Friday, May 15, 2020

The Contagonist


Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.
I recently came across a term for a story character type that I’d never heard before – Contagonist. Of course I’d heard of protagonists and antagonists and knew what those meant, but what in the world was a CONtagonist? 

So I immediately had to do some research to discover what this was. First, if you’re like me and haven’t heard this term before, let’s define it. A Contagonist is a term coined by Dramatica which is a software package for writers. 

They define it as …the character that balances the Guardian. If Protagonist and Antagonist can … be thought of as "Good" versus "Evil," the Contagonist is "Temptation" to the Guardian's "Conscience."  It’s like one of those cartoons you see where there’s an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other - the contagonist is the devil which represents temptation.  

So where the antagonist is in direct opposition to the protagonist, the contagonist doesn’t necessarily want to oppose or harm your protagonist, they simply provide a hinderance by placing temptations and/or obstacles, be they deliberate or otherwise, in your protagonist’s path. In fact the Contagonist could actually be your protagonist’s close friend or a loved one.
One example I’ve seen used a lot when I researched this is that of the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz.  The Wicked Witch is the antagonist, the one who is diametrically opposed to Dorothy. The Wizard, unlike The Wicked Witch, is not opposed to Dorothy per se and has no animosity toward her. But he does get in her way, sidetracking her pursuit of her goal to return home to Kansas.
Another often used example, and this one surprised me, is Darth Vader. I’d always viewed  him as the antagonist but the real antagonist of the movies is the Emperor. Darth is the contagonist because he isn’t out to destroy Luke per se, (and we learn why in the second movie). Rather he constantly tries to tempt Luke to join him on the dark side. He even poses obstacles for the Empire in several instances.



I came up with an example on my own 😊 when I re-watched  the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The contagonist I found (or at least one of them) was in the character of Elizabeth’s father, Governor Swann.  Obviously he has his daughter’s best interests at heart.  And he is squarely in the camp of the ‘good guys’.  Yet he provides obstacles to the path of true love since he believes that the best interests of Elizabeth include marriage to the dashing Norrington rather than the lowly blacksmith’s apprentice.  So, because of his paternal interference, our heroine faces the unenviable dilemma of choosing between her heart’s desire and pleasing her father.

As you can see, the contagonist can be a very powerful character archetype, especially when it comes to improving the pacing and upping tension in your story. They can provide the conflict, opposition and tension when the antagonist isn’t on the page, they can send your protagonist down wrong paths and rabbit trails, and they can tempt your protagonist to “come out and play” rather than keep their eye on their goal.


So let’s discuss. Unlike me, were you already familiar with this character type? Can you think of some additional examples? Do you have a favorite contagonist character?

Leave a comment and you'll be eligible for a giveaway featuring reader's choice of any book in my backlist.


29 comments:

  1. Winnie, I'd never heard this term before, but it fits so well! And I love using that angel and devil image in my head as I develop a story. Balancing that internal conflict which is tempted by external forces is a skillset, and this makes it so much easier to visualize. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good morning Ruthy. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one who found this a new term. But you're right, it certainly plays an important part in our stories.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Winnie, this is a good post. I guess I'm familiar with this type of character, but never knew what to call it. They're not really the antagonist because they want what they THINK is best for the protagonist. It could be an actual person or the war in their own mind.
    I guess it's whatever keeps them from their Highest and Best, which in our genre is God's plan for them.
    I've been watching a lot of old Westerns lately, both for my work and because there's nothing to tempt me on broadcast TV. Some of the better ones bring in the struggle between good and evil. There are a lot of "revenge" plots, and the character in question is usually faced with a moment where he or she has to decide whether to take justice into their own hands. The angel and demon on their shoulders. The old Westerns were like morality plays or Greek tragedies.
    I'm also watching some old "Gilmore Girls." The grandmother would be a contagonist, wouldn't she? She thinks she knows what's best for everyone.
    Anyway, nice to have a name for this type of character besides "nuisance" and "roadblock."
    Kaybee

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good morning Kaybee. Gotta love those old Webster's! And it's been a while since I've seen the Gilmore Girls, but I think you're right about the grandmother.

      Delete
  4. Good morning Winnie and Ruthy,

    This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Jackie. You're quite welcome and thanks for stopping by.

      Delete
  5. Hi Winnie:

    First I don't like the term "contagonist" for two reasons:

    1) it makes me think of someone who goes around spreading contagious diseases -- a kind of Johnny Appleseed of disease.

