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QUACKCAST 87 - needs your contribution! subject: Protagonists and Antagonists do's and don'ts
ozoneocean at 6:08AM, July 11, 2012
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Up with People: Heroes and Villains
What are the Do's and Do Not Do's when it comes to creating protagonists and antagonists???
 
-note- an “antihero” is still a protagonist, just not a classically “heroic” one.
 
This is For Quackcast 87 recording on the 21st. I'd love your opinions on making heros and villians. Who are some of your fave heros and villians? What makes you own characters such good heroes or villians?
 
Tantz Aerine at 9:17AM, July 11, 2012
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I'd like to contribute on this. How does that usually work? And what's the deadline for it?
 
ozoneocean at 5:53PM, July 11, 2012
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Well you can posit it here or email it to me if you do a recording :)
 
The deadline is the 20th - next Friday!
 
Gunwallace at 6:24PM, July 11, 2012
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There are do's and don'ts when it comes to a subject like this?
David ‘Gunwallace’ Tulloch, www.virtuallycomics.com
Call Me Tom at 8:48PM, July 11, 2012
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Pretty much what Gunwallace said. I've been racking my brain around it and I've come up with nothing! A lot of comics, books, films etc that I like, the protagonists have nothing in common between them! I can't see a repetitive formula apart from the fact that I as the viewer wants to see then succeed.
ozoneocean at 9:46PM, July 11, 2012
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There don't have to be any official rules, just talk about your opinions based on this. :)
The description was Bane's Idea…
 
How about: What are YOUR Do's and Donts?
How do YOU prefer to construct your heroes and villains?
 
Is the hero just a hero because they're the protagonist? Or are they a classic hero?
What's the difference between heroes an protagonists? Villains and antagonists? Is your villian your antagonist?
Can a villainous character be your hero?
What is an anti-hero to you?
 
Hmm? ^_^
 
bravo1102 at 2:55AM, July 13, 2012
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I don't beleive in heroes or villians just characters with their own interests.  Whether those interests are bad or good is for the reader to determine, I'm just telling the story.

The true nature of heroics is a normal guy in an extreme situation who does stuff that has to get done and simply because he's the guy who did it, he's the hero.  Look at the citations for Medal of Honor winners and you'll see that again and again.  Something needed to get done, no one else was capable so he did it.  Being a hero gets one killed or at least seriously injured.

That segues into the whole “ordinary people in extraordinary situations”  I don't do special stupor munde (Wonder of the world, someone who gets called “The great”) characters except as satire or parody because to me such figures are a big joke and the reality of them is full of hot air, manure or both. 

In the Robofemoids saga the protagonists are the villians.  The Grey Guys are kidnapping women and making them into those laser wielding monsters topless or no that's not a good thing.   In Attack of the Robofemoids all the efforts of the heroes are futile and amount to so much expended ammunition for little return.  Of course the story is all nonsense but the fact remains that the Grey Guys are the villians and the story is about how they go around doing those bad things whereas the good guys are the antagonists because they're trying to stop them.
Tantz Aerine at 7:03AM, July 17, 2012
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I would only point out ONE ‘don’t’ that I believe should hold for every aspect of the
creative process, including but not only for the construction of
heroes/villains and the like:
 
DON’T do something because you think it is popular and will boost you to the top ranks
as a creator because someone else had this result from doing it. I.e. don’t do
something, apply something, or give an attribute to your characters or your
story in general as a quick bid for popularity or traffic. It will simply
render your story contrite and lacking in the originality department, and
nobody likes cookie cutter art. At least nobody looking for art anyway :P
 
The whole issue of originality hangs on this element, I believe; the stories themselves,
the basic plots, have all been done before. One could say that stripping them
of their assorted settings, characters and plot devices, all stories come down
to a few different basic plots we can count on one hand.
The originality lies within the settings, characters and plot devices, because by
nature each person’s life, experiences and positions are unique. Everyone has a
unique story to tell, even though human interactions are universal across
culture and time. THAT, in my opinion, is what a creator should focus on: doing
things that make sense to him/her according to his/her own experiences,
thoughts and interests and NOT because there’s a craze or fad about something.
After all, when Tolkien wrote LOTR, nobody was into elves. Not even his friends. ;)
 
More to the point, therefore: try to construct your characters as people you understand,
people you would expect in real life would act or react in the way you are
describing, because of very concrete reasons. That goes for both the villains
and the heroes.
 
