Lastly, in this series on oppositional conflict, we come to the character type I call the opponent.
This individual serves a story as someone who is not an antagonist, not an enemy, not a villain. This character may be someone who loves the protagonist very much and who wants only the best for the protagonist. Trouble is, the opponent and the protagonist don’t agree on what that should be.
Direct conflict between a protagonist and an opponent works well for scenes where the story antagonist (or villain) isn’t present. Also, the opponent can provide conflict within a subplot and creates an opportunity for the writer to add complexity to the plot.
For example, Perry Protagonist has had a rough day in court. His opening argument has been shot down by Daniel Defender, and Perry comes home smarting from humiliation and the determination to do better tomorrow. His wife is worried about him and his stress level. She urges him to relax and forget about the trial for a few hours. She doesn’t want him sitting up all night reading depositions and fretting. Perry is impatient with her. He knows this is the case that can boost his career aims and impress his boss. He’s determined that the defendant won’t get away with his crime. When Perry’s wife argues with him, he speaks pretty sharply to her, making her angry. Their verbal fight escalates into marital issues, and Perry is left sleeping on the couch that night.
His wife is not his enemy. She loves him, but she doesn’t agree that he should neglect his family just to achieve his career goals.
Both Perry and wife are motivated. They care about each other, but they are in the kind of direct, clear disagreement that will advance the story. As Perry becomes increasingly desperate and consumed by his case, he will alienate his family and jeopardize his health. This raises the stakes for him personally.
It adds complexity to the story by adding more dimension to Perry. It will also make readers wonder if Perry will go too far just to achieve victory. Or if he will destroy his marriage–even himself–in his pursuit of justice.