The Antagonist

I’m in NYC doing book tour stuff this week! You can follow along with my adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

While I’m out running around, I wanted to re-run an updated version of a post I originally wrote back in March 2012, when I had finished the final big re-write of the book. It’s about Chapter 16 in Something Other than God — the chapter where I encounter my antagonist.

. . .

When I sat down to write this final draft of my book, I thought I knew a lot about story. My bookshelves jammed with tomes about the craft of storytelling were a testament to how much I’d learned about the subject over the past few years.

As I set out to tell my tale, I was confident that I had all the necessary pieces in place. Protagonist? That one’s easy. Check. Central conflict? Check. Initiating incident? Check. Theme? Check.

pic2004 The Antagonist

Our family in 2004 — the time period during which I met the antagonist in SOTG.

I started writing. Then, a couple chapters in, something dawned on me:

What about the antagonist?

Every story has an antagonist. It can be as obvious as a supervillian or as subtle as personality quirk, but there is always a force that opposes the protagonist. In fact, if you don’t have an antagonist, you don’t have a story. So I figured that there must be one, but couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

I didn’t come up with anything. Eventually I figured it must be the evil, broadly defined, since evil always tries to keep us away from God.

Then one Saturday morning I sat down to work on the book. It was time to start talking about those first stirrings of desire for God. I’d already recounted why I came to believe in some kind of Creator on an intellectual level, and now it was time to explain how my heart got into it. Before I started writing, I asked myself a question that would change the course of the book; it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that it changed the course of my life.

I simply wondered:

At this point in my life, was there anything I wanted more than God?

Based on that prompt, I started writing. And the memories came like a downpour.

I could hardly type fast enough to keep up with the thoughts. I wrote and wrote, churning out an almost inhuman words-per-minute rate as I told the story of a time I encountered something that I desired so deeply that I wanted it more than I wanted God. I’ve rarely had an easier writing assignment than describing the ways in which this thing lured me, what I found so wonderful about it, the reasons I thought it would make my life complete.

When I was done, I took my hands away from the keyboard, looked back at what I had just written. With a chill, I realized that I had just encountered my antagonist.

I didn’t understand my own story until I understood that my antagonist was something more than the general workings of evil. It was something very specific that I wanted out of life, a goal that I desired to achieve with everything in my being. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and aiming to reach them, of course; what made this particular goal the antagonist was that I wanted it more than I wanted anything else — even God.

After I finished the chapter, which would end up being Chapter 16 in the final book, it occurred to me that I’m still living a story…which must mean that I have a new antagonist to face down in my life today.

And if I ever want to live a truly great story, I must find out what it is.

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Enter the Conversation...

14 Responses to “The Antagonist”
  1. Mary says:

    This is such a great reminder, thank you!
    Mary recently posted..Cecropia Utopia – David’s Garden Find

  2. Grace says:

    Hi Jen,
    I am coming to hear you tonight at the First Things event—so excited! I don’t know if you will read these comments ahead, but I wanted to say I was particularly struck by Chapter 38 of the book and the discussion of why God “shows up” in certain situations but not others, or why He seems to answer little prayers for some but not big prayers for others.

    I have found this to be the case in my life—God answering certain prayers, and sending me certain gifts that were so small and yet so intimate and personal that I could not possibly doubt they were from him. Yet bigger prayers were met with silence. [Mine and those of others.] Why would God arrange little things in my life to give me comfort and peace, but not stop the attack of a pedophile or save someone from cancer? That has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Yet my own experience of His Presence and answers to prayer has been undeniable.

    I don’t wish to leave spoilers in the comments, but the story about the blankets was very moving to me, and a rather interesting twist. I wonder if you can speak more to that? (Not that story, but other examples or further thoughts on the meaning behind it all).

    Along those lines, I once had a Bible Study teacher talk about how many of the healings Jesus gave were to enable people to enter the temple and or pray. E.g. the woman who was bent over—she could not stand and perform the gestures of prayer until he healed her. I wonder if this also relates. (I would need to learn and study more).