In my book, the one defining difference between a villain and a hero is whether or not
he/she has a code of ethics or not. I.e. whether he/she self regulates his/her
own reactions based not on whether he/she CAN do something, but whether he/she
SHOULD. If the ‘I do it because I can’ idea is what powers the character, then
no matter what the side he is on, he is a villain, because he will stop at
nothing to achieve a goal- there is nothing beneath him, no limits in the
extents to which he will go for success. This character is not capable of
compassion.
The hero is the character that acts based on whether he/she SHOULD do something, regardless of whether or not he/she CAN. This entails altruism and compassion, including
the practicality approach that Bravo 1102 mentioned. There are limits to what
he/she will do for a cause. Some things are untouchables, cannot be done- some
means can never be justified by the end. It often makes the hero’s journey far
tougher and emotionally straining. No matter which side this character is on, he/she
is a hero because it is a mathematical certainty that they will end up in the
right side, whichever that is, and regardless social or political affiliations.

I also don’t like to make my characters larger than life- I think that life itself has created
enough social and human monsters and angels to pump material and ideas from.
Plus I do believe, based on my personal experiences and all the research I’ve
done that real, dangerous villains don’t twirl their moustaches or cackle into
thunder (unless they are experiencing a manic episode). They simmer with a
small sinister smile in the shadows as they watch their scheme play out. And
everyone, EVERYONE will present themselves as the hero, the good guy, the
victim. Nobody ADMITS to evil. Not directly.
Real heroes don’t blow their horn either, simply because most of the times they don’t see
what they do as special; or if they do, they expect their environment to
spontaneously recognize this rather than be forced into doing so. So often in
order to get a real hero to blow his/her own horn, you’d have to get them
angered enough with injustice to just throw stuff they’ve done in your face.
SOMETIMES.
 
A villain can be my protagonist (I’ve written short stories where the villain is the
protagonist) but he can never be my hero :P
As for an anti-hero, I think those are either the heroes that start their journeys from
the wrong ‘side’, or who have a lot of things to cater to emotionally they
carry around as baggage. They may act out or they may be gruff and snarly but
their actions are always consistent with their core limits, which may or may
not change as they develop through the story.
So that’s my two cents J
 
last edited on July 17, 2012 7:04AM
Tantz Aerine at 7:04AM, July 17, 2012
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ugh, this formatting is horrible. I give up. :( 
 
Tamerlane at 9:52PM, July 17, 2012
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DON'T make your antagonist more likeable than your protagonist. Sometimes it just happens but It's hard to take it when your readers are rooting for the guy you ultimately know is gonna lose and lead to an ending that upsets the majority of fans.
Banes at 9:15AM, July 18, 2012
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Tamerlane – a good point!

Gun and Tom, the topic is more about how you go about it yourself and what your opinion is…sorry if that wasn't more clear.

It has nothing to do with rules. My descriptions need more editorial attention, methinks  :-)

It's YOUR character creation and thoughts on it, and your thoughts on protagonist/antagonist characters and shtuff. Or even maybe some of that good ol' DD style debate! Of course there are no rules.

Tantz, don't sweat the formatting…we'll happily read your excellent thoughts out. Anything for the Icelandic Queen!
last edited on July 18, 2012 9:18AM
Tantz Aerine at 11:57AM, July 18, 2012
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You're a true gentleman, Banes :D
 
bravo1102 at 12:11AM, July 19, 2012
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Tamerlane wrote:
DON'T make your antagonist more likeable than your protagonist. Sometimes it just happens but It's hard to take it when your readers are rooting for the guy you ultimately know is gonna lose and lead to an ending that upsets the majority of fans.
 That's when you break convention and have the bad guy win and do something original as opposed to what everyone was expecting. You'd be surprised how many of the fans will applaud your originality as opposed to “how is Captain Awesome going to get out of this one?”
 

