Multiple Opponents

Multiple Opponents
Multiple Opponents

Have you ever wondered how to broaden your story?

Writers are always looking for ways to increase the conflict in their tales – to “make it bigger, to make it better.”

A typical story engages a single hero against a single antagonist.

This kind of story can work well, since the desire line is a clear one. A clean, simple goal is important to a story, but there are more disadvantages to this method than there are reasons to use it.

Why You Should Use Multiple Opponents
The best way to broaden your story and to increase the conflict is to use more than one antagonist. This will allow you to hit your hero with more than one kind of conflict at once. An average hero will need to become a great hero to overcome several opponents. However, if you’re not careful, you could end up fragmenting your story into a convoluted mess.

One Problem, Several Possible Solutions
A story is about a character who is trying to solve a problem. The story problem is like a puzzle with several possible solutions. Each opponent embodies a different aspect of the problem, presenting a possible answer to the story question. This will, in a sense, allow your hero to explore different solutions.

The best kinds of opponents are those that bring out the weaknesses of the hero. So use different antagonists to “attack” the hero’s main weakness in a unique way.

With three opponents, you will have three times the conflict. To increase the conflict in the story even more, put each of the opponents in conflict with each other.

Multiple opponents are also a great way for you to develop your hero, since all characters are defined by their actions and by their relationships to other characters in the story.

How Many Opponents?
The principle of minimal characters says that you want the least number of characters to tell a story.  For a novel or screenplay, a good mix is:  One main character, three opponents and six minor characters.

In “Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone,” Harry has four opponents: Lord Voldemort is the main villain. Quirrel is the second opponent, but he is hidden behind the Fake Ally/Opponent, Snape. The third opponent is Malfoy, who has two allies, Crabbe and Goyle.

A Single, Clear Desire Line
In order for this to work well, you need to be careful not to interject more than one main desire line into the story. Otherwise, your story could fragment into a tangled mess. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t have subplots, like a love story. When you use subplots, find a way for it to affect the main story line.

Action Steps
To broaden your story, create mulitple opponents with these steps:

1. Create one single main opponent. Give your opponent a system of values which define his actions.

2. Add at least two more opponents. How does each antagonist embody a different aspect of the story problem?

3. If you want more surprises, hide one of the opponents. The best villains are close to the hero. Intimate relationships that turn bad are great for conflict.

4. How do each of the opponents affect the main story goal?

5. If you have a subplot like a love story, how will it affect the main story?

6. Make sure that your main opponent drives the central conflict of the story, while the secondary opponents increase conflict by fighting against each other as well as the hero.

7. Weave your story together, hitting each beat of the seven steps of classic story structure with each opponent.

What to do now
Now that you have several opponents, each with their own values, goals and ambitions, think of ways to increase conflict in your story. Is there a way to have more than one kind of conflict going on at the same time?

This technique is one of the best ways to broaden your story.


– Mark O’Bannon

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