Stories thrive on conflict. There’s conflict at the core of any novel, whether it’s immediately apparent on not. Naturally, with the structure of conflict, we expect to find a protagonist and an antagonist, the typical dichotomy of opposing forces. However, haven’t we all read stories and novels that we enjoy where there is no obvious antagonist, no dark lord, no cruel mastermind? How can we explain the success of these tales if conflict is the core of a good tale?
In most of these cases, it’s easy to find the answer by examining what core dramatic conflict is at the heart of the work. Several of these conflicts have what you could term as non-traditional antagonists, such as nature or society as a whole. Yes, often these broad concepts tend to be focused and personified into a more distinct unit, such as a particular natural disaster or a single agent of that society, but that isn’t always the case. It is possible to take a broader, more subtle approach to those conflicts while still maintaining a constant sensation of dramatic conflict. Likewise, the very nature of man versus himself as a conflict gets rid of a standard antagonist by replacing that with internal conflicts.
It’s interesting to note that many tales like this don’t get rid of *all* traditional antagonists. There may be some sub-plots with conflicts involving man vs. man conflicts and the like. What we’re talking about is that core thematic conflict, the one that drives the whole story. Ultimately, though, in that big conflict, we eschew a traditional direct approach to the protagonist/antagonist equation.
Another interesting point is that this serves as something of a proof of the necessity of conflict in a story. If you dig into any well-crafted story, there will be that core conflict, that central driving point, and you will always be able to find protagonists and antagonists, even if they may not be as readily apparent as your typical Good vs. Evil slugfest. While we can eschew the traditional antagonist, we can’t eschew antagonists entirely or we lost that needed dramatic conflict.
So what interesting ways have you seen that the author has walked away from traditional antagonists? As always, any contributions or criticisms should go down in the comments below!
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!