Kelly Mortimer

Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA.
She’s the founder and current president of the Christian Media Association (CMA), dedicated to helping all Christian and Jewish writers. She made the Top 5 of the 2008 Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers - Romance Category, and she won the American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” award in 2008. In addition to this column, Kelly writes the “Ask an Agent” column for the Romance Writers United newsletter.

Don’t Antagonist Me!

So, what’s the word of the month, and do ya need it in your manuscript? (Not the actual word, but what it stands for.) (Well, do ya?—Yep, I’ve added another “bracket line” to my repertoire. Gotta keep things fresh. . . .) As ya might’ve guessed from the title, our word is antagonist.

Antagonist: 1. a person who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another; 2. opponent; adversary. the adversary of the hero or protagonist of a drama or other literary work: lago is the antagonist of Othello (

There you have it. Two examples. (Have I hit 700 words yet? Guess not. Sigh.) I suppose I could’ve given ya three examples, but somehow a drug that binds to a cell receptor without eliciting a biological response, blocking binding of substances that could elicit such responses didn’t seem to fit the circumstances.

Most writers have an antagonist in their manuscript to create conflict and because they know readers want someone to hate. (Nasty business, hating. I’ve decided to ditch it altogether.) Who better than a character who does everything within his or her power to stop the protagonist? (Sorry, but you’ll haveta wait for next month’s column for that word. I thought this word would be more fun. Ah, of course, protagonist is a great word as well, so make sure y’all read my column next month. . . .)

Taking two lines from the acclaimed motion picture Pretty Woman, the Italian gal says, “Do ya have a goal? Ya gotta have a goal.” (Of course, her friend’s goal had been to star in the Ice Capades, and she ended up as a hooker—am I allowed to use that term? Anyway, all ended well, because the Italian gal moved on to Beauty School. Sometimes I think she made a better choice than I did. . . .)

Well, our antagonist has a goal: to keep our protagonist from achieving his/her goal. But that rarely happens in the books I read. Why can’t the antagonist win? Why can’t he/she grind the protag into the ground with his/her boot heel? (Sorry.) Doesn’t happen often in the movies I see, either. (I can’t remember the last time I actually had time to go to a movie, but I recall seeing one that had a chariot race. Never did figure out why they called a dude named “Ben” a “Hur.” Oh well.) Anyway, our antagonist works against our hero/heroine, usually making him/her (the antagonist, that is) the bad guy . . . or gal. (This political correctness is annoying, so I’m going with the male gender from now on. Oh, the power.)

A fallacy. I mean, that the antagonist is a “bad guy.” (Unless I’m the protagonist. Sorry.) Nope. That’s not what the definition reads. Just ’cause a character opposes the hero doesn’t make

him villainous. (Here’s the part where I’m supposed to give you a literary example to back up my claim. Uhm, can I say I decided to wait for the movie . . . ?) Okay, fine. How about the whale in Moby Dick. Can ya blame him? Here comes some dude encroachin’ in his ocean, and the guy has a harpoon! (I’d like to know where Greenpeace was when that whale sorely needed them.) Can anyone blame the whale? I can’t. I know, I know. Captain

Ahab could be considered the antagonist in that book, seein’ as his vendetta caused the death of every sailor aboard the vessel, except the guy whom the author made sure got rescued, ’cause someone had to narrate the story, right? (Ugh. Don’t like that, but I don’t expect much from an author with two first names. So, sue me.) To me the whale wasn’t the bad guy, he just didn’t like the captain’s goal. In fact, mayhap the whale is the protagonist and the captain is the antagonist. The creature simply had the goal to live, and Captain Ahab wanted to make candles outta him.

Where were we? Oh, yeah, my column. We’ve established an antagonist is a character who messes with our protagonist, that he often doesn’t succeed, and that opposing the protagonist doesn’t necessarily make him a villain. What else is there? Since I’m at 707 words: nothin’.

Until next month, miss me.

Christian Media Association