Episode 71 - Villains vs. Antagonists
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Episode Transcript (by TK @_torkz)

[Upbeat Ukulele Intro Music]
Rekka: This is We Make Books, a podcast about writing publishing and everything in between. Rekka is a published Science Fiction and Fantasy author, and Kaelyn is a professional genre fiction editor. Together, they'll tackle the things you never knew you never knew about getting a book from concept to finished product, with explanations, examples, and a lot of laughter. Get your moleskin notebook ready. It's time for We Make Books.

We Make Books Ep. 71 Transcription

Kaelyn: Today we’re talking about villains and antagonists, and why they’re not actually the same thing, except in the cases that they are.

Rekka: Yes, exactly.

K [overlapping]: [laughing]

R: Perfect. I think that nails it. Sometimes they’re not the same thing, sometimes they are.

K: Yeah, and we’ll kinda get to this but, most villains are antagonists - most, not all. Not all antagonists are villains. And in fact you will likely, in any given story, have multiple antagonists, not all of whom are the villain. I went through and really dug up all of this stuff; shockingly, the word ‘hero’ is the one with the most definitions attached to it, and most different con -

R: We’re not talking about heroes today! We’re not!

K [overlapping]: Well we - but we have to, because we don’t get villains without heroes, and we don’t get antagonists without protagonists. Both villains and antagonists are defined and really only exist so that they can oppose or create conflict for the hero or protagonist. It kinda makes you wonder, if left to their own devices, maybe they’re just a mad scientist in a lab somewhere.

R: Maybe they’re the hero of their own story.

K: Yeah, and then suddenly someone shows up to fight them and now they’re the bad guy. [laughing]

R: “I was perfectly lawful and good until you showed up!”

K: Exactly, yes. The basic difference between a villain and an antagonist is that an antagonist is somebody who is there to contend or oppose the main character, typically the protagonist of the story. They’re there to create opposition. A villain is doing that, but they’re evil.

R: [laughs]

K [laughing]: What they’re doing is, the opposition that they’re creating is either causing harm, causing suffering, will destroy the human race. It could be something more on a micro scale, where they’ve kidnapped the daughter of the main character; maybe they’re trying to get their lemonade stand shut down so that they can sell lemonade that’s gonna turn people into lizard people. An antagonist at the surface is just somebody who’s doing things that’s causing problems for the protagonist. They don’t necessarily have to be evil.

R: They could just be a rival.

K: Yeah. Or any number of other things we’re gonna get to here, but. And in fact as I mentioned, as you’re reading a book, you’re frequently gonna come across antagonists that are not actually evil. There’s gonna be an antagonist who’s the villain who may be evil at some point, not always, but there will be people that are antagonists. I will use an example that we love to use: Gideon the Ninth. Harrow definitely serves as an antagonist to Gideon through the book. But Harrow is not evil.

R: Right.

K: That’s a great example of a villain operating without the audience knowing that the protagonist is coming into direct conflict with them because, we don’t really find out who the villain of the story is until the very very end of it. Then we can look back and go like ‘Ah yes I see all of these things now.’ The villain in the story, and spoilers if you haven’t read Gideon the Ninth, but also if you listen to this podcast and you still haven’t read it -

R: You obviously are never going to read it at this point.

K [laughing]: Yeah. The villain turns out to be Dulcinia, who is impersonating another character - and I stayed away, when writing notes for this and getting into the philosophical of what is evil and what is not - for these purposes we’re gonna call her motives evil, in that she is trying to hunt down and destroy a lot of different people for her own reasons. The conflict that we come into there actually causes the antagonist and the protagonist in this, Gideon and Harrow, to sort of team up to oppose the actual villain, which by the way is a very common writing trope. Antagonists are a necessary component to any story even if they are not the source of central conflict.

R: Yeah, because - and I know you’re gonna lean into this example - but in Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy feels like he is central to everything in Harry’s life, even though most of the time he just shows up to spew some awful thing he’s overheard his parents say and then go away again.

