Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 12, 2015 - 3:35pm

I'm thinking about a story that splits time equally between two characters opposed to each other. I'm sure that someone has done it before, but I'm not up on it. Thoughts and examples?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 12, 2015 - 5:06pm

then they're both protagonists and antagonists in each others' minds, right? you know a friend and i once brainstormed such an idea, it ever went that far.

i think any movie with a really good villain could be argued to be this way on some level.

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things November 12, 2015 - 6:09pm

I totally thought you were referring to writing an entire book that contained nothing but setting.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 12, 2015 - 6:45pm

^ Or Sarah Plain and Tall?

Ooo! Grown-ups too.

OtterMan's picture
OtterMan from New Jersey, near Philadelphia USA is reading Ringworlds Children November 13, 2015 - 3:08am

The classic hero/villain story is easy enough to grasp but usually not very true to life. Batman/Joker kind of thing. Villain/villain stories are more common to real life I think, Hitler/Stalin maybe. Not many Hero against hero stories I can think of, Mother Teresa battles Gandhi to see who can do the most good..? Any man against nature story could be seen as lacking a proper protagonist/antagonist. Nature usually assumes the role of antagonist but really never has any evil intent. There is also the deeper situation of good intent evil action facing off against each other, US/Vietnam comes to mind. If you want a real, no good/no evil story I think you are digging into deeper levels of real life and philosopy. Sometimes what is just is and one day follows another. In most of those stories it often comes down to man against himself and again it's just protagonist/antagonist in the same pacakge. 

 

I think it could be done but it's subtle, almost like telling a story about the rain and a river.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 13, 2015 - 9:22am

Aren't there heroic fantasy books like this? I don't read the genre, but you know, honorable men with hearts of gold fighting other honorable men with hearts of gold kind of thing?

I think the trick here for the OP is having both their POV?

Hey OP, are you looking to do something like an alternating first-person thing?

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 13, 2015 - 9:37am

Thuggish - I really wasn't expecting you to call me OP. I was thinking third person that focused on character A and then B switching chapter by chapter. Maybe a few detours to show other people caught up in this stuff.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 13, 2015 - 10:35am

Yeah, mixing it up can be fun.

So, I haven't read the books, only seen the show, but would GoT be something like what you're going for? 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 13, 2015 - 10:48am

I haven't read it or watched the show. I was thinking a much tighter story. A does this, B does this in reply (ish) and maybe 3 or 4 interludes a book show someone else doing something.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 13, 2015 - 4:23pm

Yeah, I meant more in the no one's really the good or bad guy sense.

I like the idea though, and I'm sure something is out there like it (waiting for someone to give a title...)

I assume they're in conflict in some way?

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like November 13, 2015 - 7:28pm

The shining example would, of course, be the classic Spy Vs Spy.

Flycatcher's picture
Flycatcher from Singapore is reading Vintage book of contemporary American short stories, American Psycho November 14, 2015 - 2:23am

Mr Mercedes had the antagonist as a POV character. I don't have that many books with only A vs B  that come to mind, but I think it can work because I've seen examples in television and movies, Justified comes to mind, with the last season pitting Raylan against Boyd Crowder. While Boyd 'functioned' as an antagonist, since he was a criminal and Raylan is the main character, I feel that he transcended beyond a simple villain, since we get to see so much of his life, the things that he loves, and what he has at stake. 

As Long as the reader cares for both characters and knows what's at stake, I think it will work fine.

L.W. Flouisa's picture
L.W. Flouisa from Tennessee is reading More Murakami November 14, 2015 - 12:38pm

Well in my experience I find true antagonists and true protagonists simplistic. Often I might have a hero antagonist or villain protagonist who are both as much a danger to themselves. And that much is about conquering themselves.

In fact the entirety of Uploaded Fairy is about instead of a superficial dystopia, how dystopia exists in large part to how we haven't conqered the aspects of ourselves that contribute to allowing for the existance of a dystopia.

KJ Daniels's picture
KJ Daniels from Colorado is reading Running With Scissors November 14, 2015 - 2:52pm

I'm working on a manuscript like this, actually.

It's an interesting concept. One book that comes to mind is Fight Club. Although it's not switching point of view, the duality of Jack and Tyler fuels the plot. Tyler is a total badass, and Jack lives in his shadow. Tyler makes soap out of human fat and Jack pretends to have testicle cancer to gain sympathy. It creates a tension,  that makes the readers question their own grip on reality. At Fight Club, everyone unites in a visceral blood and guts way to reshape their own idenity.

 

What genre of book are you trying to write? 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated November 15, 2015 - 10:14am

I have no idea. I am leaning to a thriller, semi-realistic. Spy vs. Spy or such? Things come to me in pieces, and this feels very action based, maybe a novella. What I have right now is this 

Interludes - From the point of view of others

Odd chapters from the point of view of Character A

Even chapters from the point of view of Character B.

Lots of action.

Third person limited.

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 15, 2015 - 4:51pm

I say run with it, I like the concept.

I wonder: are you thinking tit-for-tat escalation, move counter-move, maybe they don't know who the other person (their enemy) is, all of the above, none of the above?

T. Dagarim's picture
T. Dagarim from Atlanta, GA November 16, 2015 - 8:02am

I don't know of anything off-hand that split time equally for the protagonist and antagonist, but detective/criminal stories have done something similar. Stories such as the Zodiac, and Public Enemy split almost equal amounts of time between law and criminal. No Country for Old Men comes to mind as well. I'm not sure if this is what you're going for.

