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If in real life the antagonist is often oneself, shouldn't it work in a full length novel?

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I'm fleshing out a novel which seems to have enough going on without adding an antagonist. In reality, my main character is her own antagonist. She is warring with herself, battling feelings of guilt after the death of her grandfather and must work through this in order to move on. I've read the thread on writing a book without an antagonist but it seems to be suggesting that it only works in short stories, which is not what I'm going for.

There is a romantic sub-plot, if that helps any. Perhaps I should switch to the romance being the main idea to fix this?

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I personally think it should work, but I never seem to get a lot of support for this idea, so...?

For me, it works because I think of the protagonist as the main character, and the antagonist as being whatever gets in the protagonist's way. I really don't believe that the antagonist has to be a person. This is obvious in survival stories, where the antagonist is nature, or a disaster of some sort, but I think it also works in Romance, and in other genres.

Your protagonist has a goal, and there are things that must be overcome before that goal can be reached. That's your conflict and plot.

I think you need to be careful that there is external action in your story - having your protagonist sit there and meditate until she finds inner peace isn't going to be all that exciting. But if she's doing things, and through these actions achieves her goal - yippee, I say!

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She is warring with herself, battling feelings of guilt after the death of her grandfather and must work through this in order to move on.

Fear, doubt, anger, blinding passion and just about any other emotion, especially if it is overpowering, can forge the foundation of an antagonistic force. I find I enjoy the sinister nature of this type of antagonist. Emotions are often the ultimate blind spot for an individual.

I find myself identifying with these characters. Who can't identify with internal conflict denying opportunities in life? I find it frustrating as a reader when the story is too internal and I get bored. If a character can push through her emotions to move forward and find resolution without boring me then I can enjoy this type of story.

This is not an uncommon theme in manga/anime. In those settings it is the relationships between the characters that provides the external perspective on the emotional state of the main character. You are often left completely without knowledge until the end of what the real internal conflict is, but you spend the entire series trying to figure it out. That makes it very engaging.

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I think it's perfectly valid to have the main character as the antagonist.

An example I read recently was If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern. The whole novel is about the main character overcoming herself and her past to move forward with her life. There is no other human (or non-human, I suppose) antagonist. The tension comes from whether the main character can get over her issues before changing circumstances mean that she loses what is important to her before she realises how important it is.

As for romance, that's the trigger the novel uses for her main character's self-discovery. It's important, but it's not the main focus. So I think it's also possible for you to leave it as a sub-plot if you think it works better that way.

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You don't need an antagonist. You need some way to force the MC to confront herself. The usual way to do that is to provide an antagonist who presents exactly the right problem to force that self-confrontation. But that's not the only way.

A story is often three stories. The inner story is about how the main character is her own antagonist. The outer story is an important, meaningful problem on its own... but even more importantly it brings the MC to the point of confronting herself. The third story (typically a relationship story) provides yet another opportunity for the MC to see herself, and at the same time offers exemplars (good and bad) of various ways other people deal with similar inner conflicts. This relationship story is often where someone directly, pointedly, and correctly points out the MC's flaws.

It sounds as if your story doesn't provide that outer story, the one the brings the MC ever closer to seeing and confronting herself. That might work... as long as something brings her to that point.

One of my favorite stories is Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day. In that, I'd say that Stevens (the butler MC) is the main antagonist. There is another antagonist or two in the form of his boss's political friends, but the problems they create for him are few, and they are problems only because of his own choice to value his idealized (and obsolete?) sense of duty over fully expressing himself.

His main problem is how to address his growing mutual attraction with Miss Kenton. Again, the problem is entirely of his own making. She certainly isn't an antagonist in this.

All of these factors slowly but relentlessly drive Stevens into a corner (literally into a corner in a heartbreaking scene in the movie), where he must choose between the risk of human connection and the safety of solitude and duty.

So: You don't absolutely have to have an antagonist. But you will need some way to force the MC to confront herself.

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