Protagonists are always in need of antagonists.
Usually, those are visible, concrete, specific: the protagonists are up against someone or someones who are obstructing their way to attaining their goal. Some are even so powerfully clashing against each other that they are nemeses. Superman and Lex Luthor, Batman and the Joker, the North and the South, the Allies and the Axis, in fiction and in life it's a pattern that is always recurring.
When having a clear antagonist, the suspense lies in their tug of war, their game of wits, the back and forth within the story.
But what if the enemy is unseen?
I don't mean that there's an invisible individual that is an enemy or antagonist, though that too can be pretty interesting as a story.
I'm talking about an unseen enemy that has nothing to do with individuals. It is not sentient in the way we expect individuals to be. It is not ethical or unethical. It is not caring or uncaring. It operates on ones and zeros: either it gets you or it doesn't, and it doesn't care either way.
The Unseen Enemy is a force of nature, a plague, a war, a climate change, a shift in the status quo that simply is blind to the impact it will have to the characters in its path.
So what now?
What kind of suspense can be built against an unseen enemy that is invincible?
How does everyone act when it's the end of days, when death knocks on your door, when there is nothing to look forward to but desperation?
Such a situation is an amazing opportunity for exploring personalities. For seeing how people evolve and how they deal with terrible stakes.
How does one survive Armageddon, whichever version that may be? How does one deal with it?
Will you shut yourself in your grand castle and party until inadvertedly Armageddon overtakes you?
Or will you try to avert it, or salvage what can be salvaged in its wake?
The Unseen Enemy, when outside, is terrible but gives an opportunity for people to come together- or disperse, and suffer the consequences.
But the Unseen Enemy can be inside. It can be a vice, a want, something that eats away at a main character like a horrible worm. And that kind of Armageddon can devastate at a smaller scale but no less terrible: in a family, in a school, in a community.
Suspense is built when people react and handle the Unseen Enemy. It can be large scale, it can be small scale.
But somehow, the Unseen Enemy is always the same vast, terrifying threat, and the fear burns the same.
Have you got an Unseen Enemy in your story or webcomic? How are you handling it, if so?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 12, 2021
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