Writing A Contagonist

© copyright 2019 Arabella K. Federico & www.ArabellaKFederico.com All Rights Reserved

What is a Contagonist and why your novel needs one

What a Contagonist actually is and how this character can absolutely transform your story and its conflict to engage readers so they'll be hooked to your storytelling.

What Is A Contagonist, anyway?

To begin, what in the heck is a Contagonist??? No-before you even ask, it is NOT the protagonist or antagonist replacement in a story. The term “Contagonist” is actually a coined term created by Chris Huntley and Melanie Anne Phillips within a software to help writers create story called Dramatica. Dramatica is its own ecosystem of storytelling. It has its own terms with definitions and an entirely different way of creating and looking at story.
 
Contagonist and archetype chart

Each Main/Secondary Character you write should have an equal opposite to help balance and create conflict

Therefore, a “Contagonist”  defined by Dramatica is: “The character that balances the Guardian (mentor archetype). If Protagonist and Antagonist can archetypally be thought of as “Good” VS “Evil”, the Contagonist is “Temptation” to the Guardian’s “Conscious”. Basically, the Contagonist isn’t the main opposition to the Protagonist like the Antagonist is. It’s the mirrored foil to the Mentor-Type character. The Contagonist doesn’t want to necessarily stop or prevent the Protagonist from their main story goal or motivation. They’re goals are to merely mess shit up for the protagonist in the process of doing their own thing.

A Contagonist is NOT the Antagonist

Never forget it, either! The two can be confused at times, because often the readers AND the characters don’t know what side this character is on. They APPEAR like the Antagonist, they look like the Antagonist, but they are not the Antagonist. Are they really a bad guy? Do the characters and the audience suspect this character of being against the Protagonist? Precisely! These questions about which side of the fence this character balances on, and why they’re riding that fence without committing to one side is their purpose. What’s so great about this character is all the potentials for conflict and characterization and arcs they bring to a story as a whole. 
 

So why is the mentor-character important to the contagonist?

 
The Mentor archetype is a very important one, especially in science fiction and fantasy stories. When you have a character who needs the platonic emotional support whilst they’re treading through their perilous journey, a mentor character is wonderful. You don’t need to be writing a SyFy/Fantasy novel for a great mentor type character though so don’t let that stop you. What most writers don’t realize is that the Mentor needs a little extra spice (the Contagonist) to shove our Protagonist into some shit. & what is that shit?
 
CONTRAST.
A contrasting perspective to all the good positive aspects the Mentor brings to the Protagonist. Remember, the Dramatica creators made the Contagonist specifically to oppose the Mentor-and that is why. It causes an internal grapple within our hero to NOT do the right things, to NOT be a hero but instead give into all their worst impulses because sometimes-that’s what’s easier. 
 
A Contagonist may not be the one directly working to stop our Protagonist in their tracks, but if they somehow convince our hero to ditch their friends and join the dark side, well… 

ARCS, ARCS, ARCS!!!

Character Arcs, to be specific. A Contagonist character Arc has limitless potential. Why? Because of the mere fact nobody knows precisely where they stand. Whichever direction you decide to turn this character is ultimately believable as long as you do the right things throughout to get them there in the end. Don’t just be lazy and completely change their directions and motivations. Make their arcs a natural transition that flows with the story itself.

One of my favorite examples of a well written Contagonist is Vegita from Dragonball Z. Despite this being an anime reference, the character as a whole has one of the biggest and most profound character arcs I’ve ever seen. While at the same time, the character completely staying true to himself 100% of the time.

One reason Vegita makes a kill Contagonist because he’s Extremely flawed. Flawed characters are golden gooses for Contagonists.

 

So, if you’ve never watched the original anime, Vegita comes to Earth as one of the last remaining Saiyans, a extinct warrior race. They’re trained from birth to be vicious and cruel. Vegita has an ego and self-image that has been shaped by his own perception of himself and those around him who fear him tremendously. Goku, another surviving Saiyan and the show’s Protagonist, shatters Vegita’s self image again and again. 

Though it seems like Vegita is the show’s primary Antagonist, this isn’t so. Once Goku defeats Vegita in Vegita’s first and only battle loss up to that point, they reunite to join forces against a new dangerous enemy. 

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Creating Dramatic change in your contagonist is crucial to ther success as a contagonist

Now, there’s much more to this story, but the role that Vegita plays in the story is constantly changing. The plot and other characters are swaying his choices, leaving the audience wanting him to go one way, but uncertain where his true loyalties lie. At the same time, his own personal situation and self-image is becoming completely reformed. This gives us a unique and satisfying character arc once it’s finally over. 
 

Think of how a contagonist can change and make your story a better one

Give your novel a run-down to see if you have a Contagonist or not. Whichever you find, improve upon that. Give your novel depth and uncertainty by throwing this literal wrench in the story.

If written properly, your Contagonist could easily become one of your most interesting and loved characters because of their unique “grey” situation.

No character should be all good or bad, every good writer knows this. Readers want this-so simply give the people what they’ve asked for. 

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. So, would Kimbly from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood be a contagonist? I mean he is on the Father and Homunculus side but throughout the series, he is constantly challenging the Edward and Alphonse principles and moral dilemmas. He turns on the Homunculus eventually when in Kimbley’s eyes they became hypocrites.

    1. Ahh, I only watched the first few episodes of it so I’m sure which character you’re referencing but possibly. If this character appears to be a force against the protagonist in some way and maybe LOOKS like the antagonist, then most likely. Go back and look at all your favorite shows, books, and movies and see if you can spot the Contagonist. They’re in almost every piece of fiction. ; )

  2. I’ve never of of the contagonist before I read your post! I’ll keep the character in mind for possible future stories 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog! Thank you for reading it! ^_^

  3. Very useful, unique – or I’ll say, novel lesson about a character type I’ve never really thought of before. Thank you! And your author website and novel are intriguing.

    1. Thank you!! I appreciate the comments! I’m glad you found the blog interesting! I’m really surprised by how it’s blown up the past few days, but because of people like you who give me a chance, I’m able to share my writing with others. Glad you like the website and my novel!! I can’t wait till it’s all finished!! Please come back soon! ^__^

  4. I dont watch TV, so those references are not good example for me.
    There are a book (or books) where we can find a contagonist on it? Please, name it!

    I just prefer read books, and a character in a novel could be for me helper. Thanks anyway.

    1. So the reason I put photos of Snape from Harry Potter and Gollum from Lord of the Rings is that those two are contagonists and they are from books. Most stories have one, and I think that’s what sorta throws people because they’ve been there in plain sight the entire time. It doesn’t matter what medium it is-books, tv, or film; story is story. To identify this character, you need to see them as an obstacle to your protagonist and the story goal, but not the MAIN opposition (the antagonist). It will never be the antagonist despite them looking like that archetype. I hope that helps! Thanks for reading the blog and commenting.

  5. Great information, thank you Arabella. Whenever I have a story in my head, I have always thought of different ‘levels’ of antagonist or protagonist, but this gives a much better definition of what the character(s) need to be. Cheers!

    1. Hey Chad! I’m so glad the blog helped you out!! I know when I first discovered this archetype I was able to recognize it EVERYWHERE after that. I hope it helps you in your writing!!

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