Protagonist vs. Antagonist – What’s the Difference?

We have all seen abstract or confusing movies and wondered to ourselves, “Who is the hero of this story? Who is the villain?”

In many stories, the roles aren’t clear-cut, or they can change throughout the movie. Some stories might have many protagonists or antagonists, and postmodern fiction might not feature any.

But what about the words protagonist and antagonist themselves? What do those mean, and to which characters do they refer in stories? Continue reading to find out.

What’s the Difference Between Protagonist and Antagonist?

In this article, I will pit protagonist vs. antagonist, just like in the movies. I will use many example sentences so that you can see how these words appear in context.

Finally, I will show you a helpful memory trick to use to help you decide which is which next time you see a movie or read a book.

What is a Protagonist?

protagonist versus antagonistWhat does protagonist mean? The protagonist of a story is the leading character. This character often takes on the role of the good guy, but this isn’t an essential attribute of a protagonist. The word protagonist is a noun.

Here are a few examples of protagonist in a sentence,

  • The crime novel features a grizzled protagonist who has spent many years on the police force and must learn to trust his hotshot new partner.
  • Sigourney Weaver plays the protagonist in the space horror film Alien, which was released in 1979.
  • If you are a protagonist in Game of Thrones, you are probably going to die a gruesome death.
  • For such a fat book — 528 dense pages — the 12th Bernie Gunther mystery is as brisk and agile as its German police detective protagonist. –The Washington Post

While the protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be the good guy, the character most often is.

What is an Antagonist?

Definition of antagonist definition of protagonist definitionWhat does antagonist mean? Antagonist is also a noun. The antagonist is a person who actively opposes or is hostile to the protagonist. In many stories the antagonist takes on the form of the bad guy in a story.

Here are a few examples,

  • Although the viewer doesn’t realize it at the beginning of the story, Meryl Streep’s character is the main antagonist of The Devil Wears Prada.
  • The villain Darth Vader is one of the most recognizable villains of all time.
  • I am the antagonist of the life stories of everyone who stands in my way, but in those stories, the antagonist wins.
  • New York state’s attorney general, to date one of the most vocal antagonists of President Donald Trump, is preparing to escalate his office’s litigation against the president’s administration. –The Wall Street Journal

Again, the antagonist most often takes the form of the bad guy, but this isn’t an essential attribute. The antagonist is simply someone who works against the protagonist.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Define antagonist and define protagonistSometimes, it is difficult to remember what role does what in literature, so let’s go over a tick to remember antagonist vs. protagonist.

In general,

  • The protagonist is the hero of the story.
  • The antagonist is the villain of the story.

The way I always remember the roles of these words is that the antagonist is always antagonizing the protagonist. If you can link the words antagonist and antagonize, you will be all set.

Summary

Is it protagonist or antagonist? Protagonist and antagonist and are nouns that refer to characters in a story.

  • The protagonist is the main character, often a hero.
  • The antagonist is the character who opposes the protagonist, often a villain.

Of course, stories can have multiple protagonists and antagonists, and dynamic characters can even switch between these roles as the story develops.

If you aren’t sure if someone is an antagonist or protagonist, remember that the antagonist antagonizes the protagonist.

Writing fiction can be difficult because the writer must juggle several aspects of storytelling at the same time. Be sure to check this website any time you have a question about difficult writing topics.