Thinking so much about the theme of a story can give you the impression that this mayor element of storytelling can be a catalyst for any other element of a story. And in theory it is kinda like this, but we all know that writing an actual story is more than just thinking about the theme, I mean, most of the time the story gets its initial shape with no clear indication about the actual theme being conveyed.
So, how can we create an antagonist using theme if most of the time it’s so difficult to even acknowledge what the real theme of the story is?
From personal experience, I’ve come to the realization that the thing about theme is that it acts more as an unconscious energy permeating throughout the whole thing, which makes its discovery more like an exercise in honesty, given that what we’re consciously trying to convey might not be the actual reason we’re writing our story.
What am I saying? Well, simply put, I’m saying that we should be honest about what the story we’re developing means to us, in answering this question we’ll undoubtedly have found the theme inherent between all of those words and pages.
So, let’s say we already have our theme, which is for example “the failure to become the master of your own destiny”. Sounds a bit dramatic, uh? Well, this is actually the theme I’m using in the current feature I’m writing.
Okay, so we have our theme, now… how can we build an antagonist using it?
First, lets think about the antagonist as the destiny to our protagonist’s free will.
What do I mean by that?
If the protagonist has a choice to make, specially at the self-revelation, think about the antagonist as the lack of this choice.
In my story, at the end, the protagonist has to choose to either live and endure the pain and consequences of a violent driven life or to symbolically die and be saved by an obscure entity.
What do you think he’ll choose?
The obscure entity, right?
If free will for the character is a choice between facing consequences and escaping consequences, the antagonist should be none of the above, it should actually be a lack of choice in regards of the issue being “the failure to become the master of its own destiny”.
So, the antagonist of my story should be a force opposing the protagonist will to become the master of his own destiny, a force driving him away from this goal. In the story, this force is represented by the obscure force driving the protagonist into using violent means to face his problems, pushing him deeper and deeper into an “out of control” state.
If the protagonist need is to become the master of his own destiny, the antagonist goal is to make the protagonist fail at this. In other words, the antagonist’s goal is what will come to pass if the protagonist can’t exercise his free will and change the course of the story.
What’s the protagonist conflict at the beginning of the story?
In my case, the protagonist has the conflict of not being able to do what he wants, due to certain fears he’s been carrying since childhood.
This conflict, being the incapacity for exerting his own desires and following them to completion is then embodied by the dark figure chasing him. Figure that forces him to become more and more savage and primal.
Yet, the antagonist’s goal is actually to make a slave out of the protagonist, first by destroying his life and second by putting him in a situation where the only possible choice is to put his life into this entity’s hands.
As the story progresses, the protagonist struggles time and time again because of his weakness, which is his inability to impose his will, managing to do so only when driven by the entity, forging a symbiotic relationship with it to the point of losing himself completely in it.
Hence, he fails.
So, to sum up all of the previous exploration, the antagonist actually connects the conflict with the theme. Because of its relation with the truth that’s being expressed at the self-revelation, and because of its opposition with the protagonist’s goal and need, the antagonist embodies the side of the theme on its negative aspect and from that position, it becomes a series of obstacles for the protagonist to resolve.
Next time we’ll go further ahead with this antagonist/theme exploration.