The interesting thing about these stories to me is seeing the background of each character, and how each has their own set of principles by which they operate.

Are you specifically referring to the POV switching between them?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal November 16, 2015 - 9:15am

Oh! The movie version of The Jackal did that. I don't remember enough to count screen time, but it seemed pretty even.

I think the book spent more time on The Jackal than the guys chasing him though.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 2, 2015 - 7:01am

Well, you can't not have an antagonist. What you're describing is having two main characters, one of whom is an antihero, or having all complex, round characters.

Protagonist and antagonist are simply the elements of conflict. If there's no conflict, there's no story. Even in stories where there are no characters who fill the roles of "antagonist" or "protagonist", the antagonist and protagonist simply become something abstract and conceptual. If it's a story, then there is always a conflict happening somewhere in it.

A lot of HBO shows split time equally between the characters, hero or villain. Game of Thrones is a good example. Breaking Bad arguably does this if you consider Walter and Jesse to be antagonistic to each other, which they at least are towards the end of the series.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money December 4, 2015 - 2:10pm

Well, you can't not have an antagonist.

[...]

Protagonist and antagonist are simply the elements of conflict. If there's no conflict, there's no story. Even in stories where there are no characters who fill the roles of "antagonist" or "protagonist", the antagonist and protagonist simply become something abstract and conceptual. If it's a story, then there is always a conflict happening somewhere in it.

I don't think I agree with all of this. Yes, conflict is an important component of story, and certainly the most important component of plot... but even if we discount anti-plot narratives as stories (which I do not) all this does is conflate "conflict" with "confrontation". Not all conflicts involve an antagonist working against the protagonist.

For example; a protagonist has to choose between two mutually exclusive options (two job offers in two different cities), or a protagonist's goal is unachievable or nonexistent (wants the love and/or recognition of a deceased parent), or when the achievement of the goal itself is a problem or source of conflict (certain mid-life crisis scenarios would fit here.) These are all conflicts, and while we certainly could create antagonists to drive the plot in various directions in each of these conflicts (a clingy ex-lover that connives to keep our protagonist from moving to another city, a co-dependent sibling that doesn't want our protagonist to come to a resolution with their parent's death, or an enabling friend that tries to sabotage our protagonist's efforts to mature... respectively) these antagonists are not inherent to the conflicts.

But for me the weirdest leap is to say, not only do all conflicts necessarily have both roles of protagonist and antagonist, but if either role is not actually in the narrative, it just arises out of the conflict as an abstract concept. What would that even look like? Maybe you can clarify that for me, but all I can think of is something along the lines of "A strong love is worth sacrifice in the face of adversity and familial struggles" or "Justice prevails when righteousness resorts to violence." But those aren't stories, those are themes. Themes of stories with concrete protagonists and antagonists... like West Side Story and Dirty Harry. We don't have stories that go, "Once upon a time, there was innocence . And it was lost in a world where the corrupt make the rules. The end." That story goes, "Once upon a time..." Chinatown. Can you give me an example of story where one or both the role of protagonist and antagonist was occupied by an abstract concept instead of a character? Because that may help. Or actually, I'm most interested in an example of a story where the role of protagonist is played by an abstract concept instead of a character. Because while I may be arguing for the possibility that a story doesn't have an antagonist (or at least that abstract concepts don't count as antagonists), I don't think a story can not have a protagonist.

 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 4, 2015 - 10:52pm

We don't have stories that go, "Once upon a time, there was innocence . And it was lost in a world where the corrupt make the rules. The end."

You write those as a collection of flash fiction and I'll buy it. No joke.

And I know we wonder far and wide here, and that is cool, but I'm just talking about a story with no good guy, no MC. Two characters who get equal time and hate/oppose each other.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money December 5, 2015 - 11:47am

...but I'm just talking about a story with no good guy, no MC.Two characters who get equal time and hate/oppose each other.

Well, sure. And that's fine, but that is not a protagonist/antagonist distinction. That simply conflates "protagonist" with "good guy". Which is understandable, because we do it all the time... and they do often align, but not necessarily so. And as bethwenn points out, protagonist and antagonist are formal distinctions that are determined by the role they play in the narrative and conflict... are they acting towards a goal, are they acting towards a goal counter to the protagonist. (yes, you can have protagonists without antagonists, but you cannot have antagonists without a protagonist.) Good guy and bad guy are contextual distinctions that are determined by the response to that character, do we want them to succeed, or do we want them to fail. Hero, anti-hero, and villain fit in here as well, as technical distinctions within the good guy/bad guy dichotomy, but it's not necessary to really explicate them beyond clarifying that anti-heroes are still heroes. We want heroes to succeed (whether or not we like them, we like their goal) and we want villains to fail (again, whether or not we like them, we don't like their goal.)

These are simple (perhaps even reductionist) distinctions, but the confusing part comes in putting them together and the equivocation we often make between them all... not to mention the etymological difficulties we've caused ourselves by stealing the word "protagonist" and pairing it with "antagonist" while ignoring the dueteragonist and tritagonist labels that protagonist actually came about with... but that is wandering far afield. So the important thing to remember about protagonists and antagonists is that they are both agonists, they act. They have a conflict/desire/goal and are doing something, acting towards that goal. If they are not active in the conflict (and here I would include proactivity and reactivity both as active, though we usually prefer proactivity in our fiction) then they cannot be protagonists or antagonists.