GULP he's dead!  That's one thing I really liked about Mystery Men they killed the hero and the second team had to do it and you were never sure if they could.  In a series you always know the main character will come through and win.  What if he doesn't and the somewhat scruffy and likable villain wins?

 I'm just playing devil's advocate because I know in the end one always has to follow the tropes to keep an audience and maybe that's why I don't have an audience because I'm off in meta-meta land. 
last edited on July 19, 2012 12:12AM
ozoneocean at 12:41AM, July 19, 2012
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I think Tamelane has a good point there Bravo- notice the words were “protagonist” and “antagonist”, that's not always the same thing as hero.
A story villain can just as easily be your protagonist… and usually your purpose is to make people identify with your protagonist, whatever role they fill.
(the hero guy in Mystery Men wasn't a protagonist, just a side character)
 
But you do have a point too of course. In the Starwars movies quite a lot of us liked Darth Vader better than Luke Skywalker or even Han Solo and that didn't hurt those films at all. :)
 
bravo1102 at 3:37AM, July 19, 2012
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What I'm saying is have the antagonist not only be more likeable but win.  However always keep it clear that the antagonist is the antagonist and working against the protagonist, but in the end be victorious.

That whole hopeless battle that is indeed lost.  Imagine a retelling where Leonidias and Xerxes are equally likeable but the Spartans aren't quite as heroic as all that and even though you want to root for the Spartans you end up rooting for the Persians to win… and they do.

Think about some of the films of the 1970s like Tora, Tora, Tora.  Each character is the protagonist of his/her section of the film whether Japanese or American but the Japanese are tragic winners because even though they win they ultimately suffer disasterously.  No clear antagonist or protagonist per se just two sets of characters working at cross purposes.  

Can you tell I took literature in college?  Yeah, murky anti-everything.  I love anti-heroes.  Like Groucho whatever it is I'm against it.
Tantz Aerine at 8:07AM, July 19, 2012
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bravo1102 wrote:
That whole hopeless battle that is indeed lost.  Imagine a retelling where Leonidias and Xerxes are equally likeable but the Spartans aren't quite as heroic as all that and even though you want to root for the Spartans you end up rooting for the Persians to win… and they do.
  

Think about some of the films of the 1970s like Tora, Tora, Tora.  Each character is the protagonist of his/her section of the film whether Japanese or American but the Japanese are tragic winners because even though they win they ultimately suffer disasterously.  No clear antagonist or protagonist per se just two sets of characters working at cross purposes.  

 Actually you aren't disagreeing with Tamerlane, if I got what you said straight Bravo- you always include the element that the antagonist has to be likable and in the examples you give, you always stress that both sides are at least equally alluring/amiable to the audience. That makes them by default either the REAL protagonists or the villains and the heroes are in reality clashing protagonists- in that you want the audience to be split into who to root for, for various reasons. 

In Phantom of the Opera you have that sort of dilemma with the two love interests, Eric and Raoul. Audiences tend to root for the Phantom more (personally I love Eric's angst, but if asked to choose who to marry, I'd take the emotionally stable one that doesn't measure love in terms of possession… but I still like the Phantom and am sad when he loses), though it's clear the more ‘classic’ protagonist is Raoul. Or others might even argue that Raoul is not even the protagonist, but rather the antagonist because the Phantom is the central character (and the titular one). Here you got a case where the antagonist wins (Raoul).

But both were likeable. If you have a monster win in your story without clearly setting it up in a way that it still offers your audience emotional balance and/or catharsis, it's just being nasty to your audience I think, and underhanded since they trust you with their minds and hearts when they let you tell them your story.

