Protagonist vs Antagonist
The key characters of most stories are the protagonist and the antagonist. Both need to explore the same goal from opposing angles. Think about it. If the protagonist wants a glass of water and the antagonist wants a banana, there is no conflict.
However, if the story is exploring the nature of sharing versus greed, you have something to work with. The central theme is the glue that prevents your story from going off on irrelevant tangents. All characters, even supporting ones ,must explore this central theme to create an overall story argument.
The protagonist and antagonist, must have equal potential and strength in the story. The outcome could fall in either’s favor. This is even true with villains whose sole aim is to annihilate the protagonist. Both the villain and protagonist (especially in superhero movies) believe that they’re right and their fight is justified.
Stories are made engaging by shifting the power balance the two. If the hero has no chance of winning, then the audience disengages; either because the pain of their hero losing being too much to bear, or through sheer boredom due to lack of suspense and tension. This is especially true at the end of the second act when the hero goes through their “all is lost” moment. Then they muster their hidden reserves of energy for one last push to achieve their goal.
Both the protagonist and antagonist must pursue the same inner and outer goals. The protagonist may want to fill up his gas tank, while the antagonist wants to control the planet’s entire gas reserves. In terms of inner needs, both must learn to be more sharing/ greedier.
The plot must relate to the central conflict and the main characters’ point of view. The plot is a an emotional truth rather than an inconsequential sequence of actions. This underscores the motivation of both the protagonist and antagonist, because both are pursuing what they believe is right. This engages the audience when they realize that both have a valid point of view. It tests, reaffirms or changes our morality. This is part of the reason stories are such a vital component of our social fabric.
Make both protagonist and antagonist consistent both in their motivations and actions. Also avoid cliches. The mob boss who visits art galleries or sick children in hospital is tired. It’s one thing to add one irregular trait to each character to make them multi-dimensional and another to add numerous incongruent traits to confuse the audience.
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