The Antagonist Within, or the Difference Between Idea and Story

Darker PagesI get a lot of ideas. I’m not bragging, I’m just saying that—as a writer—ideas are always in abundance. Likewise, I can write dialogue all day long. Description, on the other hand, is more of a struggle. Says the, uh, bearded guy typing away on his, um, grey, rectangle-shaped word calculator computing device thingee.

I digress. It wasn’t unusual years ago for more to say, “I got this great idea for a story the other day.”

What I should have been saying was, “I got this great idea the other day.”

My point here is that ideas and stories aren’t the same thing.

An idea could be this: Sara drives an ice cream truck and uses her job to secretly hunt down demon Boogeymen who pose as little kids and prey upon young children.

That’s a nifty idea, but it’s not yet a story. I could start with that idea, give Sara a bad-ass nemesis, throw her through some hard knocks, crank out 5,000 words, and still not have a story. I’d just have a really long idea.

But let’s say that one of these Boogeymen killed Sara’s brother when they were young. Let’s say that she’s secretly resented her brother for dying, for leaving her to deal with their alcoholic mother and grow up alone. Let’s say that over the course of the story, she realizes that all these years, she hasn’t been chasing after Boogeymen; she’s been running away from her dead brother and hiding from her guilt to be the one who survived. When Sara fights not just the physical demons but the demons within, then, my friends, we have a story.

Call it a character arc. Call it inner conflict. Call it the antagonist within. Every good character has some flaw—some aspect of themselves—that they must overcome or alter in the course of resolving their outer conflict.

That’s story.

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