    2) 'Con' seems to be the wrong prefix. To me it can mean 'with' (contemporary -- at the same time) or 'against' (contra -- contrary, contraband, controversy).

    I would perfer 'agtagonist' -- someone who is not a tagonist.

    I think Brutus in Julius Caesar may be an ideal agtagonist. He was always trying to mitigate the situtation. It was the envious Casca and the other conspirators who were the true villains.

    Hamlet might be the ultimate agtagonist. He was never sure what he believed or what he should do but was always messing up other people's lives. He was probably agnostic as well. (Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.)

    In any event, I think we might be better off using the terms 'anti hero' and 'anti villain' than spreading the term 'contagoist' around and infecting the body literate. :)

    Ok, I'll admist it, I'm a contrarian.

    Vince

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Vince. An interesting take on the subject, as usual. :)
      Fun fact relating to your point #2, about the prefix con meaning both 'against' and 'with', one of the originators of the term said that it was partially for that very reason that they chose this term, because this character can have both negative and positive impacts on the protagonist.

      Delete
    2. Hi Winnie:

      After thinking it over for anther day I think a better term would be: "Ambigutagonist", pronounced AM-BIG-U-Tagonist. That's someone who is a 'tagonist' in that it is an important character in the story but also a character who may be for or against any given scenario. I think the root, 'ambigu' would make it clear what is trying to be defined.

      Delete
  6. Thanks, Winnie! I love learning something new...and your posts are always packed with info!

    As Ruthy mentioned, I like the devil vs. angel visual. Good to keep in mind as we work with our heroes and heroines. The well-meaning father is a good example, or the mother who has a certain man picked out for her daughter. Of course, the daughter knows who she loves, and he isn't Mama's choice. Then again, sometimes Mama is right and the daughter just needs to see him in a new light. :)

    I hope all is well in your part of the world! Cyber hugs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Debby! Thanks for the kind words and so happy I was able to give you a new way of looking at things!

      Delete
  7. Winnie, how interesting! I've never heard this term before. And I love the idea. In my wip, I see my heroine's father doing some of this (protecting her from another heartbreak).

    It's great to have this to think about in my story! Thanks for the post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Missy. I'm like you, I've used this type character before, but didn't know what to call him. Now that I've focused in on what his/her role is, I think I can utilize the archetype much more effectively.

      Delete
  8. I recently ran across this character type, too, Winnie! In the material I was reading the author called this the "conflict character." It isn't a novel idea, but new to me!

    I'm sure we've all included a character like this in our stories unconsciously, but with my WIP I'm creating a conflict character on purpose. We'll see how it turns out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jan. Absolutely. And I like the idea of calling him a 'conflict character' because when it comes down to it, that's what his role is.

      Delete
  9. Winnie, I've never heard this term used before but I love it and will now use the term. I think a contagionist is who my antagonist is my current book. It fits perfectly who he is--a bothersome bloke who gets in the way of what my protagonist's path. Love it! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Donna. You're quite welcome. Don't you love it when you had a name for something you've been doing intuitively already?

      Delete
  10. Great post, Winnie. I had not heard that term, even as an English teacher! It is a good term, though. I wonder if Nick Carraway, the narrator in The Great Gatsby, is somewhat of a contagonist.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Sandy. Relieved to know I am in great company! :) And I hang my head as I admit this, but I never read the Great Gatsby and haven't seen the movie either so I have no idea...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Winnie, I love the Great Gatsby and the movies are great, too.

      Delete
  12. Well this is cool. I had never heard of this before. Thanks for sharing the word, description and ideas of what is is. Sandy mentioned The Great Gatsby. Definitely. Now I will be on the look out. LOL
    quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lori. Glad you enjoyed the post. And between you and Sandy, y'all have convinced me to add The Great Gatsby to my reading list! :)

      Delete
  13. I had no idea that those types of characters had a name/category. Brilliant! It's so much easier to create a character if I have an archetype in mind for them already! Thanks, Winnie!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Erica. You're quite welcome. And I agree, creating this character deliberately rather than by default is much more effective.

      Delete
  14. How interesting. Thank you for explaining.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lucy. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  15. This is a new word for me! I can see how it fits though. I can't think of an example right now, though I'm sure there are many!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi Lee-Ann, thanks for stopping by. You're right about there being many examples, but it's difficult to think of them when put on the spot :)

    ReplyDelete

If you have trouble leaving a comment, please "clear your internet cache" and try again. You can find this in your browser settings under "clear history."