Tag: story


Every story needs tension, and one mechanism for supplying that tension is a conflict with an antagonist.

Conflict here doesn’t necessarily mean a physical confrontation, but rather another character whose goals are not compatible with those of the protagonist.

The etymology of the words is interesting. A casual reading suggests the terms come from “pro” and “anti”, that is for and against, but in fact protagonist is from Greek words meaning “first actor”. Antagonist comes from “anti” as one would expect, but in dramatic terms an antagonist is defined by their opposition to the protagonist.

The nature of that opposition can change over the course of a story, Let’s say the MC likes to collect little frog figures. The antagonist might be another collector who wants the same rare figure, the one with the golden stripes and the foil-backed jewel eyes.

This antagonism could lead in all sorts of directions. The antagonist might want the frog as a way to attack the protagonist. Or the antagonist might want all the frogs and the antagonist is just coincidentally looking for the same thing. Or the antagonist might just collect frogs as a side business, and really they’re an evil mastermind who wants to take over the world!!!

(somehow, that last statement required three exclamation marks)

Introducing an antagonist whose goals are larger than the protagonist’s initial interest is a good way to grow a hero. Let’s say that our protagonist learns of the antagonist’s world-domination plans after losing the rare frog, and that the antagonist must be thwarted. At some point the antagonist should learn of the earlier interest in frog figures, and offer the protagonist the rare frog as a way of buying them off.

Earlier in the story this gesture might have worked, but now the protagonist has grown and sees that stopping the antagonist is more important than obtaining the toy frog.

This is obviously a silly example, but this idea of the protagonist uncovering deeper and darker truths about the conflict he or she is part of is quite common. If nothing else, a story where the protagonist knows everything is not necessarily going to be an interesting story.

An antagonist doesn’t need to be a character in the story per se: the protagonist might have the simple goal of getting home, but the weather can be the antagonist here, constantly upending the protagonist’s plans.

For my own writing, I have been working on making my antagonists more well-rounded, considering them to have their own story arcs which my writing offers small slices of. So in Bluehammer, for example, the priests who are seeking power have back-stories just as the protagonists do, and just as other recurring characters do.

Which of course is what I am trying to do with Song at the moment, too, and which I should get back to now.

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Retellings, part two: new faiths and old stories

A couple of weeks ago I was talking about the retelling of stories, but I didn’t touch on the most persistent retellings of all: religious stories.

First though, a word about scope – this post is about religious stories, not religious truth. I don’t harbour any religious faith (my personal path led away from that idea some time ago) but what I am going to talk about here is the stories within religious writ rather than the veracity or otherwise of those words.

Most of my examples are drawn from Christian tales because I grew up in an explicitly Christian  country (rather than the implicitly Christian one I live in now) and hence those are the stories I know best. Apologies for the paucity of my scholarship.


The structure of the story is powerful: there is wickedness in the world that must be cleansed by the scouring waters, but one man is warned and builds a boat to escape it. It’s a story of wrath and hope.

The oldest flood myth we know of today is Sumerian, the written form dating from the 17th century BCE – although the story itself is thought to be much older. That flood myth follows a similar structure to the Biblical flood: someone is warned by a god that a flood is coming and that he should build a boat to escape it. In the Sumerian story the person warned is the ruler of a city and the god is but one of a pantheon.

Similar stories occur throughout Mesopotamian and even Hindu myth cycles, with the best known being that of Gilgamesh.

As I say, it’s a powerful story that is worth retelling.

Resurrections and Retellings

Gods apparently come back to life.

Odin, for example, hung himself from the world tree Yggdrasil for nine days before being resurrected by magic in order to gain knowledge unavailable to others. Osiris was murdered by his brother and then brought back to life by his wife Isis to rule as god of the underworld (a story which was used very effectively by Anne Rice as the origin myth for her vampires).

In Sumerian myth, the goddess Inanna descends into the underworld and there dies, but is brought back to life by Enki. This story is used as a component of Snow Crash, with some pretty explicit mappings between the characters and the entities of the Sumerian myths.

Death, for a god, is not necessarily the end – it is an opportunity for transformation and the acquisition of deep knowledge.

Seasons of Myths

Resurrection is also a theme of many seasonal stories. In the dead of winter, the Sun is reborn to drive the cold before it. In the spring, new life comes to the land as Persephone returns from her sojourn in the underworld. Stories about the fertility of the land are told at this time as well: that is where all the rabbits and eggs come from in the Easter celebrations. They are symbols of fertility, rites co-opted by Christians, rather than being directly associated with the resurrection of Jesus.

Which I suppose is my final point: many of the traditions of Christian festivals are drawn from beliefs of the pagan peoples the missionaries were converting. Easter eggs are fertility totems, while Christmas trees derive from German pagan traditions.

Traditions are weird things: we do them because they have always been done, and these stories are not that different – we tell them because they have always been told, because they by telling them they inform us about the power of loss to transform ourselves and our world.

Do you have a favourite story that has been told by more than one religion?

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Version Therapy

Some stories like to be retold.

We’re used to the idea of two versions of a story: the book and the film. But some stories are retold over and over.

One of these plural stories is Sherlock Holmes – between Benedict Cumberbatch’s modern alien Holmes and Robert Downey Jr’s Victorian superhero there are huge differences and great similarities. For example, the latest filmic Holmes is more physical than the character is usually portrayed where Cumberbatch’s portrayal is more, um, intense. But both retellings feature a very capable Watson; both show a maladroit savant seeking the thrill of a new problem.

Holmes has been retold by many authors and film-makers. Less common is the plural story retold by the same author. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of these, its story changing with each jump to a new medium: radio to novel to record to TV to computer game to movie.

Other writers have retold their own stories – Arthur C Clarke, for instance. 2001: A Space Odyssey began as a short story called The Sentinel.

I obsess about continuity between stories, and I suppose the lesson here for me is to loosen up a bit: consistency within a particular telling is critical, but there is not necessarily any harm in making changes between stories.

Tell the story that wants to be told.

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