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Trouble creating an opponent

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Deleted member 6270, Apr 7, 2019.

  1. I am struggling to come up with an opponent for one of my characters.

    I know that a good opponent shows the weaknesses in the protagonist, that they and the protagonist should be fighting over the same goal, etc. I've read endless advice about creating opponents. But I just can't seem to get ideas.

    The problem is, my protagonist is very isolated, so hasn't really had a chance to create any enemies. They only know a handful of people at the beginning of the story. They've been abused in the past, but I don't feel like it's right for the story for any of the abusers to return to their life. A big part of the character's growth is them learning to heal (some of) their past trauma, and that's not really doable if they're still being traumatised throughout the story.

    I don't really know how to create an opponent who is fighting with the protagonist for the same goal, since it's primarily a love story so the goal is being with their love interest, but the protagonist and the love interest are polyamorous, so it's not like either of them would have to choose between each other and someone else. So I can't have an opponent who is a love rival.

    And in terms of creating an opponent based on weaknesses in the protagonist... This is certainly possible, but I'm having a really hard time coming up with a concrete character. My protagonist definitely has weaknesses, but none of them are so terrible that they'd make a real enemy because of it. I know opponents don't have to be 'enemies' as such, but I don't know how to create an opponent out of bad-but-not-truly-terrible weaknesses (e.g. distrust, perfectionism, unreasonably high moral standards for themself and others).

    I don't want to fall into that trap of 'the protagonist's opponent is themself'. And this isn't a story where some authority figure is oppressing the character, so that's out too. I'm really struggling with this. Any advice?
  2. Cygnus X-1

    Cygnus X-1 New Member

    Hi, Imagine. I'm a new member here myself, but I'll try to help. It may seem too obvious, but what if the enemy is abusing someone the hero cares about: a younger sibling or maybe just a friend. Given his past, that would give him motivation to battle(?) his enemy.
    Black Dragon likes this.
  3. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

    Every story needs a conflict, so what is the conflict? Could not the antagonist be born out of that?

    The antagonist, or opponent need not be someone from the characters past, or even someone they even know. I warlord invading lands that character happens to live in, or has people he cares about in, ought to be sufficient to make him want to take action?

    But I find the question above hard to assist with as I am not aware of the call to action, or the conflict of the story.

    Typical conflicts are along the lines of Man vs Man, Man vs Himself, Man vs Nature (or supernature), Man vs society....

    Can you identify those any?
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    As pmmg has said, the protagonist doesn't have to be a person. There are plenty of stories where the conflict is with something physical--climbing a mountain, crossing a sea. It can be a series of antagonists--making one's way through a bureaucracy, for example. And also as pmmg said, paraphrasing here: insufficient data for meaningful answer.
  5. ChasingSuns

    ChasingSuns Sage

    A thought that came to my mind is related to the history with abuse. Perhaps another character was abused similarly, perhaps even by the same abuser. The difference with this character is that they are not handling it in a healthy fashion. Perhaps they begin closer to the protagonist, but the protagonist will experience growth and the antagonist will not. Perhaps this individual begins lashing out in their own way as a method of coping. It could create a situation where you have a tragic story for your antagonist, as well as a trait that will make them sympathetic to the reader to some degree, if for no other reason, than to have them see that this character isn't evil by nature, but rather as a victim of circumstance who didn't find a healthy method of coping with trauma.

    This could also play into the weaknesses of the protagonist in terms of facing their own past and methods of coping, and could provide that protagonist with even more opportunities to grow.
  6. Seira

    Seira Minstrel

    I know very little about your story but could his main opponent be himself? You could focus on internal conflict.
    Or maybe the weather. Is he willingly isolated or not? If not, who is isolating him?

    More information on your plot would probably be useful to us.
  7. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Reminds me of stories where characters are shipwrecked and the simple thought of the arrival of enemies (e.g. pirates, even people willing to take the character back home) become the opponent. Ominous unseen actions (scarecrows appearing, a sudden dead person, etc) are also good.
  8. KJF

    KJF Acolyte

    I might ask what created or drove the abuse? Maybe (probably) whatever that was is still active in the world and gets expressed as new obstacles for the protagonist. Even poverty and desperate circumstances have roots and that can be the opponent. Maybe they are just fighting an oppressive situation.
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Your original post was too vague for me, so I can't offer any targeted, specific suggestions.

    I don't know much about the world, the local milieu of the protagonist, or the lives of the two lovebirds, so this limits my answer.

    In general, I think you could start looking at these areas and try to find opposition that also fits within that setting. For instance, what is your protagonist's occupation? What is the love interest's occupation? Why aren't these two individuals already in a solid relationship? Our lives are rather complex, as are our backstories and mental/emotional states, so I think there might be natural obstacles to the relationship. In Romeo and Juliet, it's the background conflict between the families that causes problems for them—not the fact that anyone else in those families is working directly against them. The same thing could be true of your two lovebirds. Is one an indentured servant who needs to work off a massive debt before they can have the freedom to build a home for themselves? Is war looming, and all able-bodied citizens are being called up to form militias, and this prevents being able to form that relationship? Does one have a curse that must be removed first?

    There are any number of situations that can act as obstacles to the happily-ever-after for these two characters, and because of this you might have some choices about who in their environment is working against them. The opponent might not even care a whit about their relationship, might not even know about it or think of them much at all, but be doing things or requiring things and putting too much pressure on them, forcing them to deal with that situation. You can have an opponent who more or less embodies that general exterior conflict. It could even be a friend or family member putting pressure on the protagonist, someone who has too much control over the protagonist's life or the locality.
  10. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    I know next to nothing about the polyamorous lifestyle, so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. My suspicion would be, however, that even individuals who consciously choose to be polyamorous still deal with the same basic human emotions that the rest of us do, including jealously. I also imagine that it's not entirely unheard of for a polyamorous individual - at some point - to want the love interest to value them above all others... or to love them alone. So, that could be part of the dynamics in your story. Polyamorous or not, jealousy is a part of the the human conditions, and that could fuel an antagonistic relationship, even when people consciously choose otherwise.

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