The Conflict: Pratagonist and Antagonist

By Pamela Hodges, The Write Practice

Every story has to have conflict. A story without conflict is boring.

How do you write a good conflict of a story? What is conflict, anyway? And why do you even need it in your story? You probably hate fighting. So why would you want to write about it?

Please let me explain.

What is conflict?

Conflict could be when your mother wants you to set the table and you don’t want to. Or conflict could be when you get your neck shaved and they want you to pay a hundred shillings and you only want to fifty shillings because they didn’t shave your whole head.

Conflict brings together two opposing forces, the protagonist, one who struggles for, and the antagonist, one who struggles against, and then develops and resolves the struggles between these two forces.


What Do the Protagonist and Antagonist Have to Do With Conflict?

I always thought the protagonist was the good guy, and the antagonist was the bad guy. But you could have two bad guys who are fighting. However, who is the good guy if, for example, both characters are bank robbers?

The protagonist is the person struggling for something, and the antagonist is struggling against something.

Hint: If you can remember the meaning of the prefix it might help you remember what the two words mean: Pro means in favor of. Anti means against.

How to Write a Story: 2 Different Models

Good stories settle into two different models: the Accomplishment Story and the Decision Story. Depending on the type of story you’re telling, the conflict in your story may look very different.

1. Accomplishment Story

In an Accomplishment Story, the protagonist is trying to achieve some goal against great opposition.

Here’s an example of what an Accomplishment Story might look like:

Perhaps you are trying to convince your husband to let you rip up the carpet in the formal living room and turn it into a painting studio. Your husband is the antagonist; he is against you. You are the protagonist struggling to get your painting studio.

2. Decision Story

In a Decision Story, the protagonist has a choice between two things, two courses of action, two sets of values.

Should the protagonist let her hair grow so she can donate it to make wigs for children with cancer, or should she shave off all of her hair and pay the cash the hair salon was demanding when they shaved her neck?

4 Principles of Fictional Conflict

If you want to know how to write a story that sings, you need to focus on writing better conflict. These four storytelling principles will help.

  1. Conflict must be of obvious importance to the characters involved.If your conflict is whether or not the protagonist eats green beans or broccoli for dinner, make sure it is obvious why this is important to the character.
  2. The two opposing forces much be equal in strength. The conflict is developed and there will be suspense until the end. This kind of story drives me nuts (in a good way—mostly). I hate how you can never guess who will win. I want to know! Sometimes . . . well, most of the time . . . okay, all of the time,I peak ahead1to see who wins the conflict. Then I go back and slowly finish the book.
  3. Unity. Everything – conflict, character, theme, point of view- is functional, and related to the story’s basic purpose. The conflict is logical in development.
  4. Plausibility. Characters act and react to familiar principles of human behavior. The resolution of conflict must adhere to basic facts of existence.



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