Known Structural Weaknesses

My story already has things that I think may be… problems. 

Originally, my protagonist didn’t do anything, didn’t initiate any actions, until later in the story because he is a student and his master was really the moving force.  I changed that.  Now my protagonist is doing things and initiating things throughout the story and the character that was my protagonist’s master is no longer the master and has assumed a minor role.

However, there’s no real direct conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist.  There is one character, the antagonist, who has an involved plot to free his old mistress (long story).  At the outset, the protagonist gets into some trouble that’s tangentially related to the antagonist’s plot (and a lot of trouble that’s not related to that plot).  Through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, the hero finally comes to the antagonist’s attention about 3/4’s of the way through the story… and gets his butt kicked.

I’m worried that I’m not putting them into direct conflict earlier.  But the protagonist has to go through some trials and learn some things about himself and his heritage before he’s ready to face off with the antagonist and even then, it’s not a direct fight between them until the last few pages.  Their needs are not diametrically opposed but protagonist has to oppose the antagonist’s plot on principle and in the process learns things about himself that change his worldview and what his actual needs are.

I think the story works.  But I wonder if that lack of direct opposition is a fatal flaw.


9 Responses to “Known Structural Weaknesses”

  1. Without seeing more of the story, it’s a little hard to tell, but I can throw out a few ideas:

    * if there is no conflict prior to the protag/antag facing off… does your story start in the right place or could be be started closer to their initial meeting?

    * is your antag the real protag or is there a larger part of the picture.

    …. I’m just ‘free thinking’ here, but you say the protag has a lot to learn and some growing to do prior to being able to overcome the antag. But what conflicts does s/he face along the way? Is your antag the world or a cultural element rather than an individual?

    if the early parts of the story are just about the protag’s day to day learning ‘stuff’, I would question (depending on how it’s written) if there is enough conflict/concern to keep a reader engaged.

    Does any of this help?

  2. thepencilneck Says:

    It’s not that there’s no conflict before the protagonist and antagonist finally meet, the protagonist actually goes through a lot of story before that. Basically, the story starts with the protagonist and his best friend (another major character) are impersonating a nobleman’s son at a party when the nobleman shows up, they run and get away… just to be attacked by a vampire who the protagonist’s best friend stole something from. In the ensuing fight, the protagonist impales the vampire with a wooden pole (missing the heart so the vampire is able to turn to mist and get away)… but also impales his friend. (Because of the mixing of the blood, the friend is thereby turned into a vampire.)

    The protagonist is discovered holding the pole through his friend by people who live in the neighborhood and he runs away, evading the police, and gets back to school. Where he is caught sneaking into the dorm by the dorm mother and demerited.

    This happens to be the night before magician novices begin their week of testing to see who is worthy of being apprenticed.

    Long story short, the friend wakes up in the morgue, kills some priests, and escapes into the sewers. Everyone thinks that the person that killed the friend came and killed the priests by unleashing an animal on them but our protagonist thinks that it was the original vampire, so he decides to hunt the vampire down and kill it to exonerate himself. Which of course leads to that much more chaos because he’s sneaking out at night to hunt vampires even though he’s really not powerful enough to fight one AND he should be studying.

    Add on top of that the protagonist is a half-orc in a world where half-orcs are considered inherently stupid and evil and none of the people in the mage’s guild want him there. And a whole bunch of other stuff.

    So… there’s plenty of conflict and it’s not just day-to-day sorts of stuff.

    Part of what the protagonist has to learn is that he is prejudiced against his own people (and himself) and he has to come to an understanding/acceptance with who he is and what his culture is before he can really be a complete person. He has to stop trying to be human and be who and what he is at his heart.

    He actually ends up jailed for the murder of his friend where he meets an orc shaman that sets him on the path to self discovery.

    Maybe I’m just formulating my sentence wrong.

  3. I’ve been thinking about the plot, and wonder if you will also tell the antag’s story – you know, switch between the two viewpoints, tell both their stories so that a reader will know that eventually these two characters will meet and have a showdown? Maybe you could illustrate the theme of the novel in two different ways by highlighting how both characters embody it.

  4. thepencilneck Says:

    The antagonist is actually a devil that has been summoned from Hell by a magician using forbidden magic. The devil has a byzantine plot to free his mistress, a devil lord, who was trapped on “our” world (which is a whole nother story). The devil had his summoner’s wife turned into a brainless sort of vampire and has convinced the summoner to procure certain items and perform certain rituals that will “cure” his wife. But really, the rituals will rip a hole between the dimensions and allow the antagonist to be more powerful in this world as well as bring more of his minions through.

    When I first show the antagonist, he’s actually shown along with mage that he’s duping but the fact that he’s tricking the mage doesn’t become obvious until later. The actual strength of the devil isn’t really made plain until later as well. My protagonist is brought into conflict because the rituals require dual sacrifices of humans and vampires. My protagonist is trying to track down the vampire he fought and witnesses the mage killing people. The mage tries to convince him to help and ends up giving him to the bad guy as a play thing to take back to Hell.

    And that’s when the fun starts.

    But I’m definitely using the switching viewpoints. At first, I try to trick people into thinking that the mage is really the bad guy when he’s really just a pawn and I have some viewpoint scenes with that mage and the devil. I also have the protagonist’s friend and him dealing with his conversion to a vampire… and he ends up in hell with his friend. And there’s an orcish love interest storyline as well.

  5. I guess I’m unclear as to what part you are concerned is weak. At this point it sounds fairly solid.

  6. I think you are misunderstanding the “antagonist” part of your story. Your antagonist is NOT the devil. He’s nothing more than the final, big monster at the end of a computer-shooting-game. The true antagonist is your prot’s inner struggle to come to terms with what he is and why it is good the be the way he is. And that, you start of right away, as far as I can see.

  7. thepencilneck Says:

    Cat, I think you’re right.

    I need to revisit my sentence and instead of concentrating on the final conflict, I need to concentrate it on his internal struggle and his fight against society to be accepted.

  8. thepencilneck Says:


    I think Cat hit on my problem. I was concentrating on the last big bad guy as the antagonist when he’s not really what my protag is fighting against.

    With this story, I tried to apply Holly’s story sentence to it when it was already developed to a large degree. So, instead of writing from a sentence, I tried to reverse engineer the sentence and I got it wrong. I need to think about it a little more and see if I can come up with one that really encompasses the entire story instead of just the last few scenes.

    I think.

  9. Hi, Pencilneck–
    well, as someone who rarely reads paranormals, I’m just lost here. There are ranks of bad guys and powers and rules about who can be killed and how–and I’m just lost.

    But I will take a moment to wish you well. And to say that if “That’s when the fun starts” then maybe that is where the book starts, too?

    It’s a hell of a thing, writing a book.

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