So when you say you want to write a story that has no protagonist or antagonist, you are either conflating the terms with good guy and bad guy, or you are writing a story where nothing happens. No one has any goals, or at least isn't doing anything about it. But you say that they are opposed to each other, which at least implies that they act against each other, so I think you're really asking about a story where there is no good guy or bad guy, just a couple guys. Which is fine, I don't really understand where the confusion about that is. Though, not to imply that it would be easy to have such a story be compelling, and several good examples have been given that can guide you in that regard, but there is no reason that you couldn't write the story.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 5, 2015 - 12:44pm

How about swapping the word "antagonist" with "antagonism"? 

Is that more accurate?

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 5, 2015 - 5:13pm

I don't think I agree with all of this. Yes, conflict is an important component of story, and certainly the most important component of plot... but even if we discount anti-plot narratives as stories (which I do not) all this does is conflate "conflict" with "confrontation". Not all conflicts involve an antagonist working against the protagonist.

You're not understanding what I wrote. I think we would be in agreement if it weren't for the confusion of words. Antagonist and protagonist are not characters even when they are characters. The conflict is what makes a story. I don't mean this in a snooty or crappy or condescending way, but this is not my opinion; this is what any English professor will tell you. Try to give me a story that doesn't have a conflict. There aren't any. A story without conflict is just an account of events. Conflict is inherent and essential to the structure of a story.

these antagonists are not inherent to the conflicts.

If the antagonist is not inherent to the conflict, then it is not the antagonist. Very, very rarely is a character the actual antagonist in a story, unless that story is a propaganda piece. A character will represent, symbolize, or embody an antagonistic force. You shouldn't mistake the dispute between symbolic characters for the conflict that the symbols represent. Even in Harry Potter, Voldemort is a representation for an abstract, antagonistic force--most likely, selfishness, lack of empathy, death, all those weaknesses of the spirit that lead to things like violent racist extremism.

For example; a protagonist has to choose between two mutually exclusive options (two job offers in two different cities), or a protagonist's goal is unachievable or nonexistent (wants the love and/or recognition of a deceased parent), or when the achievement of the goal itself is a problem or source of conflict (certain mid-life crisis scenarios would fit here.) These are all conflicts, and while we certainly could create antagonists to drive the plot in various directions in each of these conflicts (a clingy ex-lover that connives to keep our protagonist from moving to another city, a co-dependent sibling that doesn't want our protagonist to come to a resolution with their parent's death, or an enabling friend that tries to sabotage our protagonist's efforts to mature... respectively) these antagonists are not inherent to the conflicts.

You have an incredibly literal take on things, which is where I thinkk we're not understanding each other. These conflicts, the way you're analyzing them, are not conflicts but details of a plot, and they are surface and shallow and must be filled in further. A protagonist needing to choose between two mutually exclusive options is not the conflict. This is the rising action, or the complications, not the central conflict. What in them makes the options appealing? What desire or part of human nature is the story championing or criticizing by having the protagonist face these challenges?

With a goal that's unachievable or nonexistant, such as the love of a deceased parent, again, it comes down to what part of the human spirit makes a person desire something like that, whether or not the story depcits that as a futile effort, and whether or not the character is able to overcome that futility. Same thing for the mid-life crisis scenario.

But for me the weirdest leap is to say, not only do all conflicts necessarily have both roles of protagonist and antagonist, but if either role is not actually in the narrative, it just arises out of the conflict as an abstract concept. What would that even look like? Maybe you can clarify that for me, but all I can think of is something along the lines of "A strong love is worth sacrifice in the face of adversity and familial struggles" or "Justice prevails when righteousness resorts to violence." But those aren't stories, those are themes. Themes of stories with concrete protagonists and antagonists... like West Side Story and Dirty Harry. We don't have stories that go, "Once upon a time, there was innocence . And it was lost in a world where the corrupt make the rules. The end." That story goes, "Once upon a time..." Chinatown. Can you give me an example of story where one or both the role of protagonist and antagonist was occupied by an abstract concept instead of a character? Because that may help. Or actually, I'm most interested in an example of a story where the role of protagonist is played by an abstract concept instead of a character. Because while I may be arguing for the possibility that a story doesn't have an antagonist (or at least that abstract concepts don't count as antagonists), I don't think a story can not have a protagonist.

Again, you are assuming that protagonist means narrator or main character. Here's a Freytag's Pyramid breakdown of Philip Larkin' poem "Church Going", which has only one character, the speaker, walking through an empty church. (Here's the full poem: http://www.artofeurope.com/larkin/lar5.htm) This is old homework for Postmodern Lit. :p But it's the easiest thing I could think of to illustrate my point. You can do this chart for literally every and any story, no matter what. You can find an antagonist, protagonist, and a goal (obviously, if the story structure isn't tragic, you will have a resolution instead of a catastrophe at the end). The conflict is the disconnect between the antagonist and protagonist. This is what all was taught to me by possibly the smartest person I've ever met, who luckily enough is one of my professors and my advisor in the English dept.

Protagonist: The mind's potential for rationality, reason, and the desire for truth.

Goal: To escape the constructs of the mind that find individual comfort in the illusions and lies of society.

Antagonist: The mind's compulsions and “[hunger to] be more serious,” or to want to believe romantic lies. (60)

Exposition: The church the narrator has gone into is empty. He's a skeptic who's curious as to what its appeal is.

