I'm taking a brand new writing class this month. One of the topics we covered on Monday night was the difference between a protagonist and an antagonist.
Come on, you say. Don't you already know the difference? Shouldn't you know the difference, if you claim to be a writer?
Well, yes and no. Most of us know what those terms mean. Protagonist = the main character of the story, the one involved in the conflict. Antagonist = the character who opposes the protagonist.
But here's the thing. Knowing the definitions of the terms is different from being able to identify who the protagonist and antagonist are, which is also different from being able to clearly write an unforgettable protagonist and antagonist.
"A good antagonist," the teacher said, "will try to block the actions of the protagonist. So in The Wizard of Oz, the Wicked Witch tried to block Dorothy from getting home with many actions, including the flying monkeys." I nodded my head as I wrote the notes down. That was an easy, but clear, example.
"Other examples are harder to identify," the teacher went on. "But here's what you need to know." My ears pricked up. "The antagonist is the one that shapes the protagonist's choices." I put a star by those words in my notes; they seemed very important.
On the drive home from class, my mind wandered back to those words. I thought of my stories, my characters, and the characters I love to read. And then, my mind jumped, and I gasped.
For I started to think about the people in my life and the roles they play. It is very apparent, when we are teens, that everyone is against us (wink-wink), especially our parents, and that therefore, they act as very powerful antagonists. At some point, if you're lucky enough, you don't feel as though your parents are blocking every move you try to make. Instead, your parents shift into a more supportive role, perhaps even something akin to a sidekick.
But this is where I, and maybe a few other women I know, diverge from that scenario. This is where I, in a moment of complete clarity, almost ran a red light. For I have a fine relationship with my parents. We don't go to battle with each conversation. We don't yell or argue over the phone or in person. We speak about the weather, the kids, my job, my dreams, their political beliefs (which are the only ones that matter), and all the other mundane, drama-full and drama-free topics that flit in and out of our lives. Lives that are spaced by 245 miles and four hours.
And yet. AND YET, these two people shape my choices every day. EVERY DAY. Good or bad, I muddle my way through life with their voices and actions at the back of my head. And therefore, good or bad, my parents must be, and have always been, antagonists in my life.
That is a concept I never considered. It is a concept I will never share with my parents (they really won't understand). That is a concept which seems so simple and understated and one that, when I was in my teens, I would have completely agreed with. But now, that concept floors me. It really does.