Word Confusion: Antagonist versus Protagonist

Posted March 27, 2017 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

While “Antagonist versus Protagonist” is consistent with previous posts, the focus is slanted toward characters in a story.

Although, “characters” are not necessarily people.

That’s right, the protagonist/antagonist may be a person, an animal, an object, or a sense (morality, emotion, thought, etc.), which means that the one basic truth is that the protagonist is the character who struggles against something while the antagonist is what the protagonist struggles against.

The Struggle

Whoever is the bad guy or the good guy — the antagonist or protagonist — there must be conflict whether that conflict involves man against another man*, man against himself, man against a society, man against what fate brings up against him, man against the supernatural, man against nature, or man against technology.

* Man, in this case, is the protagonist.

More Than One Conflict Per Story

Keep in mind that the antagonist versus protagonist conflict is not confined to one conflict per story. There is a story arc conflict, and within that arc, there will be more conflicts between individuals — and usually man against man, lol.

For example, Kate Daniels is up against another character, her father; up against nature in the monsters she battles, up against fate with her father’s belief that she’ll destroy him, and up against self as she battles the power threatening to take her over.

Timothy Zahn’s initial Cobra trilogy is up against a society that no longer wants the Cobras within their society, and in the second trilogy, the Cobras go up against alien forces. Then there’re the internal conflicts between individual characters within each story.

The Conflict is… What the Protagonist is Struggling With/For Protagonist/Antagonist Examples
Character vs Character One man struggles against another man. Harry Potter versus Voldemort

Robin Hood versus Prince John

Detectives versus the crooks

Kate Daniels versus her father

Character vs Fate Man forced to act on his fate and compelled to follow an unknown destiny. Thomas E. Sniegoski’s Remy Chandler struggles against events only to discover why these events have been happening.

Frodo in The Lord of the Rings struggles with his destiny to throw the ring into the fires of Mordor.

Percy Jackson learns he’s a demigod who must fulfill the prophecy.

Character vs God Man comes up against a supernatural force. Katherine “Kitty” Katt must battle aliens.

Percy Jackson must battle other demigods and monsters.

Frank Compton investigates murders and uncovers an alien conspiracy in Quadrail.

Character vs Nature Man battles a natural catastrophe, animal (real or mythical). The Destroyermen struggle to survive a storm that whips up during a battle and opens a portal to an alternate world.

Santiago battles an enormous marlin in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Robinson Crusoe struggles to survive for twenty-seven years on a tropical desert island.

Character vs Self Man has an internal conflict with his conscience and/or must make a choice. King Midas and the curse of his gift.

The Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter must choose to reveal himself as Hester Prynne’s lover or keep silent.

Character vs Society Man struggles against an established prejudice, a wrong set of values, poverty, politics, etc. Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter gives birth to an illegitimate child and refuses to name the father in a Puritanical society which punishes anyone who strays from their rules.

Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series poses three major groups as protagonists and antagonists with each believing the others are inferior.

Character vs Technology Man struggles against robots or computers. The meta heroes battle metallic Nazis in The Secret World Chronicles.

Juan Cabrillo and crew battle metal snakes in Skeleton Coast.

You may also want to explore the post, “Creating Memorable Characters“.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

If you found this post on “Antagonist versus Protagonist” interesting, consider tweeting it to your friends. Subscribe to KD Did It, if you’d like to track this post for future updates.

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Antagonist Protagonist
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Japoshi's interpretation of the villainous Snidely Whiplash as a young woman is tied to the railroad tracks

“Snidely Whiplash” by Japoshi, via Deviant Art

The ultimate villainous antagonist.

Cartoon graphic of superman

“Superman” by Alex Ross, the illustrator for Paul Dini’s The World’s Greatest Super-Heroes.

The perfect protagonist, a superhero.

Part of Grammar:
Plural for noun: antagonists

A.k.a., receptor blocker

Plural for noun: protagonists

A.k.a., agonist

A person who actively opposes, struggles against, competes with, or is hostile to someone or something

  • An adversary
  • An opponent
  • [Biochemistry] A substance that interferes with or inhibits the physiological action of another
  • [Anatomy] A muscle whose action counteracts that of another specified muscle

The adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work

[Dentistry] A tooth in one jaw that articulates during mastication or occlusion with a tooth in the opposing jaw

The leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text

  • The main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation
  • An advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea
He turned to confront his antagonist.

Other irreversible antagonists actually form chemical bonds, e.g., covalent bonds, with the receptor.

Iago is the antagonist of Othello.

An antagonist muscle opposes the action of the agonist muscle, and thus helps in regulating movements.

Kate Daniels is the primary protagonist in Ilona Andrews’ series of the same name.

Reacher is the protagonist in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.

In this colonial struggle, the main protagonists were Great Britain and France.

John Farmer is a strenuous protagonist of the new agricultural policy.

Adjective: antagonistic
Adverb: antagonistically
Noun: antagonism
Noun: protagonism
History of the Word:
Late 16th century from the French antagoniste or the late Latin antagonista, from the Greek antagōnistēs, from antagōnizesthai meaning struggle against. Late 17th century from Greek the prōtagōnistēs, from prōtos (first in importance) + agōnistēs (actor).

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

A retouched “Dog’s Guardian Angel” by Gaspirtz derivative work: Begoon is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.