So, to pick up where we left off last time, I just wanted to say that the list of antagonists I had is certainly not an extensive, all-inclusive one. I outlined some of the more common antagonists we would find in stories, and could use in our own. There are plenty of others, but I won’t be listing them today.
As promised, I will instead be looking at the different levels of antagonists.
Now, you may be wondering what I mean by the ‘different levels’. Well, we won’t always have just one antagonist in our story. In fact, it is fairly common to have several antagonists throughout the course of our story. I have narrowed these down to three levels.
The Three Levels of Antagonists
First up we have the Main Antagonist. Here we will call them the BBT. This is something I picked up from Kristen Lamb, who’s blog I follow. This means Big Boss Troublemaker. These guys will be the centre of the main conflict of your story, and the force your protagonist is fighting against. Without the BBT, we have no conflict, and so we have no story. Often they will initiate the Inciting Incident, and will definitely be the one we are fighting in the Big Boss Battle at the end.
Referring back to my previous post, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a person.
In Lord of the Rings, for example, the BBT is Sauron.
The next level are the Emissaries of the BBT. These guys are directly linked to the BBT, and are sent by the BBT to cause some serious damage to our protagonist, and generally just oppose the protagonist’s goals. In this case, they would tend to be people. I don’t know how a volcano for example would send emissaries. What would those emissaries be? But anyways…
In a series, these guys can masquerade as the BBT, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In Lord of the Rings, the trilogy as a whole, an example of the ‘emissary as the BBT’ idea is Saruman.
The final level are the Scene Antagonists. These guys may or may not be linked to the BBT. They don’t necessarily have to be. They can be any character at all. Anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’, as I like to call it, for a scene or two.
An example of this in Lord of the Rings is where Pippin and Merry would constantly do stupid things that would impede the progress of Frodo in his quest, and set him back from getting to his goal.
Therefore, the Scene Antagonists don’t necessarily have to ‘have it out’ for the protagonist. They could have their best interests at heart, and try to stop the protagonist from doing something they perceive as ‘stupid’ or ‘irrational’. Or, like Pippin and Merry, generally mean well, but mess up and halt progress all the same.
So, I’m going to look at this from a slightly different angle. I’ve been playing Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds recently and it got me thinking about a way to explain these different kinds of antagonists we find in stories.
By looking at an example of a dungeon in the game we can display the different levels of antagonists we can come across in a book (and in this case, we will be looking at a stand-alone book).
The example I am going to use is the Thieves’ Hideout. In this dungeon we must make our way through to rescue a girl who has information we need to save one of the Seven Sages (background info for those who have not played this game – the Seven Sages are used by the BBT Yuga to bring back a baddy called Ganon who he merges with so both are essentially the BBT – Yuga/Ganon I will call him).
So here we find the different levels of antagonist. This can be used to explain a stand-alone book, as well as the first in a series (we’ll come back to explaining a series more fully in a later post).
So first we have all the little monsters that will get in our way around the dungeon. Each poses a threat but are easy enough to vanquish. They could also be the obstacles around the dungeon, for example arrow traps and unexpected moving ledges. These are the first type of antagonist – simply put the people and things that will get in our hero’s way along the journey – the Scene Antagonists.
Anyone can wear the ‘antagonist hat’ – all that is required is that their interests are in direct conflict with that of the hero. Therefore even friends and allies can wear the ‘antagonist hat’ from time to time. An example of this in Zelda is the girl we are trying to rescue, as she is completely useless and can accidentally fall off places and generally just get in your way when you’re trying to save her. Pfft.
The Scene Antagonists could also be minions (not the yellow kind) of the Emissaries and the BBT.
So next there are, you guessed it, Emissaries. These are the people closer to the BBT and deployed by the Big Guy to do harm to our hero. In Zelda, in the dungeon, these are the bigger monsters who come to take away the girl we’re rescuing. They will cause more harm to our hero than the smaller antagonists, and not just anyone can be these antagonists. They have to be directly linked to the BBT.
As the antagonists get bigger, the stakes are higher (in the book and the game). In the game, if you lose to these antagonists, they will take the girl away and you have to go back to the VERY BEGINNING and find the girl and rescue her again. This represents the damage that an Emissary could do to your protagonist, perhaps even inciting the Black Moment.
Then we have the BBT. In Zelda, in the dungeon (remember we are isolating this to just the dungeon, so Yuga/Ganon is not present here), this is our Boss. This is the biggest monster you have to defeat in the dungeon. And now the stakes are at their highest. You’re so close to the end, you can see the door that leads out of here. But it’s locked shut until you win the Big Boss Battle. It’s all or nothing. If you get defeated here (and run out of fairies to revive you), you have to go ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE BEGINNING. Which is annoying and soul destroying – as it will be for your hero if they lose (they don’t always have to win, though it does make for a nicer ending if they do).
Next time I will look at how this template differs from that of a series, and why it MUST be different, even if only slightly.
I would love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment with your thoughts.
P.S. In case you were wondering, yes I did struggle with that dungeon. Yes, it was soul-destroying every time that girl got caught and I had to start to start again. And yes, the Boss was one of the most difficult ones in the game, and I hated having to start over EVERY TIME! But I did it, and I completed the game, so it’s all good.