For the record I actually don't think your stories are all that meta meta anti-plot bunny. I find them for the most part reminiscent of Princess Bride style approach to story telling. (that is a GOOD thing) 
 
last edited on July 19, 2012 8:10AM
PIT_FACE at 9:02PM, July 19, 2012
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i think the bottom line here is people will root, or at least follow whoever interests them most, wether it be protagonist or antgonist and if you can keep it interesting, you win. wether you kill em off at the end of the story or what. i gotta say i disagree with Tamerlane. Maby your audience WILL get upset if they get attached to the antagonist and you have to off him or her. but that's a reaction. is it really better than to NOT have that care for a charactrer at all and MISS that very interesting part of the story? that might not be the way the writer wants it to go i guess. which is understandable. if your protagonist is ignored that wouldnt feel great but definitely dont smother a good character in favor of a lesser character. i know you hadnt suggested downplaying the antagonist either, Tamberlane so im not trying to put words in your mouth, so sorry if it sounded like i am.
i can write a character as good as the story demands. Putrid Meat is gritty and fuckin weird, so is Bones and for the stories he's in he isnt supposed to be a purely good guy. sometimes you wonder if he's a good guy at all! in Brave Resistance (which Tantz writes alot've too) Hunter is almost nothing like Bones because his setting doesnt DEMAND a character like Bones. likewise with the antagonists of those stories, though…Exis and Ludger could have alot in common now that i think about it. but they serve their settings and their settings serve them and if we've done our job they'll become interesting too.
p.s. wait, when'd Tantz become the icelandic queen?
Banes at 9:33AM, July 20, 2012
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I'm lovin' this stuff! Really good insights all around – sorry for not acknowledging your posts, bravo…great stuff about characters having their own interests as opposed to being “heroes” or “villains”, and the “murkiness” of more literary stories versus more straightforward drama.

“The House of Sand and Fog” is a great example (I'm always with the movies, I know. Can't read, sorry). There is a pretty clear protagonist, in writer's terms (the character who changes the most, drives the story forward), but I was hard pressed to choose a side, really. The antagonist had his issues, but one could see his point in a way. Both “hero” and “villain” had their flaws, and both were “right” in a way, and also “wrong”. I didn't know who I was rooting for, but I was interested right to the end.

Like Pit Face said…it's more about being INTERESTING and COMPELLING than having a clear good guy and bad guy.

Loved your thoughts, Pit Face. The setting can breed the characters and different characters with different levels of “good” or “bad” fit different stories.

A character to fit a setting (or to fit a story) is a good idea.


CHARACTER MATCHING STORY/SETTING

Especially in a standalone piece of work, the character oughtta match the story, and be the right fit for the plot and theme of the story. I've had struggles with collaborators over stuff like that (and struggles with myself) when I like a certain character or certain elements of a character, but it just doesn't fit the story at all.

In an ongoing series with a recurring protagonist/antagonist, the ‘setting’ thing is probably even more important, because there could be new plots every time, so it's the ‘world’ that the character fits into (even if the character contrasts that  world completely…A Witch on Wall Street is still a possible great match of character and setting, because of the contrast).

WHAT I DO

In my comic, I think a lot about temperament with my characters, especially the main or recurring characters. Some of them are more passive, some are prone to action. Some are more logical, some are more creative/intuitive, and some have more surreal thought processes…

Working that out, and the various relationships between them, was what worked for my comic. And my project is all about taking those characters and those relationships and moving them around to different combinations, and into different plots.

For guest stars, I've used mostly stock character types so far. No really big antagonists yet.

A sit com, I guess is what it is.
ayesinback at 10:28AM, July 20, 2012
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Great discussion!  I especially likes Banes observation:
 
Like Pit Face said…it's more about being INTERESTING and COMPELLING than having a clear good guy and bad guy.
 
so true, imo. If you think about RL:  how many people have you met who you could describe as all good or all bad? And if you have met such, is it an evolving relationship or rather a stagnant one?
 
For me there has to be an organic nature to a character, someone who changes and becomes more layered over time, more interesting.  And that requirement is only compounded depending on the type of acquaintance:  face-to-face (actual people), interactive-writing (internet), printed writing.
 
But a protaganist is not just about being the most interesting.  When you're the outsider-looking-in (a reader), your protagonist will probably be a main character not just because they are more developed, more layered, more interesting – but because the story pivots on their choices.  I think someone alredy wrote this – so hats of, You.
 
