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  1. #1

    Problem: Protagonist and Antagonist as the same person

    Well, I was pondering an idea for a fantasy story for a couple of months now, had some themes and some events in mind. Most of all I had a main character in mind, whom I had developed fully, and to the best of my knowledge, without any logical flaws.

    But the story didn't quite fit until it came to me, that my main character had to be protagonist and antagonist in one person. It has to be a story about an internal struggle based in a fantasy setting (because that's the setting inspiring me most) and about coming to terms with the past and the darker side of oneself. All the problems arise out of the inner demon and the only way to defeat him is to embrace him.

    My question is this: Are there examples of such an approach?

  2. #2
    Registered User JimF's Avatar
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    I am not quite sure if this is what you mean, but it sounds a little like Fight Club.

    Jim

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by JimF View Post
    I am not quite sure if this is what you mean, but it sounds a little like Fight Club.

    Jim
    Yeah, but it doesn't quite fit the bill. Also the Jeckil and Hyde story isn't compareable.

    The problem I see is in the antagonist not having a bodily appearance. It's mainly the dark aspects and memories having an impact on the world without the protagonist even knowing about their existence. (that's a bit like fight club)

    My main problem in telling the story is mainly the POV. Entering the head of my main character seems out of the question, since she knows about her past and that should only be reveiled by triggering certain events.

  4. #4
    Check out the film "Angel Heart".

  5. #5
    hack-wit Aether Monkey's Avatar
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    I think it depends on how you want the conflict to play out. Is the protagonist working against an active side of herself (the antagonist). In other words are there moments the protagonist loses complete control and the antagonist takes over. Or is the protagonist working against a past self and the actions it set in motion back then. Or is the protagonist aware of the battle, sometimes being good, sometimes being bad? If it is the last, it is a story of conscience, and there are many stories (at least in conventional lit) like that.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Aether Monkey View Post
    I think it depends on how you want the conflict to play out. Is the protagonist working against an active side of herself (the antagonist). In other words are there moments the protagonist loses complete control and the antagonist takes over. Or is the protagonist working against a past self and the actions it set in motion back then. Or is the protagonist aware of the battle, sometimes being good, sometimes being bad? If it is the last, it is a story of conscience, and there are many stories (at least in conventional lit) like that.
    First, she was born with the power to heal and to kill. She wasn't aware of either of them until she accidentally killed a man when she was an adolescent. She doesn't lose control, but a civil war threatens to collapse the life she later has built for herself as a wealthy trader. In her desperate struggle to find a way out, she comes to rely more and more on her inert power to heal, while the murder constantly weighs on her conscience (there's much more hidden in her past, but that's the most prominent problem). That cuts lose her dark side and people begin to have strange and disturbing dreams, driving them mad or even killing them. She isn't aware of being the source of these dreams, but she is the only one having it in her power to stop this kind of dream demon by reconciling herself with every side of her being.

  7. #7
    Do you want fantasy/sci-fi/other book examples, or are you fine with any sort of example? I ask this because there was an example recently of something like that on TV. The specifics of the story, and the plot in general, are pretty far off the mark compared to what you're discussing, but there is some strain of your idea.

    I cannot remember at all what it was called... it's on the tip of my tongue, I can remember the actor, every building in the show, the name even - aha! My Own Worst Enemy! Well, anyways, I didn't really watch it that much, but from what I can remember it involved the main character leading a double life: one life as a suburban father, the other as an assassin (realistic, I know, though this is a sci-fi/fantasy site...). During the show, the suburban father side (who was previously unaware) finds out about his other half and has to reconcile the fact that he, supposedly a 'good', peaceful man who has never touched a gun in his life, could kill a man.

    I know it's a bit far off what you were discussing, but I thought I'd mention it because it incorporates the idea that there is a killer inside all of us, which is related to your story.

    Sorry if that was completely irrelevant

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Farion View Post
    Sorry if that was completely irrelevant
    No, not at all. I'm basically interested in every example of the Antagonist not physically existing. That's the trick I want to pull there. The setting in itself is completely irrelevant. I ony choose fantasy because it suits my interests.

    Also, I have long ago developed a detailed world for another project, which I never wrote. But the character that came to mind lately would know her way around in this setting perfectly.

  9. #9
    Registered User Elixir's Avatar
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    Generally, it seems that a story solely about an inner conflict is not quite as interesting as an outer one. This relates to showing and telling. A battle of good and evil in a person's mind is hard to convey without relying too much on "telling", whereas a physical battle between a hero and a villain can be quite captivating by comparison. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for example, is not told from Dr. Jekyll's point of view, but from that of Mr. Utterson, who is able to see the conflict of good and evil externally.

