The Protagonist

Of all the characters in your story, who should be protagonist?

The protagonist is the main character or hero of the story.

Photo by Jack Moreh on Freerange

But “hero” is a word with adventurous connotations, so we’ll stick to the term protagonist to signify the main character around whom the story is built. Sometimes it is not so easy to know which is your main character.

Generally speaking, the protagonist is the character whom the reader or audience accompanies for the greater part of the narrative. So usually this character is the one with most screen or page time. Often the protagonist is the character who exhibits the most profound change or transformation by the end of the story.

Furthermore, the protagonist – and in particular what the protagonist learns – embodies the story’s theme.

For simplicity’s sake, let us say for the moment that in ensemble pieces with several main characters, each of them is the protagonist of his or her own story, or rather storyline. Since the protagonist is on the whole a pretty important figure in a story, there is a fair bit to say about this archetype, so this post is going to be quite long.

In it we’ll answer some questions:

  • Is the protagonist the most interesting character in the story?
  • What are the most important aspects of the protagonist for the author to convey?
  • What about the transformation or learning curve?

How Interesting Must The Protagonist Be?

Some say the protagonist should be the most interesting character in the story, and the one whose fate you care about most.

But while that is often the case, it does not necessarily have to be true.

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Core Emotion and Primary Character Trait

In stories, the characters’ emotions are ultimately the sources of their actions, because motivations are ultimately based on emotions.

Determining the emotional core of a character in a story may lead to a clearer understanding of that character’s behaviour, i.e. their actions.

What we’re getting at here is essentially a premise for creating a story. We have noted that if you plonk a group of contrasting characters in a room – or story-world –, then a plot can emerge out of the arising conflicts of interest. If you’re designing a story, one approach is to create the contrasts between the characters (their essential differences of character) by giving each character a core trait or emotion. One character may be frivolous, another penny-pinching. One may be fearful, another cheeky.

You might object: Isn’t that a bit one-dimensional? Aren’t characters with just one core emotion flat?

Not necessarily. Focusing on one core emotion is not a cheap trick. It is as old as storytelling.

Classical Storytelling

Ancient(more…)

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