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  • Writer's pictureLee Hamilton

Antagonist vs. Protagonist

The two most important characters in your screenplay are the protagonist and the antagonist.

They say that a hero is only as good as the opponent they face, meaning that if you have a weak antagonist that’s easily beaten, then your hero isn’t going to be considered as anything special. The flip side of the coin is that if your antagonist is an impossible force to overcome, then your hero is going to be left looking like the weak one, so how do you find the right balance between these two central forces, and how do you create a worthy antagonist to pit against your hero?

First off, let’s get the definitions out of the way…

What is a protagonist?

This is the hero, the main character, the person whose journey we’re following. Even in an ensemble cast, there will be a ‘leader’ who garners more screen time than the rest, and the same applies to romances and buddy movies too.

The protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be virtuous, likeable, or have a great personality. Anti-heroes are becoming increasingly common, like Dexter, Breaking Bad’s Walter White, or Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler. They are all three-dimensional flawed characters who make dubious decisions, but if they’re well designed, the audience will root for them because they have a relatable goal or desire that we can empathize with.

What is an antagonist?

Usually, the villain is a character who wants the exact opposite of the protagonist, but an antagonist can come in various shapes and forms. They aren’t always another human character and they don’t always have to be unlikeable either, they just need to oppose the hero. Antagonistic forces can be anything from an illness, a natural disaster, a supernatural force, or even the protagonist’s major character flaw. What they all have in common is that they’re getting in the way and preventing the hero from achieving their goal.

The key thing to remember is that the protagonist works towards achieving the central goal of the story, while the antagonist works against it.

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