Writing Prompt #16 Does the bad guy have to be the antagonist?

As a side note: I am still working on finishing my brainstorming from yesterday. So for those that are looking for it stay tuned and you will not be disappointed. And for those more adventurous, post a comment on Part 1 here and help shape how Part 2 is going to look.

Meanwhile back to the Writing Prompt for today…

The antagonist of a story is the force that holds the protagonist back from achieving their goals. This does not always mean that it the villain or the bad guy of the story. While I know that this is normally the case, in certain genres and cases it is much further than the truth than you would think. A prime example is one that I heard on the podcast Writing Excuses. The link will take you to the specific episode in which Lou Anders, the Hugo-winning editorial director from Pyr books, describes the Hollywood formula. He also describes the roles of protagonist and antagonist in ways that are easily understandable and clear. The most surprising and as I said above prime example of an antagonist that is not the clear bad guy is in the movie the Dark Knight. In this I was like most people, I assumed that it was the Joker that was the antagonist. But in reality it was Harvey Dent that ultimately was the antagonist. All Batman wanted, his goal, was to be replaced as protector of Gotham. And Harvey Dent was the person that he expected to do it. But Harvey continually let Batman down with bad choices and flaws in judgement. I would like to say that I have explained this well, but trust me when I say that Mr. Anders does a much more amazing job in the podcast.

I re-listened to this podcast this morning while driving into work. And it made me wonder if I could come up with a story in which the bad guy was not the antagonist. And a character that is a supporting character, possibly a friend of the protagonist, is the true antagonist. All this without having a twist near the end where the antagonist turns out to be a villain. I am still working on my ideas for this. And I am challenging you to try the same. Just a short blurb, outline, sketch of plot. But see what you can come up with. Post it in the comments section and lets see what we can all come up with.


As with all the writing prompts, please let me know if you use it. You can post it in the comments section or post a link in the comments section to where you put it online. If you aren’t sure about this site’s submission guidelines check at the top for the link. All of your work will be protected under the Creative Commons License that covers all things on this site. That can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Time to get some more coffee… Conr’

4 Responses to “Writing Prompt #16 Does the bad guy have to be the antagonist?”
  1. subtlekate says:

    I’m working on something at the moment where the protagonist is the antagonist. The main character holding her own progress back. Yikes!!

    • That is a great example of something that isn’t seen very often in certain genres of fiction. And I think that if more authors used that as a basis of a subplot in their fiction. Maybe not using as the lead antagonist but definitely it could help to develop the character. Thanks for the idea.

  2. Alioshka says:

    I may get blasted on this one…Did you ever stop to think that in the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore is actually an antagonist? If he had been honest with Harry or not tried to constantly protect him, Harry would have possibly done better on a regular basis! They all recognize his gifts, and yet they so overprotect him that the professors, Dumbledore in particular, constantly put roadblocks in his way. Fudge runs a close second.

    • I think you have a great point. While I will argue that Dumbledore is not a main antagonist because he is twarting Potter’s development but not his story goals. That is one of the things that I think is key to antagonists.

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