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Protagonist Versus Antagonist

The effectiveness of your hero is determined by the effectiveness of your villain. A villain that is easy to overcome does not make the hero empathic. Resolving conflict for the hero should never come easily. The antagonist, therefore, should have greater leverage in achieving his aims. The protagonist must meet the standards to set himself on equal footing with his nemesis.

The fight between good and evil is a staple theme in fiction. Both are subjective in the definition given that our perception of these two concepts depends on how people run society based on their interests. A customer might think that the prostitute he paid for is evil because she is testy and does not submit to his whims. The prostitute, on the other hand, might think the same of the customer for being sadistic. From two varying perspectives, fiction is not driven by good versus evil, but rather good versus good, as characters are motivated by actions that they believe are correct. It is the writer’s job to justify the protagonist's and antagonist’s actions and how they are driven by their values. This clash of morals must often occur to justify why your protagonist is heroic and your antagonist sinister.

Protagonist example: A doctor discovers a medical cure for cancer. He does not want to sell his discovery to pharmaceutical companies because he wants many cancer patients in developing countries to benefit from the cure. He attracts the attention of the Nobel Prize Committee for his achievement, but his priority is to organize medical missions to give poor cancer patients access to the cure. His wife and kids are proud of him.

Antagonist example: A young pharmaceutical CEO usurps from the ranks through his Machiavellian tactics. He has murdered a number of people who stood in his way and greased high-ranking figures in politics and law enforcement for support. He intends to gain exclusive ownership of the doctor’s discovery. After the doctor declined the CEO’s offer of a fat paycheck and profit share, the CEO commissions mercenaries to sabotage the doctor’s missions in Africa and Asia. Then he tries to dig up and steal the formula for the cure. Failing to do this, he kidnaps the doctor’s wife and kids.

When the writer brings the hero and villain into an immediate encounter, it creates great conflict and plenty of opportunity for branching crises. As a tip, the antagonist should gain the upper hand in most of the battles and push the protagonist to the brink of despair. Allies may be optional to provide moral support to keep the hero’s sanity intact.

Somewhere along in the conflict, the protagonist finds a weak spot in the antagonist’s armor, just as the antagonist’s mad lust for power increases in uncontrollable proportions. The protagonist shifts the tide in his favor through a well-executed plan. The antagonist then deserves a satisfying end, given that his prolonged tyranny has caused so much suffering for the hero. In this sense, the hero’s victory is well-deserved and earns the sympathy of readers.


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Vincent Dublado