Inciting Moment: There's “a tense, musty, unignorable silence, / Brewed God knows how long”, suggesting that the church isn't frequented and is probably losing its importance in society. (7-8)

Rising Action: The roof is new. It's either been “cleaned, or restored,” implying that it's not abandoned. (12)

Climax: He dismisses his endeavor, concluding that “the place was not worth stopping for” and he's wasted his time looking into the matter. (18)

Insight: He reflects on why it is he often stops by to begin with. After considering who still frequents churches, he considers the possibility that their last visitors will be skeptics like himself.

Reversal: He is what keeps the church lingering in society. The curious, inquisitive nature that desires to uncover some grand truth by unveiling a lie is also the nature that desires to believe in that same lie.

Catastrophe: The church, religion, and superstition “never can be obsolete.” (58)

I can prove this point. Throw any story at me at all and I can come up with all the elements to fill this chart in (although the "insight" section is not characteristic to every plot, and as I said, catastrophe is speicifc to tragedies).

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 5, 2015 - 5:30pm

I don't know. I've always hated the pyramid thing. Shoehorning that poem into the pyramid scheme seems a stretch. Not a stretch in that one can see it that way; more a stretch to act like that's just how it is. That's not how I see, that's not how I write.

-----

selfishness, lack of empathy, death, all those weaknesses of the spirit

That wouldn't really be "an" (i.e., one singular) abstract, antagonistic force unless it's all embodied together.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 5, 2015 - 5:34pm

[comment before my last ^ changed a lot]

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 6, 2015 - 8:07pm

I think you're missing the finer point which is that any narrative structure is defined by conflict. Good stories have multiple layers to them and multiple conflicts. The pyramid is a stretch in that it can be done in any number of ways to support different interpretations of a work. It's only one way of mapping narrative structure. Any way you cut it, it's going to be defined by conflict. Not really sure why that would be surprising or a point of contention. This is true of any tool for mapping narrative. The main questions are always, who/what is the protagonist, who/what is the antagonist, and what's the conflict? The conflict may also be defined by the protagonist's "goal", which then informs the antagonist's role, which is as the source of conflict in the protagonist achieving that goal. I mean, can you think of any story that doesn't have a central conflict?

I edited the wording of my previous post because it sounded bitchy and I didn't mean for it to. :p

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 7, 2015 - 1:06pm

[I didn't think you were being bitchy, for what it's worth.]

... any narrative structure is defined by conflict.

Good stories have multiple layers to them and multiple conflicts.

... can you think of any story that doesn't have a central conflict?

There's an element of auto-ontology here in that if I showed you (what I considered to be) a "story" which didn't involve conflict, you could just say it's not a story; or I could posit some narrative which doesn't involve a conflict, then you argue that, in a way, it does involve a conflict, at least in the abstract, and therefore the pyramid model would supposedly remain effective.

On top of which, [nitpick] what you're calling the "finer point" is, I think, the broader point. In pointing out that bit about abstract antagonism, I was cherry-picking a (perhaps non-essential) particular after having already announced my dismissal of the general.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 7, 2015 - 2:44pm

I would disagree. I can see how you feel this argument may lack falsifiability, but I don't think that's the case. On the contrary, if the element of conflict truly isn't there, then we wouldn't be able to find it. This isn't a matter of an argument that adopts all things which could be used as evidence against it into evidence for it. Rather, it's an argument from definition where conflict is a necessary part of narrative, just as heat is a necessary part of fire. To say that all instances of fire must involve heat, and to discount the possibility of fire that has no heat and ask for instances of fire without heat, suggesting there are none, is not to make an unfalsifiable argument. Even though heat is only an experience of our senses, it is still real in some way. We can experience it if it's there.

My point hinges on the question, what is narrative? As I've been taught, narrative is something that all writing uses. All writing is a form of storytelling. Narrative involves the following elements: Coherence, cohesion, pentad, and plotline.

With coherence, the rule is: no fight, no story. A central conflict is needed. A good story is reducible to an overarching conflict with 2 entities. You can have more than 2. Cohesion involves having a series of interlinked and dependent events, where one thing leads to another. The pentad consists of the building blocks of a representation. Its five parts are actor, action, scene, means, and goal. The plotline is what assembles everything together.

A “story” that doesn't have conflict would be a present tense sentence or a very simple description. (e.g., The cat is sleeping. The cat is brown.) It would merely be cataloging information or events with no narrative purpose other than the literal conveyance of information.

I'd say that you can't have a story without conflict in exactly the same way that you can't have a story without cohesion or without a plotline. To simply not have a character who embodies the antagonism isn't the same as not having a central conflict. But, I mean, if you can think of a story that definitely has no conflict, no diametrically opposed elements that assemble its narrative or give it purpose, and it's not meant to be read in any way that suggests any such conflict, then I'd like to hear it. That'd be interesting. I really can't think of any because it defies the very structure and function of a narrative. I also suspect that it probably wouldn't be fiction or poetry or a story as such, but I could be wrong.

"Finer point" means the more complex and detailed aspects of something, so...? Discussing examples is not finer. Discussing the point itself, which comes down to the definition of narrative and the guiding logic behind my examples, is "finer". Not sure why it matters either way since you clearly knew what I meant?

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 7, 2015 - 5:05pm

I guess I'm taking issue with the attempt to render such a common, generic word as "story" into a technical term. If you want to say "for the purposes of literary criticism, 'story' means [x and only x]", then you can; people can also disagree.

