There is an answer here from FraEnrico which is the cause for my question: What is the difference between character-driven stories and plot-driven stories?. Here he explains a bit of what an "arena driven story" is, but I wanted to know more.

What is an arena driven story? (As the structure of it is around the environment like FraEnrico said.) I've searched for it on google but have not found anything good about this theme, so I'm here asking you guys what you know about it.

Still, my question looks too wide, so you can try to answer my doubts and wonderings:

  • How can the environment be the antagonist?
  • What the characters/protagonists are doing and what they want to achieve?
  • Their motivations, they want find peace in this world? (like, purifying and saving it) Or maybe they just want survive? (because the world is doomed)
  • Can you give examples from these kind of stories? (especially from literature, if you can)

2 Answers 2


Arena driven story: A man crashes his airplane in the desert, breaking his leg. His radio doesn't work. If he stays there he will die. He splints his leg, takes all the water he can carry, and tries to walk out. Or make it a man and woman, in the arctic. Make it Tom Hanks in Castaway; he is stranded alone on an island and wants to return to civilization.

Or make it a crew that is the first to visit an alien space station that seems to be abandoned, but its automatic defenses will try to kill them.

Or make it some guys struggling to make their business idea work and all the failures that go with it: They have no antagonist but they do need to make payroll, fix broken equipment, find customers and so on. Don't even worry about competition, there is nobody striving to make them fail, but they tried to start with too little capital and by inexperience chose a bad location and now they may lose their homes. Their spouses want them to succeed, but are very worried and unhappy that they are failing.

The key to an arena-story is that there is no intelligent or conscious villain, nobody is out in the world that the hero is working against, no villain is trying to make them fail. CIRCUMSTANCES and reality are what they struggle against (as most of us must do from time to time).

Often this requires the MC to find clever solutions, or take brave risks, in order to prevail over the circumstances. They don't fight anybody, they have to think their way out of their dilemma.

  • No villains, but adverse circumstances. That's interesting. Make clever solutions in order to prevail or drown on it. That's really nice!
    – Hanilucas
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 20:51
  • 1
    Sounds like arena driven also includes almost every zombie and apocalyptic movie. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 5:41
  • 8
    Sounds like 'The Martian' might be another good example from recent years. Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 9:54
  • @ArturBiesiadowski The Martian! Yes. Why didn't I think of that...
    – Amadeus
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 10:35
  • 6
    I heard a tip a while ago that would fit especially good in a setting like this: A character can get into trouble by pure (bad) luck, but if he gets out of it by pure luck, the reader feels cheated. Also note that just because it seems like pure luck from the character's standpoint it doesn't have to be like that for the reader. To take the Martian example, when Watney fires up Pathfinder, and it does establish contact, it doesn't seem like pure luck to us readers, because we already know that the JPL has been working for weeks on how to talk to it.
    – Arthur
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 11:23

Stories like Castaway, Gilligan's Island, Lost, and the such would be examples of an environment that is the antagonist. The MC has to survive their surroundings which is threatening their lives or making it more difficult to achieve their goals.

In each of my examples above you have the MC(s) who have to fight the environment with how to survive on an island for possibly the rest of their life while hoping someone rescues them.

One can argue also that a story like The Book of Eli and post apocalyptic stories are also with an environment for an antagonist as they will have to fight the environment to survive (radio active zones, lack of civilized infrastructures). This leads to people controlling precious goods (water, food, oil) which if the MC cannot find a way to barter or get, will fail their journey.

These types of stories are usually about self growth and survival. particularly ones like Castaway where you take someone who is used to modern comforts and have to learn to live without them. By the end, this person understands them self more deeply. Bottom line is they want to live, to survive. In the journey, they will find out just how far they are willing to go to survive (amputate an arm if it get's caught in a rock, betray a fellow stranded person to have food last longer).

Their motivation to survive depends. in Castaway Tom Hanks wanted to deliver his package. That package that he held onto reminded him of his humanity and civilization and that's why it was important that the movie ended with him finally delivering it. In others it might be to see a loved one again, to protect human existence. They all though have a driving cause that keeps them from just letting the elements win and provide them their strong desire to survive.

  • 1
    I like your answer especially because of the motivation examples you give. "Self growth and self discovery." I think it is almost as a character-driven story because what matters is how the characters react to circumstances. To push the boundries of human psyche and see where it goes. "Can he win the environment and be a good person or he will be consumed by it and die or become evil?" Very good indeed!
    – Hanilucas
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 20:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.