Recently a writer asked:
As I strive to understand the main
character/obstacle character dynamics, I am left wondering where does the
antagonist fit into this new theory of story?
I believe I understand what
you are getting at with the obstacle character, but it seems that something is
I see that the selection of antagonist is
available as a character type, but I do not see where one plots out the
antagonist storyline. Isn’t the Main Character/Protagonist vs Antagonist
storyline just as important?
The characters in a story represent the facets of
our minds. That’s why we call the structure of a story the Story Mind.
Archetypes are our broad personality traits, while the Main Character represents
our sense of self. The Obstacle (or Impact) character is that part of ourselves
that plays “devil’s advocate” when we are trying to determine if we want to
change our minds about a particular issue. If we do, the Main Character is
convinced by the Obstacle Character’s argument and changes. If we don’t, the
Main Character sticks to the old view and remains steadfast.
and Antagonist are two of our personality traits. Protagonist represents our
Initiative – our desire to change the status quo. Antagonist represents our
Reticence to change, the desire to keep things as they are or return them to the
way they were.
Often the character that fulfills the Protagonist function
is also the character chosen as the Main Character. So, not only is this
character the Prime Mover in the effort to change things by achieving a goal,
but he (or she) also represents the audience position in the story. Such a
character is the basis for the stereotypical “hero.”
character who functions as the Antagonist is often chosen to also represent the
Obstacle Character’s opposing paradigm, world view, or attitude toward the
“message issue” of the story. This creates the stereotypical
More sophisticated stories split these functions. Sometimes,
as in the story To Kill A Mockingbird, they are completely split. In that story,
the Protagonist is a small town lawyer (Atticus) whose goal is to free a black
man wrongly accused of raping a white girl. But we don’t see the story through
his eyes. Rather, we experience the story through the eyes of a child – his
young daughter named Scout.
The Antagonist is the father of the girl who was
ostensibly raped. He wants justice to take its normal course for that town,
which would be a conviction based on race. He wants the status quo. This fellow,
Bob Ewell, is opposed to Protagonist Atticus’ goal. So, the plot’s logistics
revolve around these two characters.
But Scout, as Main Character, has
her devil’s advocate voice that is her obstacle in the passionate story
regarding the message issue. The character that has the greatest impact on her
worldview, the greatest obstacle to maintaining her preconceptions is Boo
Radley. Boo is a mentally challenged man who lives down the street in the
basement of his parent’s home. All the kids in the neighborhood, including
Scout, know him to be a monstrous “boogey man” who feasts on small children. But
that is just a rumor based on fear. In fact, he is quite gentle and protective
of the kids who never meet him directly. He looks out for them, but they don’t
see it and despise him. Only when he rescues Scout from a vengeful Bob Ewell
does the truth of his caring nature come out. Scout must change her mind about
In this manner, while we root for the virtuous Atticus, we are
suckered into being prejudiced ourselves as we identify with Scout and accept
her prejudices without any direct evidence or experience of our own. This is
clearly a wonderful use of the technique of splitting all four
In other stories, the Protagonist character is also the
Main Character but the Obstacle Character is the Love Interest and the
Antagonist is the rival. Such an arrangement is the classic “dramatic triangle”
in which the logistics of the plot regarding the goal are fought out between the
Protagonist/Main Character and the Antagonist rival, but the passionate argument
regarding changing one’s nature is developed between the Protagonist/Main
Character and the Obstacle Character Love Interest.
The film Witness does
it a bit differently. The female lead, Rachel is the Love Interest, but also the
Main Character. We actually see the story through HER eyes, not through the eyes
of John Book (the Harrison Ford part). Rather, Book is the Obstacle Character,
the one who tempts Rachel to abandon her Amish traditions and community to run
off with him to the land of the “English.”
The corrupt police captain
(Book’s boss) is the Antagonist. So, the plot revolves around Book against his
boss, and the passionate story about changing one’s mind revolves around Book
and Rachel., but it is seen through HER eyes.
So, the Antagonist is quite
important in Dramatica, as is the Protagonist, Main and Obstacle characters.
What Dramatica brings to this part of story is a clear understanding of how
these logistic and passionate attributes of the Story Mind can be distributed in
other ways than just as the stereotypical hero and villain.