A writer asks:
“My favorite creative writing book is ‘Setting’ by Jack
Bickham. Use of setting as primary with characters, plot, theme, mood, etc
derived from it and interacting with it seems of particular value in science
fiction. Where would Deep Space 9 be without deep space and a space station!
Setting is certainly the cauldron of my imagination.
So how can I best
approach things this way with Dramatica? Do you have any examples where setting
has been created as a character?
Can I have two antagonists, for example,
one a person and the other a setting?”
the Antagonist in a story can be a person, place or thing – any entity that can
fulfill the dramatic function of the Antagonist.
First, look at the movie
“Jaws.” The Antagonist is the shark. The mayor is the Contagonist.
consider the 1950s movie with Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner called, “The
Mountain.” Tracy plays an aging mountain climber whose nemesis is the huge
mountain that looms over his home and nearly killed him years ago. He hasn’t
climbed since. The mountain claims new victims in a plane crash.
the only one qualified to lead an expedition to rescue them. Wagner, his nephew,
wants to rob the plane of its valuables and slyly convinces Tracy to lead the
expedition on humanitarian grounds. The mountain is the Antagonist and Wagner is
In the movie, “Aliens” (the second film in the series),
the Aliens themselves are the “Group Antagonist” and the Contagonist is Burke,
the company man.
In the movie, “The Old Man & the Sea.” Anthony Quinn
is the Protagonist, the Great Fish is the Antagonist, and the Sea is the
In a short story called, “The Wind,” which appeared in an
anthology released by Alfred Hitchcock, the wind itself it the Antagonist,
having sentience and stalking down and eventually killing an explorer who
accidentally stumbled upon the knowledge that the winds of the world are
These examples illustrate that all of the dramatic functions (such
as Protagonist, Antagonist, and Contagonist) need to be represented, but can
easily be carried by a person, place, or thing. Still, there is only one
Antagonist, and the other negative force is usually the
There are two exceptions to the “rule” that there should be
only one Antagonist. One is when the Antagonist is a group, as in the “Aliens”
example above, or with an angry mob or the Empire in Start Wars. The other is
when the function of the Antagonist is “handed off” from one player to another
when the first player dies or moves out of the plot.
A hand-off is
different than a group insofar as the group is fulfilling the same dramatic
function at the same time as if it were a single entity, but the hand-off
characters fulfill the function in turn, each carrying forward the next part of
the job like runners in a relay race.
Although the hand-off is often done
with Obstacle characters (i.e. the ghosts in “A Christmas Carol or the argument
about the power of the Lost Ark made to Indiana Jones in the first movie by both
his boss at the university (Brody) and his companion/protector, Sulla),
hand-offs are seldom done with Antagonists for reasons I’ll outline in a
This is because Obstacle characters are each carrying the next
part of linear argument regarding value standards and/or worldviews, but the
Antagonist represents a consistent force. It is much harder for an audience to
shift its feelings from one Antagonist to another, than to “listen” to one
character pick up the moral argument from another.
In summary, it is best
to have only one Antagonist, but that character can easily be a person, place or
thing (including setting).