Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wednesday: Story ch 14: The Principle of Antagonism

The principle of antagonism is, apparently, the most important and least understood part of story.

"A protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them."


McKee goes on, "The more powerful and complex the forces of antagonism opposing the character, the more completely realised character and story must become."

As Janet Roach said in the workshop I attended earlier this year, antagonist doesn't always mean the bad guy. It's just whatever's in opposition to your main character, and it needs to be real.

It could be an argument. For instance in Shallow Hal, a movie I recently saw, there's no real antagonist as such, except for the paradigm that Jack Black's character is escaping.

In this chapter, McKee goes through contrary and contradictory values.

For example, the value at stake in the film is justice. The contrary to justice is unfairness - negative but not illegal behaviour.

But the contradictory to justice is injustice - breaking the law.

Then we get to the Negation of the Negation - tyranny, where injustice poses as justice.

"A story that progresses to the limit of human experience in depth and breadth of conflict must move through a pattern that includes the contrary, the contradictory and the Negation of the Negation."

It's all about reaching the end of the line.

"Fine writers have always understood that opposite values are not the limit of human experience ... If a story does not reach the negation of the negation, it may strike the audience as satisfying - but never brilliant, never sublime.

All other factors of talent, craft and knowledge being equal, greatness is found in the writer's treatment of the negative side."

My thoughts

Having watched a lot of Star Trek recently, I can see how bad stories can be when the antagonists - usually actual bad guys in Star Trek's case - aren't smart enough, or convincing enough.

In a matching of wits scenario, your bad guy needs to be very smart, so your protagonist is pushed harder, further.

In a conflict of ideologies, your antagonist needs to be just as convincing as your protagonist view. This relates back to the issue of a dilemma.

Okay, more later.


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