In the scope of all that is storytelling, the drama created is based in conflict. That conflict comes in two forms: internal, which affects the growth of a character, and an external, which is everything that happens to move characters toward that growth.
External conflict in storytelling is broken into several. First there is man verses man or one human against another. Then, there is man verses society or man against the social structure that surrounds them. Next, we have man verses nature. That’s where we have man against the world around him. A great example of this is Tom Hanks’ character in the movie, Cast Away, a man who is stranded on an island with nothing but the harsh realities of nature to torture him. In addition to that turmoil, the character also has another conflict going on that is man verses himself or maybe better put, man against his inner demons (this last one is an internal conflict).
This leads us to the role of our antagonist or that thing that we’re pitting against man. The internal conflict is the struggle that adds meaning and entertainment value to the external conflict, but it's the external conflict that forces the character to grow.
Those tensions from the choices that our hero has to make are what feeds the story and allows it to move along. It’s those tensions that have us putting ourselves into the story just like we want our readers to do. But for it all to work those choices must have consequences for our character. These tough choices are forced into our hero’s life by his antagonist. The importance of having this element is because, like ourselves, our characters won't easily take the difficult, yet more entertaining path. This is what antagonists do best.
They’re that thing whose goal it is to be the opposite of our hero. But remember this someone doesn’t have to be the stereotypical bad guy; they can be anything that forces the hero’s hand, so to speak. Because it’s that forcing of the hand that also leads our hero through all the additional depth by building little conflicts that eventually lead us to our goal of a worthwhile climax and a fulfilling conclusion to our journey.
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