K: Draco is a good example of an antagonist who goes through a lot of different forms. Draco in the first few books of the series, he kinda shows up to make some comments and then leaves. He’s not really doing much. Even in the second book when he’s talking about the Chamber of Secrets and the heir of Slytherin and he actually is sitting around going ‘God I wish there was a way for me to help him’ - well, okay, that’s what minions do. Small antagonists.

R: Most of the time everything that Draco Malfoy does or says is just to reinforce the fact that he’s a jerk.

K: Yeah, Draco just sorta pops up to remind all of us that there’s Voldemort out there and his followers are terrible, because we don’t see or interact directly with Voldemort for a lot of these books, so Draco’s there to kind of remind us that he’s out there. But then we finally get to book six, when Draco is given a very specific task to do: kill Dumbledore. And those listening at home, ‘okay well doesn’t that make him a villain?’ Well - does it? Because first of all he doesn’t really actually wanna do this, but he has to. Second, he doesn’t do it. At the end, he’s not the one who carries this out. So again, everything’s relative here. Because to Harry, he is just this thing that Harry feels he needs to track down and find out what’s happening. You could go so far as to argue that Harry is creating his own conflict here, because if he just left Draco alone and went about his life trying to find these Horcruxes, things would’ve gone a lot smoother.

R: [laughs]

K: Dumbledore keeps telling Harry, ‘Hey. I got the Draco situation under control, don’t worry about it.’ Not in so many words and maybe if he had, again, things would’ve gone differently -

R: You know what, communicating clearly is the antagonist of a plot.

K: Okay. So that’s interesting that you say that, because antagonists are not always people.

R: Mhm.

K: Antagonists can be certain external factors that the protagonist has to contend with. A good example of this is nature, in something like the movie Castaway. It’s not evil -

R [overlapping]: Okay. I was gonna say Deep Impact, like the meteor is not a villain, the meteor is an antagonist.

K: Yeah. Exactly. It’s not evil. The meteor or nature or something is not saying like, ‘Yes, I will destroy the world, and then also Tom Hanks.’ [chuckles]

R: If it can twirl its mustache, it might be a villain.

K: It’s just there, and it’s something that the characters have to contend with. It can also be something supernatural; the thing I thought of off the top of my head was The Nothing in NeverEnding Story. It’s operating unconsciously, if you will, in the sense that it doesn’t seem to have nefarious purposes. It’s just existing, and it’s just growing. The characters are opposing it, they’re trying to find a way to stop it, but it’s not evil in and of itself.

R: A hero trying to stop global warming is not fighting a villain. Unless -

K: Ah, there’s some villains in there.

R: Yeah never mind, I take all that back.

K: An antagonist can also be something like a society or an unjust system that the hero has to live and function in. The example that came to mind was Les Miserables. The main character, Jean Valjean, is sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread because his sister and her children were starving. And we as the audience are meant to understand here that, while Javert - I believe is the name of the officer - is doing his duty by arresting him because he did commit theft, we understand that it is the dire circumstances of his society and his country that caused him to do this. His whole struggle and story is not only trying to lift himself up and overcome this system, but trying to one, make good on people he had hurt and things he had done in the process of this, but two, help other people that are also stuck in this system by hopefully coming up with a way to better it in the long run. I won’t say overthrow it because he actively avoids that whole -

R [overlapping]: Right.

K: - part of the process in this story, but he is in his own way trying to get things to a better place.

R: Yeah.

K: I went through and just like, some ideas of antagonists who are not necessarily villains. We talked about Draco Malfoy - I will go to my grave saying that Draco is not a villain, he is first convenient exposition, and then an antagonist and an unwilling one at that. One of the ones I also thought of was Catra, from -

R: Ah!

K: - the first half of She-Ra, she kind of serves as sort of like a minion antagonist.

R: Uh-huh.

K: Her character evolves, and we’ll talk about that as we continue to go through this. But she’s an excellent example of just an antagonist.

R: And again kind of like that rival thing -

K: Yes.

R: - like in anime or certain role playing video games, you always have the rival show up, and then by the end you are working with them to fight the actual villain.

K: Another category is the conflict creators: people who are not evil, they don’t have nefarious plots, but they’re making the life of the main character unbearable. Mr. Darcy -

R [overlapping]: [giggling]

K: - from Pride and Prejudice is an excellent example of this. I threw the Lannisters on the list, and I’m sticking with the books -

R: Right.

