature story, with the main antagonist being Mars and its inhospitable atmosphere.  And its a bit of a stretch to extend the label “antagonists” to the other astronauts and the people at NASA, even though there’s a bit of conflict-filled bantering.  Still… we’ll do it.
  • Goal:  Mars doesn’t have a goal, it’s just Mars.  The astronauts and NASA share Mark Watney’s goal:  to get Mark home alive.
  • Motivation:  Mars:  none.  Astronauts: Duty and Relieving their Guilt.  Head guys at NASA:  Duty.  Communications People at NASA:  Publicity and keeping up appearances.
  • Justification:  The plan to get one guy home may kill all 6 astronauts.  NASA doesn’t agree to do this until after someone leaks it to the astronauts who start doing it without NASA’s backup.  The astronauts’ justification is that they knew space was dangerous and that they could die when they signed up.  Plus, they feel responsible for Mark being left behind, even though it wasn’t their fault.
  • Formidable:  It’s Mars.  It will kill Mark without even trying or intending to.  Yeah.  It’s formidable.
  • Note of Goodness:  It’s Mars.  It’s not good or bad.
  • Crucible:  Mark is stuck on Mars.  There’s no getting away from each other until he’s rescued and the story ends.
  • Pushes Hero to Act and to Change:  Nope.  Mars is interacting with Mark and forcing Mark to act in ways he wouldn’t act if he wasn’t stuck on Mars.  But Mark doesn’t change as a result.  He was as fully capable before the story started as after.  Maybe more appreciative of life, but he wasn’t lacking in appreciation before, so…
  • Shades of Negativity:  While death hangs in the air, the story mostly explores the positive and contrary values of Survival.
    • Positive:  Survival
    • Contrary:  Discomfort or Struggle
    • Contradictory:  Death
    • Negation of the Negation:  Torture or Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Romina Russell’s Zodiac
This is about a girl who, after her own constellation (home) is destroyed, goes on a journey to warn the other constellations about their imminent destruction. I read this a while ago, so hopefully I can get the details close to accurate.

  • Antagonist:  Ophiuchus, the leader of the thirteenth constellation
  • Goal:  To destroy the Zodiac
  • (Inner) Motivation:  Unclear, but it’s a trilogy, so maybe later.
  • Justification:  If I remember correctly, his constellation was destroyed generations ago.
  • Formidable:  Oh yes.  He controls (or is?) dark energy and he obliterates three constellations.  He also has the ability to take control of people’s minds (I think) when they enter the Psy network, Psynergy.
  • Crucible:  Ophiuchus interacts with the main character mostly through his deeds of blowing up constellations.  He also interacts with her when she enters the Psy network, but since he can access her mind in there, she stays out of the Psy network through most of the story.
  • Note of Goodness:  Not yet.
  • Pushes Hero to Act and to Change:  To act, yes: because of Ophiuchus, the main character journeys through the universe to warn the other constellations.  To change, not really:  Internally, her flaw doesn’t negatively affect her behavior and its consequences.  Externally, she uses the Psy network to vanquish Ophiuchus for the time being, but since she’s not in the Psy network for the whole Middle of the book, she’s just as capable at the beginning of the story as at the end to use the Psy to deal with him.  It’s not like Star Wars, where Luke has to learn to use the force; she’s already better at it than the guy in charge of training her–that’s why she’s chosen to lead her constellation.
  • Shades of Negativity:  Ophiuchus hasn’t annhilated any constellations yet, but he has destroyed three of them (they can be rebuilt; there are still people alive).  Also there are constellation leaders who choose to ignore the warning and fail to save their constellations from destruction.
    • Positive: Save
    • Contrary:  Neglect or Ignore
    • Contradictory:  Destroy
    • Negation of the Negation:  Annihilate or Exterminate

Gayle Foreman’s If I Stay
This is about a girl who, after falling into a coma, must decide whether to live or die.

  • Antagonist:  Probably the nurse who mans the desk separating the visitors from the patients.
  • Goal:  To keep out anyone who’s not supposed to be in the intensive care unit.
  • Motivation:  Peace and quiet.
  • Justification:  It’s her job.
  • Formidable:  She’s a big, burly lady that even the other nurses aren’t too fond of.
  • Crucible:  The main character is in a coma, so she’s at the mercy of the nurse until she comes out of it and the story ends.
  • Note of Goodness:  She has some compassion for Mia, the main character, and believes she’s doing the right thing.
  • Pushes Hero to Act and to Change:  No.  In this story, Mia’s allies, her family, push her to act and to change.
  • Shades of Negativity:  In this story, the antagonistic forces don’t explore the shades of negativity; Mia does.
    • Positive:  Connection
    • Contrary:  Indifference or Aloofness, Distant
    • Contradictory:  Disconnection
    • Negation of the Negation:  Isolation or Separation

Harlan Coben’s Caught
This is a story about a woman who tries to uncover the truth about the guy she exposed as a pedophile on TV.

  • Antagonist:  This story doesn’t have a clear-cut antagonist.  The main character has friction with everyone, and the “bad guy” is, at first, an ally.  Still,  we’ll go with him.
  • Goal:  To get away with destroying his three friends with made-up scandals.
  • Motivation:  Justice or Revenge.  Fairness, maybe.  Payback.
  • Justification:  He took the fall for a group prank that went wrong when they were roommates in college, which cost him his college diploma.  This fact has resurfaced to wreck his life as an adult.
  • Formidable:  Yeah.  He’s clever.  He’s somehow managed to destroy the lives of three people.
  • Crucible:  The main character is a reporter who was unwittingly used in one of the scandals.  She’s trying to clear her conscience by investigating the victim, leading her to his friends, including our Big Bad.  And he offers to help her with her investigation.  She’s also interested in his own scandal, which keeps her in proximity with him.
  • Note of Goodness:  He has a wife he loves, who really love him.
  • Pushes Hero to Act and to Change:  Indirectly. The main character acts as a result of what this guy has already done before the story starts and changes as a result of being an unwitting pawn in setting up an innocent man.
  • Shades of Negativity:  If I remember correctly, this story explores all shades of negativity by both the antagonist and the main character.
    • Positive:  Truth
    • Contrary:  White lies; half-truths; lying by omission; lying to keep the peace
    • Contradictory:  Falsity; bald-faced lies
    • Negation of the Negation:  Believing your own lies; self-deception

Well, that’s it for me.  What about you?  What stories have you read lately? Are the opponents fully fleshed out?  Did they embody all shades of negativity?  Were they effective?  Tell us in the comments!

UP NEXT, ON FRIDAY We’ll see if we can flesh out the antagonists in the one-liners we’re working on.  See you then!

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