It is axiomatic that the protagonist is the star of your story. We all know that. And we all know that the protagonist has the most to lose and manages to pick themselves up and rise to the occasion to resolve the roadblocks in their way . . . whatever they may be. This results in a positive ending. Loose ends are tied up, closure is achieved and the reader is satisfied with time well spent. While we root for the protagonist to succeed against overwhelming odds, a story could end in tragedy and still be satisfying. Example: “Romeo and Juliet.”
Question: Is there a way to craft what happens to the protagonist in your story? Consider what Robert McKee, who is a noted and gifted teacher, whose course on story I have taken twice, describes as “The Negation of the Negation.” The point McKee makes is that when a story is written and its protagonist is affected by the absolute worst case scenario, the result is a powerful tale that grips the reader. It also makes for a great play or movie.
Let’s dig deeper. A story can be about love, and in doing so, addresses its negation: hate. But what is negation of hate? Self-hate. When a character addresses the negation of the negation . . . you’ve got a winning story.
How about Hitler and Fascism? These address justice. Its negation: injustice. What makes the Nazi story and all others that involve oppression compelling and gripping is the negation of injustice (the negation of the negation): tyranny. Witness bestsellers like “All the Light We Cannot See” or the “Paris Architect.”
So when writing a story, define the negation of the moral value that is at stake for your protagonist, understand what the negation of that moral value what be and then write to the negation of the negation.
For those interesed in taking a course by Robert McKee (I urge all to do so), you can learn more at: mckeestory.com