K [laughing]: Not the TV show.

R: So in this version, the Lannisters haven’t managed to accomplish much yet.

K: Yeah, exactly. Because, really, what are they doing? Are their motives evil? No, their motives are promoting and securing the prosperity and wellbeing of their family as much as possible. Now, they’re doing things that again, evil being relative, we might look at this and go ‘oh they’re evil.’ I will choose the beheading of Ned Stark as a good example there. That’s only evil to us because we like Ned Stark.

R: Right.

K: Because we look at him and see a good, just man who is being undone by his own kindness and mercy. The Lannisters look at him and go, ‘this guy’s an idiot, and not only that he’s a threat.’

R: Mhm.

K: ‘If we send him to the wall do you think his family is gonna go, ‘ah ok no problem, no harm no foul.’’ Yeah, Joffrey’s an impulsive little shit, who should not have done that and obviously messed up the plans of a lot of different third parties there, but from the perspective of the Lannisters he’s right.

R: Mhm.

K: There was no reason to spare Ned Stark’s life.

R: It does start with the two incestuous Lannisters pushing a child out of a window though, so.

K: Yes, and we can - that’s a whole other episode about -

R [overlapping]: [laughing]

K: Well, trust me, I could do a whole episode about the evolution in literature, writing, and various media of using sexually-based components of character’s personalities to demonstrate that they’re evil.

R: Mhm.

K: But yes, this isn’t to say that Jamie and Cersei themselves aren’t evil, but the Lannisters as a whole are conflict creators.

R: Okay.

K: And within there they’re all opposing each other in certain ways, but they’re all kind of presenting a united front.

R: The Lannister corporate machine.

K: Yeah exactly. Casterly Rock incorporated. They’re all presenting a united front in the promotion and wellbeing of their own family. There’s obviously a lot of stuff going on there that we the audience know about, but pretend you’re an outside observer in Westeros. Apart from some slight patricide -

R: [laughs]

K: - but that’s okay, because that was the member of the family who we just barely put up with and obviously there was something wrong with him and we probably should’ve thrown him down a well a long time ago.

R: Are you talking about Tyrion or are you talking about Tywin -

K: Both, but from the perspective of the Lannisters, Tyrion. [laughing]

R [overlapping]: [laughing]

K: You can recover from that one, because of course there was something off about him, look at him. Never mind that he’s the smartest and, actually, most caring member of their family, but y’know. That’s not important, apparently. I made up an antagonist category that I’m calling “general pains in the ass.” 

R: [laughing]

K: [laughs] Where they are not necessarily doing anything, but their existence is just infuriating to the point that it’s creating conflict for the protagonist. The one that I always love to point to is Gary from Pokémon.

R: Mm.

K: Who’s just Ash’s rival but it’s a very hilariously one-sided rivalry. 

R: Right, right.

K: [laughs] The other one that I think is very good is actually: Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask in the anime. Because he is also trying to get the rainbow crystals. 

R: Right.

K: In a pain-in-the-ass antagonist - I would throw Rei in there.

R: [laughs] Yeah, there you go.

K: Again, the anime - the manga did not go into this, but they’re constantly fighting over who’s gonna be the better this-or-that, and who’s doing the better job, and again, it creates conflict for Usagi because Rei is hyper-confident and very good at this, and Usagi is not, at all. 

R: Right. It has more to do with Rei just constantly criticizing her and making her progression slower than anything else. 

K: Yeah, you’ll notice there’s a lot of overlap here because apart from being a general pain in the ass in that scenario, Rei is also a conflict creator. 

R: Yeah.

K: The last one that gets a little philosophical is the protagonist themselves. Holden Caulfield is of course the standout example here, but I would take anybody that can’t get out of their own way and put them on this list. One of the thoughts I came up with was Anakin Skywalker. 

R: Okay.

K: More with the Clone Wars TV show as a better example of that, but you certainly see it through the prequels as well. Has a set of morals and code that he lives by that is in direct conflict with what the Jedi are teaching him and telling him to do.

R: Mhm.

K: And that’s an excellent case study into a descent into villany by having a singular goal and taking more and more extreme measures to meet it.

R: Like Draco, there’s somebody that is coaching him and trying to lead him in a direction that he wouldn’t have chosen on his own almost at any point. 

K: I’m not sure I agree with that, because what we see Anakin do over and over again, his singular motivation-- and this is, by the way, his antagonistic component-- is “protect my friends and loved ones.”

R: Mhm.

K: And so he’s willing to take more and more extreme measures that in some cases are going to get him in trouble, he’s going to have to go in front of the Jedi Council and go ‘I’m really sorry I did that, but I did save Obi-Wan, so I think it all works out in the end.’ And you’ve got Yoda silently screaming in his head, going ‘This is not what Jedi are supposed to do, this is dangerous.’

R: Yeah.

K: But then also, it gets him to a point where his moral code is coming into conflict with what is important to him. So, yes I killed a bunch of people on a spaceship, but I saved all of the Senators and the Jedi on it. Well, now I’ve killed a bunch of children because I thought it was going to save my pregnant wife. 

R: Mhm.

K: And we’re getting to a point where he can’t differentiate those two things from one another because in the end you’re still saving something or someone important. 

R: Right. But I still think that -

K [overlapping]: Oh, yes, having Palpatine -

R [overlapping]: that progression - 

K: - breathing in his ear for the whole time was not helping. [laughing]

R: Yeah, that was an outside influence that encouraged that progression.

K: Absolutely, yeah. So, that’s another antagonistic force - that is an external factor, people attempting to influence the protagonist. 

R: Mhm.

K: So, we talked a lot about antagonists, and as we said, most villains - not all - most villains are antagonists but not all antagonists are villains. In order to be a villain, you gotta be evil. You have to be a quote-unquote “bad guy.” And you’ve gotta be doing something that is bad, something that’s hurting either a people, or an entity, maybe nature, or a planet itself. Typically, you’ve got selfish motivations here.

R: Mhm.

K: Sometimes you have no motivations, and we’ll get into that, because the pure evil villains are one of my favorite villains. But, villains are working to destroy a heroic purpose or protagonist. They may not know that that’s what they’re doing, but they’re doing it. Some villains go their whole story without realizing that there’s somebody working their way up to opposing them, because their protagonist is such a little miniscule blip on the scale of this evil plan here that they didn’t even know someone was opposing them. Villains, they have to be bad. They don’t exist in a vacuum. Y’know, we used the idea of the mad scientist who doesn’t know he’s the bad guy - 

R: Mhm.

K: - until someone shows up to fight him. If that guy’s just left in his lab making some little itty bitty Frankenstein monsters to run around and help him with his experiments and things, then he never leaves and nothing bad ever happens, and the new Frankenstein monsters are happy with their existence, he’s not a villain! [laughs] However, if he’s oppressing those little Frankenstein monster guys, or maybe they’re escaping out into the world and doing bad things to people that they encounter, that then starts to move him into the realm of villain. 

R: Now, what if he’s in his lab and his experiments are destroying the planet outside the lab, but he never leaves and he never realizes, and the Frankenstein [ed.: monster]s are happy? 

K: Yeah, so this is where it gets weird, because what he’s doing is evil but he’s not doing it on purpose. 

R: Mm.

K: I’m trying to think what the classification for that would be. An unwilling villain, essentially. Maybe more of an antagonist at that point. I’m trying to come up with an example of something where somebody shows up and informs a scientist or creator doing something that what they’re doing is having a negative impact on the world around it and they had no idea. 

R: There is an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where they go to a planet where the people on the planet basically take some of the children off the Enterprise because they can’t have children themselves, and the crew is able to convince them that it’s their very powerful computer system that’s causing radiation that’s preventing them from being healthy, and that it would happen to the kids too if they stayed, and so on and so forth. 

K: Yeah, I’m trying to - like, this one isn’t necessarily as good an example, but in Ender’s Game, at the very end we find out that the conflict, this whole giant conflict, kind of began almost on a misunderstanding that the human population encountered alien life in the form of bugs that were a hivemind. 

