Whatever the story, whatever the genre, there are always two sides to every story, and story tellers need to show that. But what does this actually mean?
Put simply, writers are not just writing about their main character. The story may be about them, but there are also other characters that share that same story. In truth, it is not entirely about the main character. That means that while every story must have a protagonist; it must also have an antagonist.
The antagonist – otherwise known as the ‘bad guy’ (you might have more than one) – has a specific, important function in fiction writing. If you don’t have one, then there will be little or no conflict in the story, and without conflict, there is no story to tell, because fiction (and life) is all about conflict.
Primarily, any story will be about your main character – it’s about their journey, what happens to them, the decisions and dilemmas they face and the obstacles they have to overcome. It is told, for the most part, through their eyes, but sometimes writers forget to include the antagonist’s views and their perspective. This happens partly because writers think it isn’t necessary to concentrate on anyone other than the main character.
In order to balance the story, however, you have to have the antagonist’s viewpoint. A story that focuses solely on the main character, without really featuring the antagonist except only to mention him or her in passing, is in danger of failing. The story needs to be about both of them.
Imagine a James Bond movie without a villain. Or what if Oliver Twist didn’t have Fagin? What if Cathy didn’t have Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights? They would all be completely different, and boring stories, without these characters. And that’s solely down to good old fashioned conflict.
The dynamic created between the protagonist and antagonist is what keeps readers interested and invested in any story; it keeps them turning the page.
Both character types need each other; the negative and positive clashing against one another. Imagine two people in an argument. In order to gain some sort of balanced view or opinion, one has to listen to both sides. The reader is doing exactly the same thing. By allowing them to look at both sides of the story, they can form their own opinions about the story.
Writers go wrong when they fail to include the antagonist, or they devote very little time to them. If they fail to observe this, then they create an imbalance. They are only telling one side of the story.
So how do you actually tell both sides of the story?
It’s simply a matter of inclusion. Remember to devote a few extra chapters to your bad guy(s) and give them a little bit of limelight. They are sharing the same story, after all.
That means some of the story will be from their viewpoint – it’s the writer’s chance to show why the antagonist acts in a particular way, what is motivating him or her. It’s a chance to show the reasons why he or she is in conflict with the protagonist, and what his or her objectives are.
It also means the writer can explore back story, develop characterisation and expand subplots and threads of the story that will make more sense to the reader once woven into the main plot.
By allowing the antagonist some attention, you are also allowing the reader to share with them. You divulge information that only the reader and the character are privy to, so that the protagonist is unaware. This in turn creates atmosphere and tension, and of course, added conflict for your main character further into the story.
It also keeps the reader’s interest going.
Just as every story needs a hero, it also cannot work without the villain.
And that’s why there are always two sides to any story.
Next week: Creating subtext