You say "narrative is something that all writing uses" and that "all writing is a form of storytelling". If what you've said here is correct, then it would be impossible to write something which did not tell a story and which did not utilize narrative.

Then, you posit the example of a "literal conveyance of information" as being a story without conflict. Would it still be a story by the definition in play?

Then your next-to-last paragraph becomes somewhat scattered and incoherent. (No offense.)

What does "purpose" have to do with anything? If the "purpose" is to craft a story involving conflict, then one obviously needs to include conflict in order to achieve that purpose. Is there a difference between "fiction" and "storytelling"? Is all writing "fiction"? Is all thought "fiction"? Where is this going? (Given its status as a piece of writing, is this comment a story? If not, does it nevertheless "tell" "a" "story"?)

-----

I said what I thought you thought I was "missing" was not finer. I thought of my own nitpick as being tangential and non-essential. If that topic is in fact essential to the pyramid thing, then it would indeed be a finer point than something as general as the basic definition of the basic thing the pyramid is designed to describe.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 7, 2015 - 7:27pm

These are the first results on Google for definitions. I don't think I've said anything unprecedented or unusual.

 

nar·ra·tive
ˈnerədiv/
noun
noun: narrative; plural noun: narratives

    1.
    a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.

sto·ry1
ˈstôrē/
noun
noun: story; plural noun: stories

    1.
    an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, sound and/or images, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values.

I'm a Philosophy major so I love arguing and questioning things we take for granted, but it's not really a discussion if the other person isn't trying to understand what you're saying. I feel like I'm just repeating myself multiple times in different words now and you're continuing to not try to hear me out and to imply that everything I'm saying, no matter how basic the definitions are, is either merely my personal opinion or some sort of alien literary analysis jargon. Sorry, you seem well-intentioned but I think I'm done talking about this. :/ It's stopped being enjoyable.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 7, 2015 - 7:50pm

Okay, then I guess I won't expect a response. But I don't think I've been any less willing to engage with what you've said than you were with my statements. I don't think I've been unfair in my responses.

Do you accept those google-provided definitions as being compatible with everything else you wrote? Do you believe everything else you wrote is sound and consistent?

Regardless of your true level of interest, as a philosophy major, hopefully you'll at least understand this wasn't personal, and hopefully you weren't just fishing for stuff to use in your next assignment.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money December 7, 2015 - 8:25pm

Now see, I had a nice long point-by-point response I was working on, being very charitable to your argument. And then my computer decided to reboot itself and I lost it all. But now you're pulling out dictionary definitions, and as a philosophy major you should know better, so I am suddenly feeling less charitable to your claims.

Antagonist and protagonist are not characters even when they are characters.

[...]

Again, you are assuming that protagonist means narrator or main character.

[...]

These are the first results on Google for definitions. I don't think I've said anything unprecedented or unusual.

     pro·tag·o·nist
     prōˈtaɡənəst,prəˈtaɡənəst/
     noun
     noun: protagonist; plural noun: protagonists

         the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text.

     an·tag·o·nist
     anˈtaɡənəst/
     noun
     noun: antagonist; plural noun: antagonists

         a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary.

I think considering you have repeatedly contradicted yourself and have several times tried to pass off your own variant versions of words and concepts without elaborating how you are using them and how they are different from general usage, all the while claiming that:

but this is not my opinion; this is what any English professor will tell you.

and ignoring the possibility than some of us have spoken to English professors before, and may  even *gasp* be English professors, we have been very accommodating and tried very hard to understand you when you are literally speaking a different language from us.

And to now characterize this confusion, that you have caused with your own conflation and redefining of commonly used terms, as:

 it's not really a discussion if the other person isn't trying to understand what you're saying.

is intellectually suspect if not actually disingenuous.

 

...

And now that I have that out of my system, I think that your project of recharacterizing protagonist and antagonist to include the abstract forces and concepts that the characters symbolize is an interesting one. And if you'd liked to take a moment to define how you are using those words, such that they aren't backtracking centuries and millennia of accepted usage, I would be quite amenable to learning how your system works because I see some potentially interesting things coming out of it.

I am less impressed with your attempt to apply a 19th century scheme to describe Greek and Elizabethan tragedies in a five-act structure to:

literally every and any story, no matter what.

but mostly because deep down I am a postmodernist, and I default to skepticism in the face of grand narratives. But if that is part of your system, then I am very glad to learn how it works before I pass any further judgements on it.

Now my agreement to continue to have this conversation with you is contingent on your ability to overcome your ego enough to realize that all you are presenting here are your ideas, and if your interlocutors are not understanding what you are saying, it is because you haven't explained yourself well enough... yet. I at least am willing to allow you more time and different opportunites to explain your position better, and to ask you questions that can help guide your explanations, so you can help me to understand.

Because one thing you have to know, especially as a philosophy major, is that if your ideas simply are the correct ones, and anyone who doesn't agree with you simply has misunderstood you, then you are spouting ideaology. You are creating propoganda. Conversation is not an opportunity to prove to other people that you are correct, it is an opportunity to refine ideas and build something together.

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money December 8, 2015 - 10:32am

@ bethwenn

I would like to apologize for losing my temper and posting my rather snippy (indeed, it wouldn't be a mischaracterization to say bitchy) response. It was uncalled for, and I have no right to take out my frustrations with the rebellious innanimate objects in home on you in this forum. It was also unfair of me to characterize your responses as disengenuous. I don't think you were trying to mislead or decieve us. It was a misunderstanding simply, and just as it is not our fault that we do not understand your points, it is not your fault either. I regret that we will not have an opportunity to actually get into this discussion any further and find the root of this misunderstanding, because I do see a lot of potential in the ideas you have so far shared.