    I would love more thoughts on this, if not tonight (I realize you probably don’t want to make last minute changes!) then perhaps in a future blog post?

  3. Allison H. says:

    Good thing school is over and I’m not using my early morning hours to plan things for the day; this must be thought about and hashed over in my mind. Thanks for sharing it again!
    Allison H. recently posted..Animal Child’s Heaven

  4. Kris says:

    Now I need to go back and re-read Chapter 16 again with fresh eyes….

  5. Amanda says:

    Beautiful! And, such a reminder that is going to provoke me into thought for a little ;) Or at least as long as my kids will allow for uninterrupted thought process time because without that I’ll just end up thinking about ….[blank stare].

    I am loving every bit of your book! You are amazing! And, have beautifully pieced together such a beautiful gift. Thank you!
    Amanda recently posted..Ocean of Goodness and Love

  6. Anne says:

    Gosh, Jen…..talk about spiritual food for thought. I loved the book. I’m sure I will be rereading soon. You can just feel that when you read a book.

    I would love to hear more about the jump between a Creator and Christianity. Some atheists could accept a Creator, but they also couldn’t follow that to Christianity. I remember that part of the book where Joe tells you ‘there’s this whole thing called philosophy’ (paraphrase), and I wish I could magnify that part of the conversation right there! You could probably right a few more books branching off from this one, eh?

    Enjoy your book tour!
    Anne recently posted..Twitterature (Inaugural Link Up May 2014)

  7. Oh! I love reading this now that I’ve read the book. I’m pretty sure I know what it is (was), but now I have to grab my book and reread chapter 16 to make sure!
    Amy @ Motherhood and Miscellany recently posted..Baby Catholic Answers All the Things

  8. Smoochagator says:

    Comment includes spoilers for Jen’s book. If you haven’t read the book yet… well, honestly, why haven’t you? Why are you on the internet even? Go read Something Other Than God!

    I KNEW IT. *pats self on back* As I read this post, I thought to myself, “She’s talking about the Tarrytown house!” It’s amazing, but I had never thought of it as the antagonist in your story, but now that I think of how the desire for it consumed you, it’s almost chilling. Amazing. Love you. Love your book :-D

  9. David says:

    Jenn, what an awesome article! It is like a work of art. I just finished your book! Wow, thank you for sharing your story….and the story continues! I am so very blessed. God bless you and your family.

  10. Hello Jennifer!
    This is my first visit to your blog. I finished your book yesterday, which I ‘accidentally’ found on Amazon while looking at something else. I was intrigued by the title and after reading the excerpts they allowed, I had to get it to read more. Your story and how you told it was SO interesting and HONEST. Thank you for that!!!!

    “Every Life is a Fairy Tail Written by God” (Hans Christian Anderson)
    Your story was mesmerizing and how thankful I am that Jesus became real to you!!! Thank you for sharing your heart and life.
    ~ Violet
    Violet @ Create Beauty recently posted..Calligraphy Monogrammed Notecards

  11. Catherine says:

    Ditto Smoochagator’s comment! I really appreciated that strand in your book, but this post helps me to see it a new light and realize a very similar antagonist in my own life.
    Catherine recently posted..School’s Out!

  12. Jennifer, I will be writing about your book in a column soon. Can’t wait. And I’m pleased to say I figured out your antagonist. So very interesting to think of it this way. I’ll be pondering this and your challenge for a while, and trying to pin down my current protagonist too. Blessings and hope you’re having a great time. Your little guy is SO ADORABLE in this photo by the way.
    Roxane B. Salonen recently posted..faith & family fridays: ‘a sense of deliberateness and calm’

  13. Barbara Maclellan says:

    Hi Jen, just finished your book from here on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia !I couldn’t put it down.Keep close to Our Blessed Mother .
    I too have smaller prayers answered– that really were very important– but one bigger one keeps me at lots of prayer every day.
    What a sweet child in the picture.
    God chose you to bring many to Christ-that was His plan.