Thursday, July 4, 2013

Antagonist Conflict Scenes

Antagonist Conflict scenes introduce us to the antagonist or antagonistic forces. This is your verbal camera focused on stage right.

These scenes test the protagonist’s and antagonist’s knowledge, ingenuity, and strength. They are battles of will and wit.

These scenes zero in on the conflict between the two opposing characters. Other characters may be present, but the focus is on the direct confrontation between the antagonist and protagonist or the antagonist himself.

If you follow only the protagonist’s POV, these scenes are where the lead alien and the hero face off, the serial killer taunts the investigator, the brothers fight over the woman, the scientists clash over the best way to thwart the meteor, or the knight and the infidel cross swords.

If the verbal camera follows the antagonist, or these scenes are written from his point of view, they show him actively pursuing his goal, reveal his personal dilemma, and expose his character flaw and secret weapon. They show him interacting with his henchmen or threatening secondary characters. The antagonist argues his side of the thematic argument. These scenes lead to the climactic confrontation with the protagonist. The final scene reveals the fate of the antagonist.

If you use antagonistic forces rather than a person, these scenes show the protagonist being threatened by nature or working against a controlling power. If the force is family disapproval, and a specific member isn’t singled out as an antagonist, these scenes show the protagonist trying to win them over or to break their hold over him.


1) List ten ideas for events that escalate the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist or antagonistic forces: snags in the plan, unexpected discoveries, reversals, gains, important information concealed or revealed, and increasing levels of threat. Arrange them in an order that will make the most impact. The first scene should introduce the antagonist or forces. The final scene should reveal the final disposition of the antagonist or vanquishing of the forces.

Example: Ted is directly opposed to stopping the meteor. He has been so damaged by life that he thinks it is time for humanity to be destroyed. Since this is a thriller, we will allow the verbal camera to follow Ted.

1. Ted learns there is a meteor headed toward earth. Finally, the world can be destroyed and he doesn’t have to lift a finger. All he has to do is sit back and watch the show.

2. Dick has come up with a plan. Ted vows to make sure it doesn’t work.

3. Ted is denied access to the equipment. He has something on one of the grounds crew, Bob, and uses that pressure to convince him to tamper with it. But we’ll all die. Do you want to die now or later?

4. Ted confronts Dick. Why are you trying to stop the inevitable?

5. Dick has come up with a new plan. So, Ted must tamper with the laser beam.

6. Ted calls Sally and tells her Dick and Jane are having an affair.

7. Dick confronts Ted. You had something to do with this. You’ll never prove it and in a few days it won’t matter anyway.

8. Ted must find a way to make certain the shuttle doesn’t take off.

9. Ted fails to prevent take-off.

10. Ted is led off in handcuffs.

2) If you already have a rough draft, save a copy of the draft as “Antagonist” and delete everything except the scenes that contain the antagonist at work. Examine how each scene affects the overall story problem. Are they in a logical cause and effect order? If not, can you revise them so that they are?

3) How and where does your antagonist enter and exit the story? How does he end up?

Previous posts on this topic:

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. This is an excellent exercise in making the most of antagonistic scenes. Straightforward confrontations are not all that difficult to write (in fact, they can be fun), but the details that provide depth and add realism to the conflict require careful planning and choreographing.

    I've edited manuscripts in which the authors created physically impossible gymnastics for the characters, scenarios that would never fly with a discerning reader, or that contained no groundwork validate and support the sudden hostilities. One story had an antagonist milling around for half an hour inside a burning building filled with flammable materials. That verbal camera has to film a believable scene.

    Great post, Diana!

  2. Thanks for this post, Diana. I write mysteries and tend not to write from my murderer's POV, although I try to remember that even though he/she is going to get caught, they deserve a character arc.

  3. These are wonderful examples. Of course, if someone told me I had to do this, I'd probably stop writing. But the "take what you've written and delete the other stuff" could work. I do much better after the fact.

  4. Mysteries are slightly different but the sleuth still has to have encounters with the guilty person. A really good mystery writer can have the perpetrator "hiding in plain sight." It is one genre that spends very little time with the antagonist layer and more on the interpersonal layer, i.e. multiple suspects. Sometimes the antagonist is someone in the hero's camp who makes solving the case next to impossible. There is also a "benevolent" antagonist in literary or romantic stories who interferes instead of directly opposing the protagonist's goal. In my fantasy roadtrip story, the island itself served as an antagonist.

  5. Such scenes are essential for ratcheting tension.

    Morgan Mandel


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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