@ jyh

I'm toying with the idea of starting a new thread in which to beat a dead horse that exists for its own sake and no other purpose. But so, I feel I owe you an apology as well for having awkwardly ducked out of the original discussion so long ago. If you are amenable to continuing that discussion, I would like to keep direct references to that other thread to a minimum, as the general tone and environment there was the reason I did not continue in the first place, as well as I'm sure you yourself have further developed your original ideas in the meantime, and I'd hate to have you feel tied to claims you made years ago, or have to return there to remember what those claims were if you are not so inclined. I know both of those statements are true of me.

So I would like a somewhat fresh start on that, being reinvigorated by the critical theory flying around in this thread, and as it seems unlikely that bethwenn will continue this discussion (not that she is under any obligation to do so), and as there are so many fresh new faces here in the forums these days that I'm sure would like to weigh in on the discussion as well. What do you think?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 8, 2015 - 11:54am

I think that as writers we should be able to use more brevity when making our points. 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 8, 2015 - 1:17pm

@XyZy --- I think I may know what thread you're alluding to. In any case, I'm amenable to having my own statements presented to me. I have surely changed my mind about some things over the years, but I'm not afraid to confront old comments or to be asked if I meant or still believe something I said long ago. (If you are alluding to the "..." thread, I don't think the distinction I proposed there is analogous to the business above concerning story/non-story. Even though in this latest case I was the one resisting the definitions, there are reasons why this might not necessarily be inconsistent.)

Whatever the case, whether or not I'd be interested in a new discussion thread would depend. I'm not automatically against it.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 8, 2015 - 2:18pm

I don't really have anything that I want to say to your second to last post. I feel somewhat personally attacked, but yes, I'm open to discussing more and going back to clarify whatever seems like inconsistency in my previous posts, granted that the discussion is because we're all interested in the subjects, interested in each other's opinions, want to hear what the other person has to say, and not because we want to make a public demonstration of accusing the other person of being incompetent, which is kind of what this started to feel like to me.

I meant nothing condescending to anyone and tried to engage with the opposing point of view, but got no responses to my attempts to do so. Anytime that I said I thought something was a commonly accepted definition, I really meant that literally; I wasn't trying to be snarky. If I was condescending, which I imagine I must've been to inspire the hostility I got in response, it was unintentional.

You gave some examples in that first post about stories you thought would be examples of not having a conflict, and then after that there weren't really any posts trying to have a back and forth of ideas with me. I tried to clarify and further explain myself when I felt like what I was writing was not put across clearly before or was perhaps being misunderstood. I think every time that I said we should bring in examples that would contradict what I'm saying, and that I wanted to hear about opposing examples, it was ignored, and then the responding posts didn't really reply to what I wrote but rather picked out instances of disagreeing with how I used particular words (down to figures of speech that are unimportant to the points I was making) and then rehashed saying that I was simply wrong, and I don't know how to use the English language, end of discussion.

As I said, I went back and edited posts to make sure they didn't sound snotty or bitchy. I'm in the middle of final exams, which might be why my posts are unbeknownst to me sounding not bitchy, but incoherent, scattered, and idiotic, it seems.

I don't really like arguing angrily on Internet forums, which is why I opted to back out of the discussion. It kinda makes me feel sad and embarrassed and like I should just stfu and go away. 'STFU and go away, you're wrong,' is/was kind of the general feeling I got/am getting. This is a very aggressive discussion... If you were to tell me that I'm misunderstanding your point, my response would not be to tell you that you're trying to say whoever disagrees with you doesn't understand you. It would be to ask, 'Oh, well what did you mean? You're not really being clear; where am I misunderstanding you? XYZ is what I understood that you were saying. Is that not correct?'

XyZy's picture
XyZy from New York City is reading Seveneves and Animal Money December 11, 2015 - 4:10pm

@ Thuggish

I think that as writers we should be able to use more brevity when making our points.

FTFY

 

@ jyh

Whatever the case, whether or not I'd be interested in a new discussion thread would depend. I'm not automatically against it.

Of course. I'll begin composing my dilatory response.

 

@ bethwenn

I don't really have anything that I want to say to your second to last post.

Perfectly understandable, and again I apologize. Hopefully moving forward we can find a more comfortable tone for this discussion.

And even more importantly, if you are in the middle of finals, then please don't feel like you have to spend time and energy arguing with us. We'll still be here after finals. Study, write your papers, do your work. That is way more important the opinions of random people on the internet.

But when you have the time, and would like to return, then yes, let us examine some of these things that I would characterize as inconsistent in your claims so far:

Antagonist and protagonist are not characters even when they are characters.

First of all, this strikes me as an internal contradiction. Protagonists being and not being characters seems to break the law of excluded middle. Now I am sure you are using a context wherein it does make sense, so please share that with us.

