MPL Writers Group

Protagonist vs. Antagonist

In most stories, the hero and the villain are the main focus. They are referred to as the protagonist and antagonist, respectively. But what makes a protagonist and what makes an antagonist? Let’s dig deeper into the different types of protagonists and antagonists that are featured in various stories. Both roles are not as clear cut as most would believe.


What Makes A Protagonist?

The protagonist is the character the audience are supposed to root for. They drive the story forward through their decisions and actions, and their goals are the focus and theme of the story. Sometimes we see the protagonist from other characters’ eyes but the protagonist is always the main character of the story. There are different types of protagonists to consider:


The classic good character the audience is supposed to root for. Heroes can have flaws but otherwise, they are relatable to readers and often are the ones who come out on top in the end.


Anti-heroes, compared to heroes, are flawed but often come ill-equipped or reluctant to face the challenges in the story.


Not all protagonists have to be the “good guy.” Villains can still lead and make decisions that impact the story. 


What Makes An Antagonist?

The antagonist works against the protagonist and creates conflict. There are also different antagonists to consider:


Villains serve to foil the protagonist in every way.


Conflict-creators who often work against the antagonist. Sometimes they can inspire the protagonist to make decisions against their better judgement.


Often featured in stories where the protagonist have to survive in the wilderness or have to survive storms and other harsh weather.

Inner Conflict

This is where the protagonist has to fight against themselves. Inner conflict involves the protagonist questioning themselves or fighting themselves to make a decision or decision(s).


The best piece of advice when writing good protagonists and antagonists is that both need to be relatable. The most effective antagonists, for example, are whose goals you do not agree with but at the same time you understand why they are opposing the protagonist. Likeable antagonists are more threatening because even though they might be charismatic and charming, they are still incredibly dangerous. It can be fun to walk in the shoes of a villainous character who is up to no good, provided the villain is well-written enough.

The protagonist especially needs to be relatable; even if they have superhuman abilities, they need some kind of weakness to make the story suspenseful. This helps not only increasing stakes in the story but also helps make the main character relatable and likable to the reader. Be careful not to make the protagonist too weak, as it is frustrating to follow a character who is helpless most of the time.

Not all heroes are good guys and not all villains are bad guys, as that is what helps keep the protagonist/antagonist dynamic interesting. The most important part is that both the protagonist and antagonist needs to be interesting, and this will help drive the story forward. If there is no conflict between a protagonist and an antagonist, then there is no story overall.



Additional Resources:

Jericho Writers – Protagonist vs. Antagonist: A Complete Guide

LitCharts – Protagonist

LitCharts – Antagonist

MastersClass – How To Write A Main Character: 5 Tips For Writing Strong Main Characters

Now Novel – Antagonist Examples: How To Write Great Adversaries