Verifying what I already know about antagonists

This is a question for writers. When you’re planning out a story, do you define exactly what kind of antagonist or protagonist a character will be? For example, secondary protagonist or tertiary antagonist. Or do you go for more general descriptions like major character, minor villain, minor antagonist?

I have been on wikis for about five years now, but I’ve noticed a trend in the past year where people try to come up with a precise antagonist level for each character. Not so much with protagonists.

The problem is that different people can’t make up their mind about which antagonist a character should be, and a few people are deliberately contradicting themselves by changing it every time they come there. In those situations, I treat it as vandalism. Well, it could be some sort of behavioral or mental health issue like schizophrenia or being a compulsive liar, but since I’m unlikley to ever meet these people, I’ll go with the simpler answer of vandalism.

I’ve explained to a few people about how ridiculous and unrealistic it’s become. I don’t think anyone goes to a movie or reads a wiki or review about the movie and thinks, “I want to know who the secondary antagonists and the tertiary antagonists are in this movie”. Neither do they think “this character is the former 30% tritagonist”, a “neutral antagonist” or the “(former) fourth, but semi, antagonist”. And yet, that’s the kinds of descriptions are being added.

I don’t understand why people feel the need to do this, to say things like “this character is more of an antagonist than that one is” or to say “well, they used to be an antagonist, but now they’re kind of a protagonist that is a lower-level protagonist than this other character”. It’s become bad enough that I need to come up with a policy for the wikis I’m on. I have a few guidelines written but not a standardized policy.

So, writers, do you assign precise definitions to your characters about what kind of antagonist/protagonist they are, or do you go with a general description of what role they will play in your story. And if the former, is that something you also do when you watch a movie or read a story?

Can you know a person before you meet them? My fiction is sorely neglected these days, but I’ve never done more than briefly sketch a character before getting into the story. You get to know them as you write them, and sometimes that’s iterative and you have to go rewrite older stuff. But it’s also a lot less paralyzing than trying to top-down the whole thing :slight_smile:

To me that looks like a lot of people who will never even finish writing a book, let alone publish one.
Tell them to get a life and then leave.

When I write, the write characters. They have thought processes, emotions, and reactions unique to them. When presented with a situation, they react according to that. Pinning characters down should be like pinning people down. If you’re able to assign all of your characters specific, definable roles, then they’re not believable characters, in my opinion.

1 Like

Agreed, Nabiki.

Having said that, I’m more of a “pantser” than a “plotter”, so sometimes characters just show up and tell me they’re now part of the story. :smile:

1 Like

i’d disagree that the ability to assign a role to character means they aren’t believable, but rather i would point out that fully-developed characters may both wear many hats and stop or start wearing different hats as the story progresses. i’m not sure there is any such thing as a “neutral antagonist” or “secondary antagonist”. What is that even supposed to mean? Tropes are not bad, but meaningless labels are…

I’ve had that happen. I’ve also had characters react to things in unplanned ways. It’s part of making the characters ‘real’ in my mind.

These are being added by kids most likely. I’m just looking for confirmation from people who might actually have a reason to do this sort of thing to use that as a means of showing the kids that they need to stop.

At the risk of being blunt, I don’t understand the motivation behind the circumstances that led to asking the question. What’s the presumed value of such analysis?

Fiction is about telling the story, not about minutely defining and labelling its elements. Good workshops can help writers understand the importance of story elements and tying them together properly, but beyond that basic understanding, it’s usually best to let the story write itself.

Perhaps you might try to remind them that the terms “protagonist” and “antagonist” are, after all, merely constructs to give perspective on the interplay between characters…or even between a character and the environment.

I don’t understand the motivation behind why people feel the need to do this, either. I asked this question because I’m trying to come up with a standard way to address a wide-spread problem. Let me give you an example of why this is necessary.

  • User A says character is Description 1
  • User A then says character is Description 2
  • User B says character is Description 1
  • User C says character is Description 2
  • User A says character is Description 3
  • User D says character is Description 2
  • User A says character is Description 1
  • User E says character is Description 4
  • User A says character is Description 2
  • User A then says character is Description 1
  • User A then says character is Description 5
  • User B says character is Description 2
  • User A says character is Description 3
  • User F says character is Description 1
  • User A says character is Description 2
  • User B says character is Description 5

Now, let’s make it even more complex:

  • On Wiki A, user A says character is Description 1
  • On Wiki B, user A says the same character is Description 2
  • User A goes back to Wiki A and says that character is Description 3
  • User A goes over to Wiki C and says the same character is Description 2

And on and on it goes in circles. If there was a serious attempt, no, scratch that, any attempt to provide a reason why these people are making these changes, that would be a different matter. Or, if the change actually did help more accurately describe what the character is, that would also be a different matter. Instead, the reason seems to be “I’m going to change this just to change this” or a game of “what kind of antagonist do I think this character is today”. I have been referring to this as “antagonist fussing”.

