Alternate Antagonists

In some science fiction stories, the antagonist is not a person at all. In "Flowers for Algernon," the classic short story by Daniel Keyes that he later expanded into a novel and turned into the movie Charlie, the antagonist is nature itself. Charlie's opponent is the universe, the blind inexorable workings of the laws of physics and chemistry.

Even though the antagonist may not be an individual character, the protagonist must have an opponent, and that opponent must work on the basic conflict within the soul of the protagonist. In "Fifteen Miles," the harsh environment of the moon can be thought of as Kinsman's antagonist, one that forced Kinsman to bring his inner turmoil into the open. There was much more to the story than the physical adventure problems of dragging an injured man through the wilderness to safety.

Conflict is what makes stories move. Stories that describe the author's idea of Utopia are unutterably dull; in the perfect society of Utopia, there are no conflicts. No conflict means no story. You can write a lovely travelogue about some beautiful world of the future. But if you want to make the reader keep turning pages, eager to find out what happens next, you must give the story as much conflict as you can stir up.

The writer's job is to be a troublemaker! Stir up as many levels of conflict and problems for your protagonist as you can. Let one set of problems grow out of another. And never, never, never solve a problem until you've raised at least two more. It is the unsolved problems that form the chain of promises that keeps the reader interested.

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