R: Mhm.

K: And the bugs killed all of the humans they encountered not understanding that there was a life form out there that wasn’t a hivemind. Because from their perspective, it didn’t matter if a few soldiers got killed, they were just essentially vessels for the larger collective consciousness. They didn’t understand the -

R [overlapping]: Right. Individuality.

K: Yeah. So, that started them as an antagonist, but then this war escalates and escalates and, that one I don’t know if we can come up with “villain” and whether sides are evil, at that point, but. With villains, they might not even need to know that they’re directly opposing the main character. The biggest difference between the villain and the antagonist is that sometimes, but not always, the antagonist forms more of a plot role. It’s somebody to be there to create conflict, to move the story along, or to motivate the protagonist. It’s somebody who may provide opportunities for growth for the protagonist as well, again through opposition.

K: Everything is opposition and conflict for antagonists. Antagonists, they can be friends or friendly rivals of the protagonist, but they are a plot role, they are helping to develop and move the character and the stories along. A villain is a character type. This is a potentially necessary component of the story, depending on the type of story that you’re telling, and they have a role to serve within that. They have to be the central point of conflict for evil reasons, to give the character something moral and good and just to fight for and overcome. If this sounds contrived, or this sounds pedantic, I don’t know what to tell you because this is literature. [laughs]

R: [laughing] Yeah.

K: This is - you will find this across all of human history in literature, the conflict between good and evil. That is the central focus of it. And listen, what we consider good and what we consider evil varies from culture to culture, time to time. Heroes don’t fit a certain set of criteria across all cultures. If you go back and read any Greek myth, and what they consider to be heroes, most of these guys were assholes. Like, really bad people. But they did heroic things, and they lived in ways that were acceptable to the ancient Greeks. 

R: Mhm.

K: So therefore they were heroes. The Greeks are really interesting in that they did not write what was idealized, but what was true. So even though we know that the way they conducted their society, the way they lived and acted, is abhorrent to us, at the time it was acceptable. Not only acceptable, but encouraged. 

R: Right. Perhaps even seen as heroic behavior. 

K [overlapping]: To that end—yeah. To that end, evil is the same way. 

R: Mhm.

K: I’m gonna throw one last monkey wrench [laughs] into this - the villain, as we kept saying, most villains but not all are antagonists, because sometimes the villain’s the protagonist. The villain is only the antagonist when they’re not the main character of the story, when they’re just serving as the sense of conflict. But sometimes in stories, the villain, who is evil and is doing evil things, is the protagonist, is the main character that we’re following. Two of my favorite examples of this are Light from Death Note and Dexter from Dexter. Light is a teenager with a god complex who I wouldn’t even say “starts off trying to do right in the world,” because if you watch the series really he’s just experimenting using bad people until he gets the plan figured out. But, for those who are unfamiliar, Death Note is an outstanding anime that I highly recommend about a teenager who comes across a notebook that is stolen from a Japanese death god and learns that the names he writes in the notebook will die. And he gets more and more specific about specifying “will die at this time,” “will die in this way,” et cetera. And enters into this whole cat-and-mouse psychological thriller thing with himself and the police that are trying to stop this serial killer that they don’t understand. 

R: Right.

K: The whole thing turns into this god complex of him establishing rules of what he thinks are right and wrong and threatening the entire world with what would basically be instantaneous death at his whim if they don’t adhere to it. So let’s be clear, Light is evil. He is killing people because they’re not acting the way he wants them to. But he is the main character and the protagonist of the story, and if you watch it you find yourself cheering for him outwitting the police, outwitting this detective. One of the detectives, by the way, is his father. And you’re still goin,g “Come on, Light, you can get yourself out of this one!” Dexter Morgan from Dexter is another good example. Dexter is a serial killer. Dexter has kill rooms where he duct tapes people to tables, ritualistically stabs them, chops the bodies up, and drops them in the water off the coast of Miami. 

R: Mhm.

K: Dexter also has a complex set of morality that he adheres to, and Dexter is a little bit different because he doesn’t want to do these things, he wishes he wasn’t like this, but he knows that he is and there’s nothing he can do about it. The books are a little stranger about this than the TV show. So he’s channeling his awfulness into only killing murderers. 