BTW: Tamerlane is right that a fan of a character will have a jolt at the demise of the character.  But then isn't that half the fun of Game of Thrones, for one example?
under new management
ozoneocean at 10:59AM, July 20, 2012
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My opinion is that in real life there are no real heroes or villains, just people who you agree with and support and the opposite of that… Because everyone thinks they're doing right from their own perspective (almost anyway), even the most wicked evil monsters. (I think they're monsters, even though they don't).
Real life is full of shades of grey and many, many ways of looking at things.
 
But story writing is different. It doesn't tend to be objective and it's usually told from very limited perspectives. Even when a story is told from multiple perspectives they're still FIXED perspective that're predetermined by the author, so achieving a realistic shades-of-grey balance is less likely.
So I think, why not embrace the fact that it's a fully structured world? Embrace cliche and play with it! :)
Something like the Drunk Duck radio play is a great example of that- check out the comic on Aye's profile. ;)
 
I'm not a great writer, but for my main protagonist, Pinky, I don't make her heroic. I don't have to because she's already obviously the main character. I try to layer on the faults and failings because I think that makes her more human- she's impatient, selfish, rude, mean and a bit vulnerable at times. It's more fun that way.
Ace Kinkaid is doing duty as a villainous antagonist right now. I attempted to make him moderately charming, intelligent, competent, handsome, skilled, and resourceful, if a little calculating.
But still, coming back to Tamerlane, the idea is that you like HER because she's pretty human as well as the main character, and you don't like Ace so much because he's in opposition to her.
 
ayesinback at 11:26AM, July 20, 2012
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ozoneocean wrote:
My opinion is that in real life there are no real heroes or villains, just people who you agree with and support and the opposite of that… Because everyone thinks they're doing right from their own perspective (almost anyway), even the most wicked evil monsters. (I think they're monsters, even though they don't).
Real life is full of shades of grey and many, many ways of looking at things.
  
 
?  I agree with “no real heroes or villains” – hope I said as much – but do you agree with yourself when you add that you think there are monsters?
 
As far as embracing the limited and subjective and cliches, I can't say that wouldn't be interesting to somebody. For me, tho, surprises are more interesting, especially thru character development (the layering)  because, as I think Tantz wrote, most stories have already been told, it's just changing up settings and the characters involved. I have little interest in reading most re-hashes. 
 
As far as the radio play, the characters are pretty stock, but were then given new appeal as Gunwallace surprised us with unexpected details (I'm thinking about your page in particular, Oz, “up the wazoo”).  He added shades of gray.
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ozoneocean at 11:46AM, July 20, 2012
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Ayesinback wrote:

but do you agree with yourself when you add that you think there are monsters?
 

Yes, of course. It's the difference between the objective and subjective:
Objectively I know that almost everyone sees themselves as being “right”, but from my own perspective some people ARE monsters- because I am a subjective person like everyone else.
 
The famous and super obvious example:
 

- Hitler thought he himself was an OK chap, doing great things to make Germany strong and powerful etc… even if he had to take a few shortcuts and do some necessarily questionable things to get there, he could still justify to himself that it was ok because it was all in the service of his greater purpose.
 
- For myself, I agree with 99% of everyone else: he was a monster. A horrible, awful, inhuman piece of shit. :)
 
I'm probably committed some internet sin with this reference…
 
Tamerlane at 12:44PM, July 20, 2012
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Nice discussions.
 
Just wanted to mention that my point wasn't that protagonists couldn't be “unlikeable” in the sense that they couldn't be “bad”. I also wasn't specifically talking about demise and killing off characters. Rather I was just talking about how “interesting” they are.
 
Some series have a protagonist who is just run of the mill because perhaps they are just starting out. Then as they add the antagonists and have a better grasp at writing, they create a character who is more fleshed out and three dimensionsal compared to the protagonist. As a result that antagonist becomes much more interesting to the readers but the the writer has a dilemma of now continuing the story with this rather “bland” character. They might even be a fine character but its the comparison of the antagonist to me that makes them less interesting. That's all I was saying.
 
In my opinion, and experience I have stopped reading comics because the protagonist is too “weak” in comparison so I'm not particularly interested in their plight.
Banes at 12:56PM, July 21, 2012
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Thanks so much for all these great insights, everybody! We just recorded the 'Cast and it went great because of all your contributions!

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