    Still, there are plenty of psychologically driven stories out there. Perhaps someone else can recommend some of these types of novels that you might find useful.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by abaris View Post
    No, not at all. I'm basically interested in every example of the Antagonist not physically existing. That's the trick I want to pull there. The setting in itself is completely irrelevant. I ony choose fantasy because it suits my interests.

    Also, I have long ago developed a detailed world for another project, which I never wrote. But the character that came to mind lately would know her way around in this setting perfectly.
    The Antagonist does physically exist--but in the same body. What you're describing is very much like multiple personality disorder, only with some exotic and arcane effects added on. Stories of conflict with self are fairly common, at various levels of intensity: conflict with self is one of the main categories of conflict. The discovery of a dark side is also fairly common.

    Some background for you to think about. What you're describing is a very difficult story to pull off. It's the sort of thing that requires writer-tools most writers need years to hone. You would also need to be well-read in Jungian psychological theory, because Jung is where most people (including your potential readers) will have met the concept of uniting both the positive and negative, open and hidden, active and passive, parts of a personality. I'd also recommend the book On Killing, a nonfiction book about the effect of killing on ordinary people who end up doing it, mostly in a military context. Since it was written, many fiction writers have begun using its insights to achieve a more realistic "reaction" from their characters, both short-term and long-term. Oh, and you might want to read books on developmental patterns of adult life, since at least part of the triggering of your character's dark side emergence might be her age and the loosening of social constraints that accompany certain stages.

    So consider your present writing skills--not your stylistic skills alone, but your experience in handling complex viewpoints, interior and exterior. Are you ready to write this story now, or do you need to write a lot of notes on it and hold it for another time while you hone your writing skills on other projects that are more suited for your current level? (Note; I'm not saying what your current level is...you have to figure that out. But a lot of relatively novice writers take on extremely difficult projects and then either quit when they can't do them, or do them badly, when the same idea a few years later might have been outstanding. It's like getting on skis for the first time and trying an Olympic slalom course, or wanting to play the most difficult concerto a few months after starting piano lessons.)

    To make this work, here some of the technical bits you must navigate: 1) POV: almost certainly, you'll need to be interior to the main character. If she's unaware of the other dark stuff in her past, other than the murder, the best place to start is the "good" side's interior POV, but written in third person. 2) Consider how to make both "persons" inside her attractive enough that the ending you want--the merger--makes sense for her and for readers. 3) Define all the major points of the backstory (most of which you won't show directly) that set up the conflict between the parts of your character's personality. Figure out what must be shown, and how to show it without a long, story-slowing flashback sequence. 4) Define the triggering circumstances that lead to her "dark side" now emerging. At least some of those triggering circumstances should be linked to the original murder and to the reasons for the "severance" between her two personalities. 5) Set up the logic for her dark side causing others to have bad dreams (e.g., did you set this up where people normally affect others' dreams? did you set this up where this particular character's arcane powers work through dreams--both for healing and for hurt? Something else? There needs to be a setup so that this makes sense. Hang the dagger on the wall before someone's stabbed with it.) 6) Define the behaviors that each of her sides produces and how those behaviors are perceived by a) her family and close friends, b) her business associates, c) others, esp. those she does not get along with. Have there been times in her life when the Antagonist "got loose" and surprised people? How did they react? How did she react to their reaction? Did she surprise herself, or did she find rationale for her unusual behavior? 7) What is lacking in her good side--what evil/wrong/bad outcome results from her good side alone being active? For any story, a character having to give up--at least partly--something they and others always thought of as a virture or a strength makes for an interesting situation. 8) What positive contribution (other than an easy way to get rid of enemies) comes from her dark or weak side? Again, a character who finds that something they've despised in themselves--whether it's an obvious "bad" thing like the ability to kill easily, or a weakness--is now useful and positive and even admirable, adds good complexity to plot and characterization. For the two parts to merge successfully, each--the dark and the light--both have to find something in the other to admire and accept.

    That's a start, anyway.

  11. #11
    E_moon, thanks for these very usefull tips. I'm very aware of the complications and possible sticks and stones. The reason why I came to the conclusion, that this is the story I wanted to tell, was my constant interest in all things psychological and historical.

    I did a good deal of reasearch in the areas described before I even thought about creating a novel. Especially, as you said, about the implications of killing someone and the mind's mechanisms to deal with that fact. Also about not being able to reconcile with the darker sides of one's being. That's partly in my own personal history.

    Well, I'm not sure if I can pull it, but I certainly want to give it a try, since I feel it. I feel the person and I'm pretty sure, that her foundations are sound . But - as you rightly observed - there's still a million questions to answer.

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