R: Right, and the rules of morality that he follows are not actually his morals. 

K: Yeah.

R: They were given to him.

K: Yes. As a way to hopefully help maintain and control him. But he’s still killing people. And he’s still operating outside the justice system. He’s very careful about gathering all the evidence and knowing “yes, this person’s definitely a murderer,” but he’s still serving as judge, jury, and executioner without giving anyone the benefit of due process. In his mind it doesn’t matter why you killed somebody. You killed somebody. And it’s coming less from a place of morality than an opportunity to be an outlet for his own base urges. Villains can be protagonists. Just because somebody is the main character of the story doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good. 

R: In fact, I feel a little bit better about some books thinking about it that way. [laughs]

K: Yeah, absolutely. And, look, there’s a whole thing you can get into with the hero vs. the antihero, and what is considered heroic and what is considered acceptable; god, I think there’s been entire books written about this, with Superman as a core component there. It is very nuanced to kind of sort these things out of where the line is between hero and villain, and even more so where the line is between antagonist and villain. At what point do you stop being just an inconvenience or a pain in the butt that someone’s gotta deal with and become somebody who is an active threat to not just the protagonist but potentially those around them as well?

R: I know a book can have antagonists and villains, we’ve established several that do. Can you have a book with more than one villain? 

K: Absolutely! 

R: How do they not just sort of shrink down to become antagonists, then, if there’s more than one? Or is it just because of their behavior being evil?

K: Let’s go back to another favorite of ours, Avatar: the Last Airbender. I would make the argument that both Azula and Ozai are villains. I think there are definitely people who would take Azula and put her more in the antagonist category; I disagree, she’s evil, she has evil motivations. She also wants to conquer and subjugate the entire world and is willing to burn it down to do it. Hers and her father’s ideologies and motives line up pretty closely. The difference is that Ozai sits in this palace and we don’t see him for most of the series, and Azula’s out there running amuck.

R: So one can be a subordinate of the other, and they can both still be villains.

K: Absolutely, yeah. And villains can work together, we got the superhero team ups on villains all the time. Dunno if you ever watched Venture Bros. -

R: Yeah.

K: - but the Guild of Calamitous Intent is one of my favorites, not that they’re all teaming up against the same protagonist there. But yeah you absolutely can have multiple villains; one who is working under or for the other. You could have minions that are villains, as long as their intentions are evil. To that end with Avatar I would say Ty Lee and Mai are antagonists, not villains. Because they’re minions who are kinda just there to do what Azula says but like, they don’t necessarily want to burn down and subjugate the rest of the world, they’re just sort of along for the ride. I think with multiple villains, a lot of times when you see that you’re kind of dealing with an ensemble cast, and everyone’s gonna sort of have a little area they have to go break off into. But not always, look at Star Wars. Yeah, Darth Vader was redeemed at the end, but you had two evil villains one right after the other, and again we’re kinda seeing the same power dynamic as Azula and Ozai.

K: To kind of round all of this out, villains are evil. And they usually have to have some sort of evil motivation or plan or action to match this. They might be so evil that they aren’t even aware that everyone knows they’re evil and is trying to stop them. Villains do not necessarily have to come in immediate direct conflict with protagonists in order to be villains. They can just be out there doing their little villain evil plan thing and not even know that someone’s coming to fight them to the death until that person shows up to do so. They don’t have to be directly opposed to the protagonist. In some cases, they can be the protagonist. But they’ve gotta have bad intentions.

R: For the thrill of having bad intentions.

K: Some of it can be for the thrill. The pure villains, those are my favorite ones, the ones that we never quite find out why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’re just doing it. I use the example of Maleficent, from the original Sleeping Beauty movie, not the Angelina Jolie with lots of backstory and sympathetic character origins. Maleficent shows up, she’s mad that she didn’t get invited to the party but we kind of all get the impression that there’s a reason she wasn’t, but nobody quite knows what it is or what’s going on here.

R: Because we knew she would make a scene!

K [laughing]: I think it’s because she showed up and cursed the princess.

