How To Use Your Antagonist To Define Your Story Goal

How To Use Your Antagonist To Define Your Story Goal

Are you struggling with your story goal? In this post we write about how you can use your antagonist to define your story goal.

If you want to write a book, you have to keep your characters busy. You need to give them something to do. Presenting them with a tangible threat, giving them a reason to overcome it, and allowing them a way out, will give them a physical story goal.

As Chuck Palahniuk says: ‘One of the most-common mistakes that beginning writers make is leaving their characters alone. Writing, you may be alone. Reading, your audience may be alone. But your character should spend very, very little time alone. Because a solitary character starts thinking or worrying or wondering.’

One of the best ways to make them less alone is by giving them an opposition character to deal with.

We Need Antagonists

The easiest way to define your protagonist’s story goal is to determine your antagonist’s physical story goal. The two will be in conflict with each other.

It is often easier to give your antagonist a physical goal. It is easier to assign base story goals to villains than to assign them to our heroes. If you understand this, you can use it to your advantage.

Remember, to define a physical story goal a character needs to achieve one (or more) of these:
  1. To get something physical.
  2. To cause something physical.
  3. To escape something physical.
  4. To resolve something physical.
  5. To survive something physical.

The pursuit of the physical goal is the road map your character needs to follow to achieve his or her abstract story goal.

[Suggested reading The Story Goal – The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure]

How To Use Your Antagonist To Define Your Story Goal

Physical Goal

Let’s look at this example of a physical goal from Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

  1. The antagonist’s physical story goal: The constable wants to find, and kill, Danny Angel because Danny mistakenly killed his girlfriend, Injun Jane. The constable wants to cause something physical – Danny’s death.
  2. The protagonist’s physical story goal: Danny wants to physically move away from the constable and survive. He wants to live, and write books. Danny wants to escape something physical – The constable killing him.

When the constable finally tracks him down, Danny kills him. The constable therefore fails to achieve his story goal.  Danny achieves his story goal. When the antagonist does not achieve his physical goal, the story ends.

Abstract Goal

Let’s look at the abstract goal from Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

  1. The antagonist’s abstract story goal: The constable wants revenge.
  2. The protagonist’s abstract story goal: Danny Angel wants to be free to live a normal life.

When the constable fails to kill Danny, he does not get his revenge. He does not achieve his abstract story goal. When Danny survives, he is able to confess his part in the accident, and go on to live ‘a normal life’. He achieves his abstract story goal as a result of his actions.

How They Work Together

The physical goal is always the most important for the purposes of plotting and writing your book. Never forget this. It motivates your character. Without the constant tension created by this physical goal , it is difficult to sustain momentum in your story. Chasing an abstract goal is as absurd as fighting a war on ‘terror’.

If you apply this rule to your own life, you will find that you achieve your abstract goals. For example, if you want to become a success in the publishing industry (abstract goal), you will first have to write many books (physical goal).

Interested in more posts on antagonists? Try these:

  1. The Antagonist As A Literary Device
  2. Use These 7 Gaslighting Phrases To Make Your Antagonist More Manipulative
  3. Use The 7 Deadly Sins To Strengthen Your Antagonist’s Motives
  4. The Least You Should Know About Your Protagonist And Antagonist
  5. 7 Deadly Rules For Creating A Villain

Top Tip: Use our Character Creation Kit to create great characters for your stories.

Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 11th January 2017