So, what is a story? Well, aside from the obvious, I mean, what makes a story, a story? Is it characters? Setting? Or is it a formula? The answer to that question is: Yes. To all of them.
You see, all stories, regardless if they are fact or fiction, have three points. Beginning, middle, and end. That is the one inescapable truth of all storytellers, even if the order gets mixed up from time to time. In creative writing though, it’s a bit trickier than that. You have start, rising action, high point, then slowly waning off. To fuel all of this, you need conflict, or stakes, to keep the story engaging.
But who, or what, keeps the conflict going?
Well, the protagonist and antagonist of course.
To give the biggest example of all time: Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Yes, cliché, but hey, name a more iconic pair, I’ll wait.
(Yes, Batman and Joker, but that’s not quite what I’m getting at. Those two are more like opposites pushing against each other, rather than Darth Vader and Luke’s pushing the story forward.)
Luke Skywalker is, for many reasons, the archetype protagonist. He’s a young farm boy who is given a chance to be a hero via a call to action, specifically, R2-D2 showing him the message of Princess Leia to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. More to the point, he faces off against a dark, evil overlord clad in all black.
In Star Wars: A New Hope, we see the basic plot structure throughout the movie. We start with Luke starting from humble origins, his farmstead, and gets picked up by a wise old mentor, Obi-Wan. From there, we meet Han Solo, his heroic foil (more what a foil is later) and the iconic ship, The Millennium Falcon. (More on iconic shots later as well.) Once spaceborne, we see Luke take his first steps as a Jedi, training under Obi-Wan in the ways of the force. Then, the Death Star comes, and we soon say goodbye to Obi-Wan due to Darth Vader. Once they escape the Death Star, the high point of the movie comes in the famous trench run, where we see Darth Vader barreling down on Luke, only to be saved by a timely intervention of Han Solo, allowing Luke to blow up the Death Star and earn his first medal.
So, do you see how a basic story structure works? Luke is at home, has a reason to leave home, sets off, meets main bad guy, then blows up main bad guy’s base.
But what about the antagonist’s perspective? How does the story from there? Well, that’s a bit tricky. See, unlike most examples, Luke and Vader don’t meet until Empire Strikes Back. At most, in A New Hope, Vader see’s a glance of Luke, or senses the Force in him. Never in person. How does Vader help the plot? Well, suffice to say, along with Tarkin, he’s the one who moves the plot forward. Princess captured? Him. Ship captured? Him. X-wing under attack? All him.
Depending on how you do it, sometimes the antagonist is more important to kicking off the plot than the protagonist. After all, you need something to start the plot.