What is an contagonist and what does it have to do with building conflict in your novel?
An contagonist is a character who is generally on the hero/heroine’s side in the story as they want the hero/heroine to achieve their ultimate goal. However, they feel the hero/heroine should go about reaching that goal in a different way than the hero/heroine does.
Hero/heroine’s ultimate goal: Get published.
The contagonist’s goal: Have the hero/heroine get published.
The hero’s plan: Get a traditional publishing deal with a large publisher.
The contagonist’s plan: For them to get published with a vanity publisher or to self-publish. Or possibly they suggest other forms of being published such as newspaper or magazine writing.
Both share the same goal, they just have different ideas on how to get there and maybe even what the end result looks like. This naturally causes conflict. Another example would be you are driving to a party with a friend. You want to take Route A because you find it scenic and you want to calm your nerves before getting there. Your passenger wants you to take Route B because they see no reason to take a longer way–they just want to get there.
This character does not become an antagonist because they still want you to reach a party. An antagonist would do something to make it so you don’t reach your goal (the party) by telling you the party had been changed to a different date so you would miss it.
How to Use an Contagonist to Build Story Conflict
If you feel as though your story is lacking conflict and tension, one of the things you can do is introduce a contagonist. You likely already have an antagonist (the enemy force) and of course the protagonist (hero/heroine). The cool thing about an contagonist is that they don’t always have to be in the contagonist role. They can step up for one scene to build in some tension or conflict and then step out again.
A contagonist can be your hero’s best friend–that boosting sidekick for your character.
And as needed, they can step in and offer the opposite viewpoint or method to reaching a goal. For example, if they have a different value system, this can add a layer of tension, conflict, and even self-doubt in your main character. Using the example above, say your hero is off to the party and wants to take the scenic route. Their passenger is their best friend (or love interest) but they are an environmentalist and value taking the shortest route possible so they use less gas, thus helping the environment. Now the hero needs to choose between doing what they want or need (chill out before the party) or please their passenger and honour their value system. It’s minor, but it can add a layer of ‘ugh’ to the hero’s journey and spice up a scene in a way that gives undercurrents of tension and conflict that help drive the reader deeper into the story.
The best thing about a contagonist? They can step in as needed to help out a scene that needs to be there but maybe lacks luster. Plus, it doesn’t have to be a huge conflict, it can simply offer enough doubt to set your main character back a step or two.
As an added bonus, a contagonist can offer the opposing viewpoint which allows your main character to provide their reasoning–which shows the readers that the character has looked at other methods to obtain their goal. As well, you can place two contagonists in one scene to show two conflicting points of view and really give your main character the gears. For example, in one of the scenes in Champagne and Lemon Drops I had the main character’s grandmother and sister (two people she looks up to) give her complete opposite advice in terms of which man to choose as hers. Holy headache for the character, but these characters could voice everything she wasn’t thinking–or was afraid to think.
So what do you think? Can you think of some contagonist examples? They can be from your own work or popular works.
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