My protagonist is Eris and my antagonist is Ezrith.

In a post-apocalyptic world, my unreliable narrator Eris has the ability to control and manipulate life and subsequently kill any living thing at will. She denies her abilities because of an extremely traumatizing event in her childhood, where she murdered her aunt, father, and sister accidentally, and while trying to cover it up, killed more people who came to investigate. She has been found by a group of survivors and taken a liking to the adopted son, Caspian, of the group's matriarch, Ezrith.

Ezrith is the antagonist. Her dead wife Saskia, Caspian's biological mother, was killed while on a scouting mission (unbeknownst to Ezrith or anyone in the group) by Eris, who has blocked out the memory of the murder. Ezrith is extremely suspicious of Eris and constantly scrutinizes Eris' motivations and behavior.

The fact is, though, that Ezrith's motivations (despite being Eris' antagonist) are totally benevolent and her love for her son and the group she leads is pure. All she wants is to keep her loved ones safe. Eris, on the other hand, is selfish, secretive, and bottom-line morally compromised, killing out of fear and hatred and lying to herself and others.

Is this plot line even feasible? Can I have an effective portrayal of an "evil" protagonist and "good" antagonist without having my reader sympathize with the antagonist? And how can I keep my reader's sympathies aligned with my protagonist despite all of her somewhat unredeemable faults?

  • 2
    The plot is feasible and has been done. Crime and Punishment, Lolita, Frankenstein... – wetcircuit Dec 14 '18 at 15:24
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    I think the problem is you're getting hung up on the labels protagonist and antagonist. Just write your story and don't worry about what someone doing literary analysis might call your characters. – Cyn says make Monica whole Dec 14 '18 at 15:30
  • I would actually recommend you read "The Prince in Waiting" trilogy, by John Christopher. – Jedediah Dec 14 '18 at 16:04
  • Protagonist who is morally compromised and antagonist who is “good”? Nicholas Cage and Ethan Hawke in Lord of War. – RonJohn Mar 14 '19 at 18:35

Just consider them characters. As has been mentioned, it has been done before and can be more interesting than a virtuous MC.

Paradise Lost has a power and fascination lacking in Paradise Regained. Paradise Regained was practically a flop in comparison. Lucifer is a compelling character.

Certain genres require a protagonist with moral latitude and play. Since you have an extremely dangerous MC, make her a character people are interested in.

Characters live in the world we create for them and yours has a checkered past - a bit like the kid in Looper. Just write then as you see then and let them do what they must.

No one is unrelentingly good, so your matriarch might have a skeleton or two in her closet.

Use shades of grey - some works live in the shade because that is where their characters are. What she did as a terrified child could even be understood if not forgiven by someone in universe - or did she kill everyone with knowledge?

| improve this answer | |
  • To add some more recent examples to the list of popular morally grey (or outright black) protagonists: Walter White (from Breaking Bad), Thomas Covenant (from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), and pretty much any Game of Thrones character who isn't a Stark (and even a few who are) – Arcanist Lupus Dec 14 '18 at 21:56

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