I want to write a story featuring two main characters--Al and Bob.

In the beginning, Al, the paragon, will be a kind, friendly, competent and well-liked, whereas Bob, the protagonist, is unliked, vindictive and selfish.

The setting is, at least superficially, in a fantasy-fiction world, where a city-sized population resides an isolated, habitable zone amidst monster-infested wilderness (the specifics of these matters not; it suffices to imagine them sailing on shark-infested water in a city-sized ship)

There are also superheros in this community who are responsible for its defence and organization, to which both Al and Bob are new members early on.

Wanting to make Al a justifiable antagonist, I immediately thought of the following:

Al, seemingly good in every respect, is secretly scheming to exert dictatorial power over the community for his own enjoyment; rising to the occasion, Bob challenges Al's rule and defeats him.

I reject this plan, because the plot of seemingly good people seizing power only to reveal their selfish motive is simply too cliched and predictable, especially if the protagonist is at odds with said person.

More importantly, this seems to undermine the true-paragon nature of Al, invalidating the idea of a paragon-villain. since there was no paragon in the first place.

Second idea:

Al seizes power and bring about certain political revolution. For instance, he suggests the complete and permanent closure of the community from the outside world as a perfect defence mechanism, but this is against the ideals of some of the community's members, who want to eventually reclaim the outside world instead of hiding in such a protective cage forever. Bob champions the latter ideology, and brings the down-fall of Al, for better or for worse.

Concerns for this idea: somehow this plot also make Al seem like a genuine villain, with an ideology that most modern readers will likely disagree with. This could be a result of the poor choice of example-ideology above, or because it is simply not possible to imagine an indisputably paragon ideology to be assigned to an de-facto villain, at least for me.

Idea number three:

Al gathers influence and persuades, rather than coerce, the community at large to perform certain questionable plans, such as the one described above. Bob rises to challenge Al as the representative of a part of the community who disagree. They fight; Bob wins, and Al's plan is abandoned with public approval for the winner. Then, the community is immediately ravaged by a disaster that could have been prevented by Al's plan, showing that Al was right and Bob was wrong. Bob watches hopelessly as the people who gave him approval for oh-so-short a time contort in the clutches of death, and commits suicide in defeat.

So far, this is the most appealing of all ideas, the paragon was paragon from beginning to end, the ending is unpredictable and cathartic, and maybe a set-up for sequels if the suicide part is omitted.

I ask this question to see if there are existing examples of paragon characters being an antagonist and any criticism or suggestion to the idea(s).

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    What is your ultimate goal? Do you want your paragon antagonist to win or lose in the end? That will really affect the story you want to tell. There are all kinds of Anti-Hero, Magnificient Bastard, Jerkass with a Heart of Gold, Amiable Villain, Robin Hood tropes/arcs you can explore, but you need to figure out if your unlikable protagonist is going to succeed. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 9:48
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    You can't just be a "paragon", you are a "paragon of something". So what is Al a paragon of? Virtue? Justice? Loyalty? Or a paragon of a knight? Of a soldier?
    – Patsuan
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:45
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    For an example of paragon antagonist, take a look at High Sparrow
    – Alexander
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 21:13
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    Sorry, this is a question rather than an answer. I am currently completing a master's degree in creative fiction writing. Never once have I heard the term paragon (in relation to character writing) - for which everyone here seems to know. Is paragon like American for protagonist? I'm Canadian, so it's possible it was lost in translation. Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 7:53

7 Answers 7


An additional option is to shift the moral compass of the story during the telling. If your story begins from a world view that celebrates Al's friendly generosity and warm kindness, but then slowly reveals bigger world issues which repaint that generosity as foolishness or worse yet deceitfulness; and if simultaneously, the reveal also justifies Bob's attitude, lending nobility and valor to what originally seemed self-serving; then you will get your juxtaposition of roles without having to change the fundamental nature of either of your characters.

