If we want to create memorable protagonists, we have to remember their purpose in our stories. Last week I wrote about the four main characters and why they are literary devices. Today I’m going to write about the protagonist and his or her role in our stories.
“In nearly all good fiction, the basic — all but inescapable — plot form is this: A central character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.” ~John Gardner
As A Literary Device: The protagonist exists as a sympathetic device to drive a story. To be effective in this role, he or she is usually there from the inciting moment to the end.
Story Goal: His or her story goal is to find a solution to a problem posed at the beginning of the book.
Five Important Things To Remember About Protagonists
- A novel without a protagonist is like a movie without a star. A protagonist is the central character or leading figure in any story. Readers often call this character the hero or main character. We need somebody to empathise (note that I did not say sympathise) with in a story – and the protagonist is usually the literacy device that facilitates this.
- Location. Location. Location. We find protagonists in most of the scenes in a novel. The story revolves around him or her and the author usually uses this character as a viewpoint character. He or she is the character with the story goal that drives the plot.
- We are all fatally flawed. Protagonists are not perfect. They are simply people who find themselves in a difficult situation that requires an action or reaction. An antagonist often defines a protagonist. Without an adversary for your hero, there is little reason to write a novel.
- A little bit of charm goes a long way. Your protagonist is usually likeable, though, because it is difficult to persuade readers to wade through 360 pages, rooting for a person they do not like. Anti-heroes can also be protagonists, but you need to be a skilled author to pull this off. You will have to find ways to make them charming, charismatic, or believable.
- No man is an island. For your story to work at the most basic level, you will need an antagonist who tries to stop your protagonist, a confidant or friend who is there as support, and a romantic involvement who is there to complicate his or her life. There will be other characters who make shorter appearances in your book. [Read The 4 Main Characters As Literary Devices]
How Do You Find Your Protagonist?
List three characters who would realistically have a strong reason to drive your story goal.
The character who has the most ‘yes’ answers would be the best choice.
Now complete this:
The character who should pursue the story goal is:
The character I find most interesting is:
The character I would most enjoy writing about is:
The character who would be the most believable is:
One of your characters will dominate these answers. This is the character you should consider using as your protagonist.
If the second character differs from the character you chose in the lists, you may be giving the leading role to the wrong character.
Character Questionnaires Suitable For A Protagonist
- Complete this for your protagonist: The Only Character Questionnaire You Need to Complete – 94 Questions For The Characters We Create.
- If you want a more creative character questionnaire, try using this post to get to know your protagonist better than you know yourself: 127 Prompts To Finish Before You Write About Yourself
In my next post, I will write about the antagonist as a literary device.
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