IWSG March 2019 — Perspective

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Thanks to Alex for hosting this each month. Here is the complete list of participants.

Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I usually err on the side of the protagonist, because I think it actually depends more on which character I like the best, aka whichever one comes easiest to me most of the time. Which raises a question of my own…

If it’s from the antagonist’s POV isn’t that just a combination of anti-hero and unreliable narrator?

In real life, every person sees themselves as the hero of their own story. This is also true for any well-developed, well-written fictional character, so I feel it’s incredibly relevant when considering what a protagonist and an antagonist are.

I was haphazardly googling around for inspiration in writing this post and I found this thought:

“Protagonist and antagonist are not point of view characters but are character functions. The protagonist is the one who is the prime mover of the effort to achieve the goal. The antagonist is all about preventing the protagonist from achieving the goal. In our own minds, protagonist represents our initiative – the motivation to affect change. Antagonist is our reticence – the motivation to maintain the status quo, or at least to return to it.” ~ The Storymind Writer’s Library

But that still leaves it as a matter of how the story is written, and the reader’s perspective on what’s happening. Here are some dictionary definitions, also found via google:

Protagonist

  • the leading character or one of the major characters in a drama, movie, novel, or other fictional text
  • the main figure or one of the most prominent figures in a real situation
  • an advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea

Antagonist

  • a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary
  • (biochemistry) a substance that interferes with or inhibits the physiological action of another.
  • (anatomy) a muscle whose action counteracts that of another specified muscle.

So “protagonist versus antagonist” has been explained variously as “initiative versus reticence,” “motivation to affect change versus motivation to maintain status quo,” and/or “leading character versus someone opposing/counteracting leading character in some way.”

What if it’s a character who’s trying to save the world versus a character trying to return the world to its less complicated, pre-human state? Or, to put it another way, a character who’s trying to destroy the world versus a character trying to stop them and maintain the status quo?

Frodo trying to get the One Ring to Mount Doom and destroy it vs Sauron and minions trying to stop him? Or, Sauron trying to conquer Middle Earth vs the Fellowship setting out on a quest to keep it free?

Raise your hand if you had instinctive knee-jerk answers to the previous two paragraphs, because I know I do. Most of the stories that I can think of at the moment are that first way around.

Now consider, if you’ve seen it, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

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Wikipedia

On one hand you have the obvious good guy Captain Hammer, who’s as much of a tool as his name suggests and who gets the girl because, duh, he’s the good guy. On the other you have Dr. Horrible, aka Billy, an aspiring super-villain whose application to the Evil League of Evil keeps being rejected and who doesn’t get the girl because, duh, he’s the bad guy. Without giving any outright spoilers, let’s just say that in trying to get his crush to break up with Captain Hammer by proving that he’s actually a selfish, self-involved jerk, Dr. Horrible accidentally causes a death, is finally accepted by the League, and is so emotionally shut down by what he’s done that he accepts.

Who’s trying to accomplish something? Dr. Horrible. Who’s the main character and champion of a cause? Dr. Horrible. Who do we see the most of throughout the story and who does your heart break for by the end? Dr. Horrible, even though he could easily qualify as an antagonist under different circumstances — i.e. if you didn’t get primarily his side of the story.

… I haven’t really answered the IWSG question, have I?

Or maybe I have. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

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13 thoughts on “IWSG March 2019 — Perspective

    1. Just to be devil’s advocate, I’ve been trying to think of a story where the villain is completely aware that there is no redeeming value in what they’re doing, and still doing it anyway. So far, I’m drawing a blank. Maybe a character that’s a pawn of the greater villain and is trapped into being evil?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Flaws, flaws for everybody! Well, flaws are just behaviors that don’t work out to well the given context, but could in another. Like, a strong moral compass is a good, but in grayer circumstances it could lead to a problematic inability to compromise.

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    1. The only character of his that I didn’t like was Caleb in season seven of BtVS, because he was unrepentantly evil as hell and did some unspeakable things. But still, it was very well played.

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  1. As I write self-improvement non-fiction, with only a small amount of creative non-fiction thrown in, I have never really thought about this question in depth. Having read your blog post, I now certainly have.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your blog made me think of what the director of a community acting group’s production of Bus Stop said about who is the ‘main’ character in a play. It is the person/character who’s character goes through a transformation during the play. So in Bus Stop it isn’t the ‘young cowboy’ or the ‘girl’, but the ‘old cowboy’. Protagonist and Antagonist kind of work the same by your definition (or dictionary ones). One working for change, the other resisting the change. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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