Anytime that I said I thought something was a commonly accepted definition, I really meant that literally

Now I feel that this is somewhat secondary, but related to my previous question. Because it seems to me that the commonly accepted definition of "protagonist" simply is "the main character" as it has been used for most of this thread (your own (and for that matter, my own) usage excluded), as having grown out of the etymology from the ancient greek, and as defined by every reference I can find, including Google, Merriam-Webster, Oxford... but that is tangential because I'm not even particularly interested in what the commonly accepted definition is, or which of our usages is closest to it. What I am interested in is your usage, such that protagonists and antagonists are not characters. How does that work? And please, don't construe that question as some rhetorical turn of phrase to imply that you are incompetent or misusing english. I mean it literally, how does that work? How do we talk about protagonist and antagonist without referring to the characters, and what exactly is the relationship between the protagonist and the main character, and between the antagonist and the... anti-main character? (Sorry, I'm not being snarky, I simply don't have another word to refer to it, which is part of what I find so interesting about your project.) How do we tell which abstract qualities apply to which label? What interpretive space does that model open up for us? What interpretive space is closed to us? What implications arise in comparing stories that use the same abstract concepts with different characters, and vice versa? What benefits do we derive from using the labels "protagonist" and "antagonist" instead of using different labels, and what do we lose?

Now as nerves have already become so frayed, I would like to start with this point before moving on to other things that have come up in this discussion, if possible. But I certainly wouldn't try to constrain your response if it is more holistic and intertwined, as it at time seems from your previous posts.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 12, 2015 - 11:38am

So I vote we get back to the OP.

 

I think the spy vs. spy type of idea doesn't really eliminate the protag/antag thing, it simply alternates them. Which is cool.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 12, 2015 - 2:12pm

^ No surprise, since you're, like, contractually obligated to disagree with everything I say. (haha)

My suggestion of Spy Vs Spy referred directly to the comic strip by that name, not an archetypal "spy against spy" plot structure (although one could argue the comic is in fact an elemental example of such a story-type).

In each individual comic, you could say one Spy begins with a plan and the other thwarts him or is himself thwarted (not counting the Grey Spy editions wherein she routinely defeats both White and Black). And you could say whichever Spy is given the first frame or first proactive movement is the protagonist of that particular episode, making the other the antagonist by default. In a way, I think it's not wrong to say very generally that their roles may alternate from episode to episode.

But it's not always so simple. If, for example, in the first frame White is walking down the street and Black is watching him, which is the protagonist? White wishes to go where he's going, or wishes to draw Black into a trap by pretending to be going for an innocent walk. Black wishes to defeat White, no matter what White is doing. They both have proactive agendas from the get-go, and the strip will inevitably result in someone's defeat.

In this case, maybe there is no protagonist or antagonist. Or maybe they are both both. Or maybe they are both only antagonists, since there is no real plot besides the conflict itself. Any activity other than spying/anti-spying is either abandoned in favor of it, or turns out to be a ruse and part of the battle against the other Spy.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 12, 2015 - 4:55pm

Perfectly understandable, and again I apologize. Hopefully moving forward we can find a more comfortable tone for this discussion.

It's OK, not a big deal. Everybody gets frustrated and aggravated with people on the Internet once in a while.

 


And even more importantly, if you are in the middle of finals, then please don't feel like you have to spend time and energy arguing with us. We'll still be here after finals. Study, write your papers, do your work. That is way more important the opinions of random people on the internet.

I tend to write for myself or to respond to emails, post on discussions, etc., when I'm trying to unwind from the more obligatory writing. It's not a huge drain of energy for me or anything. But I'm probably much less articulate from the general exhaustion and lethargy of work and college.

 

First of all, this strikes me as an internal contradiction. Protagonists being and not being characters seems to break the law of excluded middle. Now I am sure you are using a context wherein it does make sense, so please share that with us.

Yes, it was a really confusing way to word what I wanted to say. I can see that now. I also tend to speak figuratively/metaphorically without really thinking about it. What I was trying to say is that: There will always be some character or thing that ostensibly fits the role of protagonist. But there will also always be an over-arching conflict that the ostensible parts of the story represent. (That's what I've been taught and that's my belief.) That conflict tends to be of much more significance and importance in driving the logic of the story than stuff like how the characters feel about each other or their situation. I think that Thuggish made a great point a while back that I didn't see before:

How about swapping the word "antagonist" with "antagonism"? Is that more accurate?

What's at work behind the protagonist and the antagonist in the story is a, let's say, protagonism and antagonism. I want to say that this is always the case, and I really believe that it is always the case, but you guys are free to disagree with me, although I can't think of a story where there isn't something else abstract that's being conveyed through the ostensible parts of a story. Stories always take on other meanings whether we want them to or not. Even if it's Tom and Jerry. It's a matter of symbolism.

In other words, you can always construct 2 or more maps for a story. Almost always more. (Of course I mean 'map' figuratively.) One where you have the literal, physical, ostenisble pieces of the story: Protagonist, antagonist, and goal. And then another one that generates meaning from those pieces. You can probably come up with an infinite number of maps of the 2nd kind. Look at Heart of Darkness. Kurtz is not a typical antagonist. You would also be missing something huge if you assumed that the story's conflict was just about Marlow vs. Kurtz. If stories were only about their literal pieces, I don't think they would be as important to our lives as they are. I don't think we'd really care.

If there is no ostensible antagonist character, I don't think you can help the fact that you end up with an abstract antagonism/antagonistic force. It's the guiding force of the story. If you can think of any examples of a story that has no antagonist character and definitely has no conflict or antagonism/antagonistic force that poses problems for the protagonist, then I'd be interested to know. I just can't think of a story where there isn't some force that the protagonist is wrestling with, even if it's hard for us to figure out exactly what to call that thing.

