Sarah J.


Author, Writer, Freelance Journalist


How to create a great protagonist


A protagonist, as you may already know, is the main character of your story. The good person who you follow (often inside their head) as the story developes. You can have one protagonist in your story or a few of them. It's totally up to you and your story. 

As the protagonist is your main character it needs to be fully developed and interesting. On the internet you can find a hundreds of questions which helps you develop your protagonist. For example, do they have a pet? How do they define themselves: him/her/they? Et cetera. 

The answers to these questions are good to know, but when it's time to develop your protagonist I recommend that you focus on the complexity of him/her/they. The complexity that you'll find if you do this will help far more than any other questions ever will. 

1. What do he/she/they want?

What do they want is the perfect start for your protagonist. It helps speed along the story, connects the dots and keeps the red thread going. If you write a sci fi story about discovering a new universe, your protagonist might be an explorer a move the story a long with their curiosity. Your protagonist has to want to accomplish something. 

2. What do he/she/they need?

Now we're getting to the deep questions! To be able to accomplish something, the protagonist need to change. If they're imature and mean, as Eustace from the book The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. He had some major personality development during the book, and maybe your protagonist needs that too. Take Harry Potter for example. He wants to take down Valdemort but to be able to do this he needs to fully understand the backstory of Voldemort, learn magic, get to know Dumbledore's teachings and trust his friends. He has a long way to walk until he fully understands everything. So does your protagonist too. 

3. What is externally holding them back?

The antagonist, the bad person, will be the protagonist's opposite and may guide him/her/them through the story. This means that you can't throw easy challenges at your protagonist and expect your audience to remain interested. The external obstacles becomes more difficult as you make progress with your story. A tip is to write a plot outline that looks like an upside-down V. This is because we want the protagonist to face more and more difficult things. The external forces will challenge your protagonist and let your readers empathise with them. 

4. What is internally holding them back?

In the book A Good Girl's Guide to Murder, the protagonist Pip has to struggle with the death of her beloved dog. She knows it's the murderer who have killed him but can she find the murderer before they kills someone else? And, Is the hunt for the killer worth the effort when her loved ones are dying? Internal conflicts are super important to move the story along. To help you to find your protagonist's hidden internal forces you can ask the following questions: 

A.) What faults do they have?

You're the author and you know your characters better than they know themselves. Use this to find faults in your protagonist that you can write about in the story. 

B.) Which strengths do they have?

This is just as important to understand. By drawing on your main character's strengths you also help to develop the story. 


And that's it! That's how you build a complex and deep protagonist for your story!

(This blog post was influenced by Ken Brosky's blog post, How to Develop a Complex Protagonist at www.janefriedman.com.)

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