By changing things just to change things and contradicting themselves and each other, they are abusing their editing privileges. It also has a lot in common with vandalism because vandals typically have one type of vandalism they are fixated on. In a few cases, I caught some of them re-saving the page on the version they last edited, even if some of the edits in between were to clean up different issues, which told me they were actually committing vandalism.

This has reached the annoying stage and I’m going to put a stop to it on as many wikis as I can, starting with the ones where I’m an administrator. I haven’t had anything standardized before now, so I haven’t been able to even apply my informal rule of blocking people who are a nuisance. On wikis where I’m not an admin (this is typically happening on wikis where the admins have long since left), I’ll just have to stick with cleaning up their messes until they get tired and leave. On a few other wikis that do have active admins, they’re starting to see that this is a problem also, so I will be able to share my solution with them.

Lock the page. Require a discussion on the talk page before allowing an edit. Appoint an admin to the page who all edits have to go through. This is standard practice on The Other Wiki. If this isn’t vandalism proper, it’s vandalism through being a moron, which is worse. Even tvtropes doesn’t allow that sort of nonsense, so there’s no reason for you to allow it on your wikis either.

“Vandalism by being a moron”. I like that.

For wikis where this is a problem and I’m an admin, your idea would work, but I’m the only active admin, so it would be up to me to monitor the requests. On the other wikis, not gonna work so much. Part of the problem is that a person decided that he wanted to make is own version of the Villains Wiki. But one wiki wasn’t enough, so he created a two on the same day. Guess what he called them?

wait for it…


The “Antagonist Wiki” and the “Antagonists Wiki”. He made the first one look like the Villains Wiki, which added to the confusion. This one, he started and then immediately abandoned it. The second, he started it and did nothing with it. His account is closed. So there are two admin-less wikis where the name of the wikis encourage antagonist fussing.

I did write out a policy but haven’t implemented it yet because it’s more of a “don’t call them antagonists at all” policy and I haven’t figured out how to adapt that to those two wikis, and I would be acting as admin on a wiki where I am not.

In that case, you may be better off ignoring them entirely. Not calling them antagonists doesn’t really work though, because not all antagonists are villains, in the usual sense of the words. For the pages you’re an admin, rather than monitoring every single change request, just implement and actual change request process, with a clear method, and require citations and documentation to back up a request. For the other two pages… become an admin? Petition the hosting service (wikia or whoever) to close them? If they aren’t being run properly, they’re hardly a good comment on their service, so they should be amenable to some sort of solution, i should think.

Thought I would give everyone an update on this. I took a serious look into the problem and found out how ridiculous and just plain bad the situation had become. People were so determined to line up characters side by side and say, “this character is precisely this much more of an antagonist than that character”. But they’d never agree on what that order should be, so you’d get things like “move character #3 five spaces to the right to make them less of an antagonist than the others”. For one character alone, people came up with 161 different ways to describe him as an antagonist.

In all of that fussing over trying to rigidly-define exactly what kind of antagonist each character is, they would ignore everything else about the character, their motivations, how they interacted with other characters and what they did in the story. These are the people that would ignore the fact that Anakin Skywalker tortured his own daughter, created C-3PO, was born without a father, killed children, et cetera, just so that they could keep parroting, “Darth Vader is an antagonist”. In a real-life discussion, they’d say something like “Henry is 43% more my best friend than Steve is, but he’s 27% less of my friend than Thomas is when it comes to sports teams.”

Fortunately, I was able make a convincing enough case that other wikis were also able to see how pointless this was and they put into place some of the same reforms I came up with. And I wound up becoming an admin on one of those two Antagonist wikis I mentioned in my last message.

This has led to working on more reforms involving categories. In many cases, categories were used as an excuse not to say anything about the characters. It’s a case of “why bother writing anything to show how this character is arrogant and a jerk if I can just put ‘arrogant’ and ‘jerks’ categories on the page?” Some of the worst examples had dozens of categories like this and one or two sentences along the lines of “Character X is an antagonist in TV show Y.” Now it’s going to be "write sentences and don’t just slap categories on pages instead’.

The next reform is actually going to be a little more focused. There’s a few people that seem to like taking a character and twisting them into being more evil than they actually are. For example, if you’ve seen Zootopia, you know that Mayor Lionheart was reacting to a crisis but he didn’t do things very ethically. Before the movie came out, he had been twisted into this really vile, power-hungry character that ordered the deaths of several animals. And going along with that is the other speculation about what will happen in an upcoming movie where tiny details are blown out of proportion so far that they become convinced they know exactly what will happen.

For these, it’s basically going to be a case where their own words prove they’re lying and I’m going to point it out when appropriate.

1 Like