Learning to work with Dramatica challenges the mind. On an intuitive level writers sense the accuracy of its concepts and endeavor to incorporate these new understandings in their work. Unfortunately, trouble can sometimes arise when putting theory to practice.
When studying Dramatica one inevitably runs into the curse of James Bond. Presented with revelation after revelation of narrative, writers fascinated with the theory begin accepting everything they read without question:
For example, in most of the James Bond films, Bond is actually the Antagonist and Main Character because although he represents the audience position, he is also called into play AFTER the real Protagonist (the villain) has made his first move to achieve a goal (of world conquest.) It is Bond’s functional role as Antagonist to try and stop it!
Compelling thought, right? Melanie Anne Phillips, co-creator of Dramatica often cites James Bond as an example of a Main Character Antagonist. Theoretically speaking she is right (of course), but in practice this strict adherence to the Pursuit element of the Protagonist and the Prevent or Avoid element of the Antagonist only serves to confuse and muddle application of Dramatica. Is James Bond trying to prevent the Villain from carrying out their dastardly plan (as an Antagonist) or is he pursuing a course of action to stop the Villain from carrying out their plan (as a Protagonist)? Understanding when a story starts, the inequity that comes as a result, and the efforts to resolve that inequity can help one easily avoid any mental consternation.
Stories and Inequities
Stories start when the balance of peace shifts. Where once equity reigned, now an inequity sits demanding attention. Whether it be something that happens or some decision that is made, this Inciting Incident of a story automatically creates a drive for rebalance—a Solution for the Problem created.1 As mentioned in The True Nature of the Inciting Incident the Protagonist leads the charge for that resolution:
When it comes to the Inciting Incident of a story the general consensus is that it is the event or decision that creates the problem for everyone in the story…These are all significant events that create the inequity the Protagonist hopes to resolve, and force more actions or more decisions to take place.
Who came first matters little when it comes to resolving this particular problem. While the Villain of a James Bond piece may have indeed instigated the problem by pursuing some sort of world domination, the drive to solve that problem rests in James Bond. The drive rests in the Protagonist.
The Story Goal gives an outlet for the Protagonist’s drive.
Cheering the Failures
Keep in mind that the Story Outcome is tied to the Story Goal. This is a good indicator as to how the author wants the audience to understand who the protagonist and antagonist are.
Triumphant endings leave an Audience with a sense of resolution. The Protagonist “wins” by solving the problem. Consequently, the Antagonist loses.
In what James Bond film does the Audience leave without that logistical sense of resolution? The bad guy always loses. Triumphant endings define themselves by their Story Outcome of Success.2 The efforts to resolve the story’s initial inequity come to resolution, the drive towards that solution proves a successful endeavor. The Protagonist “wins” yet again.
If Bond was the Antagonist then his success would mean a Story Outcome of Failure and would signify the presence of a Tragedy. While some versions may fare worse than others, the 007 franchise is anything but tragic.
Main Characters Who Antagonize
To find real world examples of Main Characters as Antagonists, one must simply find a central character driven to avoid or prevent the successful resolution of the inequity. Hiccup in the original How to Train Your Dragon comes to mind. The eager young Viking destroys his village promoting his father Stoick to pursue the Goal of Training the Next Generation of Dragon Killers. His father loss denotes a Story Outcome of Failure and helps give meaning to the films bittersweet ending.3
The titular character in Michael Clayton also serves as a wonderful example of one who works to prevent resolution. Arthur Eden (Tom Wilkinson) loses his mind during a deposition and Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton) is sent to clean things up before the situation gets worse. As the one working towards a resolution, Karen is the Protagonist.
One would assume Michael Clayton to be the Protagonist—after all he is sent to clean things up as well. Yet, his task is to manage Arthur not the U-North class action lawsuit that affects everyone. Minor difference, but an important one. The Protagonist works to resolve the inequity that affects everyone in the story and continues to do so throughout the entire story.
Michael manages Arthur but eventually gives that up to prevent Karen and her U-North buddies from succeeding. His antagonism stays consistent up until the final scene where he lays it all on the line for her, offering a chance to cut a deal. Of course, no deal exists as she’s already lost… and Michael, as antagonist, wins. Like the original Dragons, Michael Clayton ends with a bittersweet failure. The ending feels like a win, but not the kind of win one finds in Top Gun, Star Wars, or The LEGO Movie.4
A Process for DeterminIng Protagonist
The determination of the Protagonist in a story comprises three steps. First, identify the inequity that starts the story. Second, determine the potential solution that will resolve that initial inequity. And lastly, establish the goal of the story.
As mentioned in the series of articles The Story Goal, this established endpoint is universal in that it applies to all the characters involved:
Note that this Goal does not come attached to any one character. No one owns the Goal of a story, rather it attracts and repels everyone within. Some will be for it while others would rather the inequity persist. Some may even be responsible for starting the problem in the first place. Regardless, look not to individual wants and needs for the Goal of a story. Seek the initial inequity and work from there.
The Protagonist—regardless of personal issues—will push towards that Goal, the Antagonist will oppose it.
Overkill? Perhaps, but the lets-see-what-happens approach that scoffs at such deep thinking often leads to broken and dysfunctional stories that sorry, cannot be saved in the final four months of production. A little forethought goes a long way towards ensuring direction of effort.
Respect and Accuracy
This question of Bond’s potential antagonism shows up from time to time online and in my *Introduction to Dramatica* class. If Melanie says so, it has to be true!
With all due respect, this notion of Bond as Antagonist only confuses those new to the theory. I remember years ago, when I was first introduced to Dramatica, that I loved this idea of Bond as Antagonist. As my understanding grew, my ability to defend such a claim became harder and more arduous. Add to this the fact that one of the theory’s co-creators advocates this position and the confusion only grows.
When Dramatica functions correctly, it is effortless. No mental gymnastics and no preventing the pursuit of negative goals that need to be reconsidered. Follow the three step procedure above and the process of identifying the Protagonist of your story should be painless and clear.
Dramatica sees degrees of Triumphs, identifying Personal Triumphs and Personal Tragedies as potential endings. Save for the latest Casino Royale all of Bond films end with a Story Judgment of Good. Thus, for the purposes of this article when speaking of Triumphs we refer to Success/Good stories exclusively. ↩︎