For example, the opening scene introduces the friendly Al and the troubled Bob as new arrivals in an isolated city deep within the wilderness. Al strolls into the neighborhood bar and buys everyone a drink. He laughs easily and tells wonderful tales while listening attentively to tales which others tell in return. Meanwhile Bob sits in the corner, expressing anxiety and discomfort through closed up body language and distrusting furtive glances around the room. Late in the scene, Bob gets up and quietly leaves the bar while Al continues the festivities. A bar maid follows him out to see if he is okay but he is rude to her and then slips into the night.

Now as the story unfolds, the reader learns that Bob and Al are both spies; the advanced guard of an approaching army which will soon lay siege to the city. They have been sent ahead to gather information about the city's defenses and about any super humans who might live there. Al is pursuing his duties diligently but Bob has been having second thoughts about being a part of any evil army. He was trained to be just as outgoing and friendly as Al, but he is currently not sure whether that is the right thing to do. After much alone time and self contemplation, he decides to warn the city about the approaching army and join in on its defense. He goes on to be the savior of the city and the hero of the tale.

Now during this story neither character has changed their behavior at all. They are both behaving exactly as they did when we first met them. But as we, the readers have learned more about what is going on, our interpretation, of who each of these people is, has radically changed. Our perspective has changed even though the characters have not.

All of that having been said, and to actually answer your question, Yes there are many examples of initial heroes serving as the antagonist over the course of the story and each of your story designs have been used to this end.

President Alma Coin in the third book of Hunger Games is a great example of a covert criminal mastermind (as described in your first design).

Differentiating your lead characters based on their conflicting theories about how to handle a bigger problem (as described in your second design) will work, but it leaves the determination of who is ultimately right to the outcome of that problem. This makes your characters secondary to the problem they are fighting over. A good example of this kind of tale is the recent Captain America Civil War movie and associated comic stories.

Your third design explores a variation on the second design in which your chosen hero's choice is actually the wrong one and leads to disaster. Plots in which decision makers make disastrous mistakes is so common that it has its on genre, Tragedies. There are library isles full of stories which follow this design.

Keep in mind through out all of this that unlike in fairy tales, virtue is often a matter of opinion. Almost every villain thinks that they are the good guy and many a selfish act leads to an noble end. Be careful when working with themes of good and evil. They are slippery.


I'll leave you a link to this episode of Trope Talk on youtube, which I believe is very relevant ( Trope Talk: Paragorns ).

Imho you are already on track. As you mentioned, the first idea is not something you'd want - as Al wouldn't be a paragorn anymore. The second and third look like better options.

The point is: you don't have to be right to be a paragorn. As Henry pointed out, real life moral choices are seldom completely good or completely evil. To be a true paragorn, Al must be really convinced that his plan his ultimately the best for the entire community.

If Bob disagrees, Al will probably make everything in his power to show him his perceived truth. Eventually, your story will make the conflict escalate; but if Al will have to take drastic measures against Bob and his followers, he will do so with an heavy heart and a copious amount of guilt, still trying to be true to the greater good.

Anyway, only you, as the author, know how things will turn out. Al and Bob don't know the future - they can just argue on moral standards, personal opinions, and predictions. This will add a considerable amount of doubt and make the matter seem more "true"; if you play this well, the reader could ever be tempted to agree with Al, rather than with your chosen hero; and this would be totally fine - unless, of course, you don't make Bob an idiot in comparison.

To be short: they both must have believable ideologies. You can play this with both trying to take moral high-ground, e.g. "The only ethic way to go is this one", or make something more of the "morality vs necessity" trope: "I know this is an hard choice, but it's the only way we can survive" and so on.


In the real world, not all antagonists are villains, and I see no reason why your paragon, Al, needs to be villainous to be an effective antagonist to your POV character, Bob. All he needs is to have his definition of "good" conflict with Bob's fundamental need. Consider:

In Act I, we introduce Al and Bob. Everyone loves Al, and this makes Bob feel jealous. He feels bad about disliking Al, but the truth is, the man is hogging all the glory for himself. The fact that Al doesn't seem to have anything Bob can justifiably dislike just makes him feel worse.

In Act II, Al and Bob are working together (or in parallel) to solve problem X, e.g. the dangerous monsters outside the walls. Bob hesitates - he is worried about a decision to be made; meanwhile, Al simply acts -- his morality has no gray areas, so his decisions are easy.

