Written by JJ Barnes
If you have seen the Avengers films, then you’ll be familiar with chief Bad-Guy, Thanos. I will be exploring the reasons it is Thanos who is the Protagonist of Avengers: Infinity War, and what we can learn for our own writing.
What Is A Protagonist?
The Protagonist of your story is the person who you follow. They are motivated to achieve a goal, and you follow them on their journey to achieve it. You stay with them, watching them overcome obstacles and challenges, until the story climax. At the climax, your Protagonist either overcomes the challenges and accomplishes their goal, or has to face they can’t and give up.
Whatever your Protagonist wants should make sense. It’s not enough just to send them after a goal. What they want should be explained to your audience. If they are driving towards something meaningless with the passion to overcome obstacles and take risks, it has to make sense. Otherwise your audience will drop out of your story because it won’t feel real, and your story will feel meaningless.
Your Protagonist should be a well developed, multi-dimensional character. You write a character your audience will connect to and find interesting. They should have backstory and multiple motivations. The Protagonist lived before your story began and will live on after it ends, so should have more going on in their lives than just your immediate plot.
Thanos Has The Story Goal
In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos has a clear goal. He wants to acquire the infinity stones and use them to eradicate half the life in the Universe. His goal is explained through backstory. He watched his planet and people die due to over population. This makes him empathetic. You might not agree with the action he’s taking, but his motivation makes sense. You know what he wants, you know why he wants it.
Thanos is active. He is motivated to take steps. You join him when he is making his move to acquire the stones, and you follow him on that journey. Then, you follow him overcoming obstacles, facing challenges. He must get smarter and stronger, make difficult choices.
Thanos Is A Developed Character
Thanos is a well developed character with multiple motivations, multiple passions. When he acquires the Soul Stone, Thanos is given internal conflict. Thanos must choose between two things he wants and sacrifice one. He wants a relationship with his daughter, Gamora; he loves her and wants her to love him back. But he also wants to acquire the Soul-Stone. As the Soul-Stone requires the sacrifice of something, or someone, you love, Thanos chooses to sacrifice Gamora.
His motivation is so strong that he perseveres through every challenge. The audience sees him risk it all, face every challenge, and drive the story forwards. His conflict is always active. You stay with him and his story goal until the climax when he acquires the final Infinity Stone and accomplishes his goal. He snaps his fingers and eradicates half of the life in the Universe. Story completed.
What Is An Antagonist?
The Antagonist is the character, or characters, who want to stop the Protagonist from succeeding. The goal of the Antagonist character is in direct conflict to the Protagonist. Either they want to stop the Protagonist because they want the same thing and they can’t both have it, or because they have reasons to not want the Protagonist to succeed. The Antagonist poses challenges and obstacles in the Protagonists way.
Your Antagonist should be driven for a reason. The reason they want to stop the Protagonist or accomplish the same goal should make sense. Just wanting to be in the way isn’t enough. Their motivation should be bigger than just your plot, they should want it for reasons that make sense.
The Avengers Want To Stop Thanos
When Thanos becomes active in his story goal, The Avengers become active in response. Their story goal is to stop Thanos from achieving his story goal. He wants to eradicate half the life in the Universe, and they want to save half the life in the Universe. They can’t both have it, but they are both equally driven to achieve it.
Their motivation makes sense. You understand why they want to block Thanos and why they are driven. They throw obstacles in the way, pose challenges. Every time they put a challenge in his way, Thanos overcomes it. He faces each challenge and wins.
What Is The Relationship Between Protagonist and Antagonist?
The conflict between Protagonist and Antagonist is what makes your story entertaining. When your Protagonist becomes active, without an Antagonist in the way, they could easily achieve their goal. They want something, they go and get it, story done. The obstacles make it entertaining, they make it a story.
Your Protagonist should grow and change and learn through the course of your story. Every challenge they overcome they get more knowledge, smarter and stronger. They get one step closer to achieving their goal. By the climax, they use everything they have learned and done through the course of the story. They are finally in a place to achieve their story goal.
Thanos Vs The Avengers
The Avengers are what make Thanos have an interesting story. Without their efforts to stop him, Thanos could just acquire the Infinity Stones. It’s their efforts that make the story entertaining. Facing their obstacles demonstrates how driven and determined Thanos is. He wants to accomplish his goal and will fight to achieve it.
Thanos grows and learns and changes. He adapts, gets smarter and stronger. By the end, he has learned what he needs. He can use Wanda’s love of Vision, he can use the Infinity Stones he has already acquired, and he can win.
What Does This Teach Us About Our Own Writing?
When you start to create your stories, think about what you can learn from the writing in Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos is a superb Protagonist. He is developed, he is motivated, and he drives the story forward. His conflict is always active and you connect with what he wants and why. In turn, the Avengers are excellent Antagonists. Their goal is clear and you understand why they want to accomplish it. They throw multiple obstacles and challenges in the way so the story is always entertaining and Thanos must grow and change with the story.
Giving your characters a clear goal, sending them after it, and challenging them all along the way is what makes a story work. Making those characters interesting and developed and determined makes your audience care.
Normally, the Protagonist would be the hero. The good guy. But it isn’t essential. Protagonist just means the one you follow on their story goal. You root for the Antagonist in this story, but you’re drawn in by Thanos and his goal.
More From JJ Barnes:
I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.
You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk
Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books
Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose