Do all things exist in balance?
Good and evil. Light and dark. Chaos and order. Are these the binary opposites we’ve been led to believe? Or is there always more to the story? And, if so, how do we explore the space between one extreme and another?
One potential place to start is by considering perspective. Who is the story about? Who is it for? What are the author’s own biases or intentions? Why is this the story being told and why now? Perspective is the key difference between the hero of a story and the villain--characters we will here define as the protagonist and antagonist respectively.
The word protagonist comes from a Greek theater term meaning “first actor” and is usually used to describe the main character of a story--whether they are inherently heroic or not. Think of your protagonist as the figure that is the most proactively progressing the story forward. A story can have a passive main character, however, then the question becomes, are they truly your protagonist?
he term antagonist is likewise derived from a Greek word which, in theatre, means “one who opposes the first actor.” Even more broadly, however, this term was used to reference any rival, adversary, or person in competition with another. Narratively speaking, that doesn’t necessarily make an antagonist an evil person, or even a bad person, they are simply a character that has goals or interests at odds with that of the driving force of the story.
So you can see why perspective is crucial in defining which character in your story deserves which moniker. After all, Link might be the Hero of Hyrule, but do you think those monsters living deep in caves and forests appreciate being attacked out of the blue? Or being used as pawns in Ganon’s evil machinations? Except, maybe Ganon isn’t evil either, maybe Zelda’s family has abused their royal power over the people of the Hyrule and Ganon seeks to overthrow a corrupted monarchy in order to enforce a democratically elected governing body? Link could be an agent of feudal oppression, you don’t know.
And that’s ultimately the point. All things exist in opposition, positive and negative, and it’s that duality that creates the best stories. Pro- and anti-, for and against, arbiter of preservation, agent of change. Protagonists and antagonists are simply narrative vehicles driving the story forward, their wants and desires creating the essential elements of contrast, tension, and conflict that every good story needs. So who is the hero of your story and who is the villain? Choose wisely.