In Act III, the conflict reaches a head: Al is going to Act to solve X forever (perhaps by sealing off the city). Bob, though, has learned that the monsters in question are people too, and is concerned about what will happen to them. Al responds, rightly, that their job is to protect the City, not the forest, and they can't do both. The city dwellers agree. And this leaves Bob to act against Al alone, with both of them seeking good. Even if he succeeds, his victory will be bittersweet.

One brilliant comedic example of the paragon antagonist is Othar Tryggvassen from Girl Genius comics. He is a legitimate hero to the non-sparks (read: normal people), but since the story is told from a pro-spark (read: mad scientist) perspective, we see him differently.

Edit: clarified that the monsters could be people too, thus creating the gray area where Al and Bob conflict.


Real people aren't lists of attributes on a piece of paper. They experience life, they learn lessons, they lose things they value, and they change as a result.

My suggestion is to put Al through a series of trials. He gains power because he has good intentions and everyone trusts him. Once in power, though, he gets into trouble. A crisis occurs, something that couldn't be foreseen, but for which Al is blamed. He gets bad information (or is deliberately misled) and makes a bad decision. He gets overwhelmed by details. He makes enemies, simply because he can't please everyone. He gets tired and makes mistakes. Someone he loves/respects dies because of an order he gives. A powerful person tries to corrupt Al by tempting him with women or drugs, and he accepts.

There's no one point where you can say, "Al chose to become evil," because it's a process. You don't know how you'll perform in a situation until you're in it. Most don't break bad, they keep bending until they have no other choices left.

Meanwhile, Bob hasn't had to undergo all this pressure. He can make decisions based on the facts and ignore the political considerations. Al gradually drifts away from him. Bob may try to maintain their friendship, but eventually Al pushes him away. Bob becomes the hero, not from virtue but from necessity.


There is hardly ever a case of absolute morality. Two paragon characters who meet but are from very different cultural backgrounds could easily turn to be each others' nemeses exactly because of the disagreements following from the morals they hold in highest regard.

For example, a honorable knight templar who condemns a noble islamic king. They may each be perfectly nice and heroic people in their own right, but their irreconcilable worldviews make them enemies.


I think there are two aspects to a character's moral framework. There are the character's goals (what they want achieve) and the character's scruples (what they will refrain from doing in pursuit of these goals).

Now, I think that - pretty much by definition - a paragon character's goals will be perfectly selfless and "good". Usually a paragon character will also have scruples, and will have certain behaviours that they just plain consider too evil for any end to justify.

This doesn't, however, mean that their moral framework is perfect. It's quite possible that such a character can have overlooked something. There may be things that this character is willing to do in pursuit of their (unquestionably noble) goal that are completely unacceptable to the protagonist.

A good example of this, in my view, is in Watchmen, wherein the main villain turns out to be

Ozymandias, a well intentioned superhuman, who believes he can prevent nuclear war and save billions of lives by killing a few million people to fake an alien attack. Up to (and perhaps, from a certain point of view, including) this point, the character is a paragon of virtue.

The point is that a character doesn't have to stop having virtuous goals, or stop having scruples in order to become a villain. There just has to come a point where (or a situation in which) their scruples are insufficient to stop them doing unpleasant (or for whatever reason, unacceptable) things in pursuit of their virtuous goals.

The character, at least in terms of their intentions, might even be a more noble character than your protagonist, but if the protagonist has scruples that the "virtuous" character doesn't, there will be a reason to oppose them, and if the reader also shares those scruples, there will be a reason for them to get behind the protagonist.

Of course, to take a completely different angle, another option is to simply make the protagonist a bad guy (in which case the antagonist can be utterly wonderful, and simply framed as the bad guy by the perspective of the narrative). I'm assuming, though, that this isn't what you have in mind.


Look up something known as the "anti-villain." It's one of my favorite characterizations since it's so rarely used. They have good intentions, and the audience understands their motive, but at the end of the day they're at odds with the protagonist.

Types of Anti-Villains

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