(I agree with this and am including it because I think it's relevant and complementary to my point, but I'm not saying it's universally true:) David Lynch likes to explain stories in terms of abstractions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkIQy0iblQE I think he gives a great explanation there of abstract conflcit and meaning. His films/stories are defined by conflict, but it's incredibly difficult to communicate in words exactly what that conflict is. Some people hate it and think it's the dumbest, most confusing, weird nonsense, and some people like myself are moved to tears and feel like they're being punched in the heart by it. (The conflict and the meaning feels overwhelmingly potent and present. It's there. But how the fuck do you explain it in plain words!)

The nature of stories as conduits/vessels that can carry symbolic meaning to the reader make this stuff so. I don't think it's possible to escape having an antagonist/antagonism for this reason, and also for the reason that it's simply the way that storytelling works. If you're telling a story that has a point to it, there will be some sort of conflict that defines the story.

If you are intending to write a story that has a deeper meaning, I think it's also an invaluable tool to recognize the symbolic nature of these basic physical pieces of your story, and to figure out what you want them to mean and what you're trying to say (if you are trying to say something). If you know what it means for you, and then it'll be much more effective when you try to communicate it to a reader.

I hope that's more clear. If not, just let me know what's not making sense.


P.S.: This is just a tool/technique for analyzing meaning, but another way to approach looking at stories is to look at them in terms of needs. The protagonist will inevitably have some sort of need(s) that isn't being fulfilled. If you can figure out what those needs are, you can figure out what the obstacles are that are preventing those needs from being met, and then you can ask yourself, why? What is done about it? What else could be done? That often makes way easier to identify the over-arching conflict in the story.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 12, 2015 - 8:30pm

Well that's what's fun. When in white's POV, white is protag, black is antag. When in black's POV, black is protag, white is antag.

It alternates. Spy vs. spy was the perfect example of what I'm saying.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 12, 2015 - 8:33pm

@XyZy -

I think that as wWriters we should be able to use more brevity when making our points.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 12, 2015 - 11:20pm

Alright, top this.

I think that as wWriters, we should be able to use more brevity when making our points.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 12, 2015 - 11:20pm

Wait, I'll top it myself.

I think that as wWriters we should be able to uUse more brevity when making our points.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 13, 2015 - 8:25am

@Thggsh --- Like I said, there are different ways one could see it, alternation of roles being but one, and the objective materials of the strip don't provide clear guidance to one hoping to know for certain which is the protag. If the roles seem to alternate, this might be only in the mind of the reader whose own sense of focus is what alternates.

This would differ from a dual POV novel whose author intentionally provides exposition on the motivations of both MCs, building two tangible protagonistic courses which might relate to or conflict with the other, which might be readable independent of the other. In Spy Vs Spy, one could say the other is the plot, the antagonism is the protagonism. It's sort of paradoxical in its wordless simplicity.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 13, 2015 - 9:01am

Well... I'd say no. It should be the author that makes protag/antag relationships alter, as opposed to the reader's thoughts. 

I think your second paragraph basically said what I said last post.

 

 

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 13, 2015 - 10:30am

I think the lack of a clear hero or villain in the cartoon can be explained by looking at it as a satire or mockery of being constantly at war with someone else for no real reason other than nationalist associations. Most cartoons lean heavily towards satire. I think it was meant to be a metaphor for the cold war. In which case, the antagonism is the kind of mentality of nationalist identity and us-versus-them that keeps the characters in this endless, futile pursuit of each other. That's just how I'd interpret it, anyways.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 13, 2015 - 10:37am

^ Which is exactly how you'd want to do protag-antag alternating! GoT captured this spirit too, didn't it?

That, or I'm thinking maybe criminals. Feuding mob families type of thing could work.

bethwenn's picture
bethwenn from Milwaukee is reading The Tin Drum by Günter Grass December 13, 2015 - 11:08am

I think so. The Sopranos was a lot like that too.

Although, I feel like Game of Thrones is a bit different because it's dealing with the subject of political revolution, political power, and what makes a good leader versus what kind of people actually can take and keep political power. The way I see it, it leans more towards being a tragedy than a satire, although I'm sure there are elements of both. The difference would be that there are multiple "heroes" and multiple "villains", instead of just everybody being satirized like in Spy Vs. Spy. GRRM gives the audience several options of who to root for and doesn't necessarily paint them as flawed, but shows us why they wouldn't and couldn't succeed as leaders. E.g., Ned Stark is a virtuous man and would've been the absolute best person and most just person to lead, but the very qualities that made him great for the position also made it such that he doesn't and can't survive in a position of power. I think that's the main antagonism/protagonism conflict: the qualities that make a good leader versus the qualities that are necessary in reality to maintain leadership.

Although it could have a happy ending potentially. I think Daenerys has the best balance of both virtue and the cut-throat-ness it takes to seize and keep power, but she also needs wisdom, which is where Tyrion is coming into play. If she succeeds, the story could be a "happy" one, but I'm guessing that the mental illness in her family's past will probably at some point result in a tragic end. :( Jon Snow could be another option but then there's the way the last season ended, haha. If he's still alive, he could potentially be a good leader.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like December 13, 2015 - 11:47am

@T --- My second paragraph restated "Use brevity"? That was the last post?

Anyway, I think we're in minor agreement that alternation of pro/ant roles is possible within one story.

@BW --- I can see that RE: SvS. Both are protagonists in a role which dooms them to being antagonized, (forever at risk, never safe,) due to the forces at work around them. Lyrics to "Secret Agent Man".