Made in America

How to Develop a Protagonist

An antagonist is a person you love to hate. It’s the character who goes against the grain and is essentially the exact opposite of your main character – the protagonist.

In this blog post, we’re going to take a dive into the latter and learn more about the protagonist and how this character helps drive your plot and carries your story.

Before we get started, let’s get back to basics and define the term protagonist. According to a protagonist is “the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.”

One way to think of the protagonist is the axis to which the entire plot revolves – they are the main character and they shape and define how the story unfolds.  How do you develop a protagonist? Here are three ideas to get you started.

There’s a problem.

This might be a little obvious but the protagonist’s actions will be driven by some sort of problem and it’s a problem that needs solved. Depending on your story, the problem that the protagonist is experiencing should be relatable to the readers so that they can feel as if they are living vicariously through your main character. Think of the problem as being like the North Star for your protagonist and the story will tell how he navigates his way to find a solution.

Humanize them.

Building off of our last point, as an author, you want to make your main character relatable so that your readers can connect with them on a personal level. The goal of building out your protagonist is to make them feel so real that your readers are emotionally invested in their life. To do this, you want to consider all of the moving parts which include but aren’t limited to:

  • The character’s backstory. Every person has a past and so should your protagonist. Provide your readers with context as to how they got to where they are today and why they are the way that they are.
  • What are they trying to accomplish? We all have goals in life and to make your protagonist feel like a real person, he should have goals too that are supplemented by his strengths and offset by his weaknesses.
  • Whether your protagonist is a perfectionist or nonchalant, give him a personality that’s unique and makes sense with the overall story. Tie in some funny quirks or paralyzing fears. These traits will help humanize your protagonist to your readers.

They have questions.

In stark contrast to a flat character, a protagonist should be curious and ask questions that the readers might be thinking. While events will unfold around your protagonist, you don’t want him to idly sit back and watch. Instead, you want him to engage with the world and question why these things are happening. This sort of character will help you move your story along in a way that’s interesting to your readers. A protagonist who is passive and just lets life happen will not grab your readers by their collars and pull them in for more. Give your main character some tenacity and an inquisitive nature; it’s these traits among many that will act as the glue that holds your plot together.

Use these three ideas as starting points to develop your protagonist. Remember, your main character carries the weight of the plot on his shoulders, so make him interesting!

Copyright Dorrance Publishing, 2017

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