R: So they saw that coming, you’re saying.

K: Yeah maybe.

R: Even though the exact way to prevent that, according to Maleficent, would’ve been to invite her.

K: The logic gets a little circular there, to be sure. [laughs] But yeah so, the villain is a character type, it’s not a plot role. The villain is not always necessarily there to advance the protagonist or the plot. They certainly can, but they’re not doing it directly all the time.

R: Mhm.

K: This is, villains are one of those sometimes-but-not-always-except-for-this-and-then-that-happens kind of situation. Antagonists on the other hand, they’re not necessarily evil, they can be actually just regular cool decent normal people who happen to have a conflicting agenda with the protagonist. They just want different things. Last week we did MacGuffins. The antagonist may just be running around after their own MacGuffin, and for some reason that’s causing problems for the protagonist. Maybe they also want that MacGuffin for a completely different reason, one that is mutually exclusive of what the antagonist wants; they can’t team up there. Or maybe they just also wanna have the top spot at the dojo, and so they’re gonna be in conflict with the protagonist there. The thing that makes the antagonist an antagonist is that they are opposed to the protagonist, and they will cause conflicts with the story’s main character. It’s a plot role, and it doesn’t necessarily speak to the character’s personality or motivations. They are there to create and cause conflict for the main character to either resolve, oppose, or fall to.

R: So when I proposed this topic to you, I kind of thought of antagonists as mini-bosses and the villain as the big boss, thinking of video games and the way that’s usually structured. So, this is unexpected.

K [laughing]: Listen, an antagonist can be a mini-boss. It’s all about motivations.

R: But they can also just be that person living their life that has always bugged you because they microwaved fish in the lunchroom that one time.

K: That person might be a villain.

R: [laughs] Just wanna contradict me at every turn.

K: I dunno, somebody who microwaves fish, that seems like evil intentions to me. [laughing]

R: Look, they live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of their life.

K: That’s very very true. Anyway, so, Rekka any -

R: Can an antagonist be the protagonist?

K: No, those are mutually exclusive yeah. There’s somebody who is not evil and they’re the main character of the story, they’re the protagonist.

R: So they don’t have a goatee or a mustache to twirl, and they’re the main character, then they’re the protagonist every time.

K: Yes. The primary component for being the protagonist is that the story is about you, you’re the principal character. If you are serving in an antagonistic role as the protagonist, you’re still the protagonist, you’re just a jerk.

R: So when I get up and look in the mirror in the morning and I say, “Hey, butthead,” I’m still the protagonist of my life.

K: You are both the protagonist and antagonist of your own life, yes.

R: That feels accurate.

K: [laughing] I think most of us are.

R: Yeah.

K: Well we said, a good example of an antagonist is the character themselves.

R: Yep. Alright, I think I get it.

K: We can always come back and talk more about it, because this one was fun to do some research on and get some thoughts together.

R: So you would say that a book or a story plot requires an antagonist but doesn’t necessarily require a villain.

K: Yes, definitely.

R: And the protagonist is completely optional.

K: Yes, we’re just gonna have a bunch of antagonists running around causing conflict for each other. Well, I think that’s pretty much every murder mystery, so.

R: So if it’s a third person omniscient, and there is no main POV, we can have a book with no protagonist. Got it.

K: I feel like you’re trying to trick me into something but I don’t know what. [laughing]

R: I’m antagonizing you, I’m sorry.

K: It’s an important thing to do.

R: As an editor you need to have your feathers ruffled every now and then.

K: It creates conflict, and conflict creates growth.

R: And plot.

K: And plot. [laughing] But yeah thank you so much for listening everyone as always, hopefully this was helpful information, I know this was a lot of mincing of minute details, but -

R: Yeah I mean maybe this was the episode you never knew you never wanted but -

K [overlapping]: [laughs]

R: - if there is an episode topic that you do know you want, you can find us on Twitter and Instagram @WMBcast, and you can also find us at patreon.com/WMBcast. And we’d love to hear your suggestions for topics or questions. If we have confused you in any way, then you can blame Kaelyn, and also let us know and we’ll try to fix that. Thanks everyone!

K: Thank you so much.

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