It’s been a busy four weeks, but we’ve covered a lot of material related to main characters and their function in fiction.  We’ve learned that “[t]he chief character in a plot, on whom our interest centers, is called the protagonist (or alternatively, the hero or heroine)” (Abrams 224).  They are the person in the story the audience uses as an active guide, a character who “is energetic and exposed to sufficient conflict to propel her through the story” (Dancyger & Rush 4).  Without a strong protagonist, the other characters and the audience lack a leader to follow as the story unfolds.

The last thing your story needs is a passive, uninterested, or weak protagonist.  Lagos Egri makes it clear:

“A weak character cannot carry the burden of protracted conflict in a [story].  He cannot support a [story].  We are forced, then, to discard such a character as a protagonist.  There is no sport if there is no competition; there is no [story] if there is no conflict.  Without counterpoint, there is no harmony.  The dramatist needs not only characters who are willing to put up a fight for their convictions.  He needs characters who have the strength, stamina, to carry this fight to its logical conclusion” (Egri 80).

What is the protagonist’s goal?  We’ve discussed how your “Hero is the character who takes the chances and carries the burdens of forwarding your entire story action-line.  And only the Hero can make that big showdown finale happen” (Edson 55).  What are they willing to do to achieve it?  What risks will they take to make their goal a reality?  Is the opposition strong enough to make the fight a tough one?  

The answers can be found in how the main character approaches the situations and conflicts they come up against on their quest to reach their goal.

We’ve learned that “[c]haracter is the progression of choices the character makes during the course of the story.  It’s how in the beginning the character will make choices that will have changed significantly by the end.  Those decisions by the main character, one by one, throughout the movie, become the character arc” (Keane xv).  From this arc, the protagonist evolves from where they were before the inciting incident through the story’s climax.  They are no longer the same person they were when the adventure began.  They have emerged from the story a better version of themselves.

As you develop and explore ways to craft compelling protagonists for your stories, it’s important to note that “the more you penetrate the mysteries of your own humanity, the more you come to understand yourself, the more you are able to understand others” (McKee 387).  You’ve had experiences, ups and downs, and have felt positive and negative emotions that give you the power to create realistic main characters with real and honest emotional depth.  Look inside yourself and observe others in the real world.  Use them as springboards to make your protagonists “intriguing or sympathetic to keep the audience caring about what happens” (Cowgill 45-46).   

Speaking of depth, a protagonist should have layers of emotions, reactions, and moods to make them more dimensional to the audience.  They may initially start as words on a page, but those words can be used to craft a compelling and unique hero for your story.  As Vogler states, “A real character, like a real person, is not just a single trait but a unique combination of many qualities and drives, some of them conflicting” (Vogler 37).  

Finally, we explored the other characters, friend and foe, that populate the protagonist’s world.  Whether it’s the mentor, the sidekick, the love interest, a pet, or an adversary agent, “[e]very character has a specially designed role, or function, to play to help the story fulfill [its premise]” (Truby 58).  Every character is linked to the protagonist in some manner, most importantly the antagonist of the story whose presence makes things challenging for the protagonist as they fight to achieve their goal.

A dimensional, active, and engaging protagonist takes time to create.  There are dozens of books, videos, and blog posts with plenty of advice on how to craft this all-important character.  My hope with this series was to give you the basic tools to begin the process and create a great main character for your current or future stories.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Sources:

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms.  Harcourt Brace, 1999.

Dancyger, Ken & Jeff Rush. Alternative Scriptwriting. Focal Press, 2007.

Edson, Eric. The Story Solution. Michael Wiese Productions, 2011.

Egri, Lajos. The Art of Dramatic Writing. Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Keane, Christopher. Romancing the A-List: Writing the Script the Big Stars Want to Make. Michael Wiese Productions, 2008.

McKee, Robert. Story. Harper Collins, 1997.

Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story. Faber and Faber, 2007.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

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