Posted in Character Development, Writing

Why Does Your Protagonist Matter?

Characters are the heart of your story and the protagonist is everything. The protagonist is the one who drives the story forward, who advances and overcomes the plot, who makes your readers fall in love and want more from you and your cast.

But how do you choose the “right” protagonist? How do you decide which character in your mind is capable of playing the lead role and capturing the hearts of your many readers?

Why does your protagonist matter to the story, to the readers, to you?

protagonist

Who is the protagonist?

The protagonist can be the hero or main character in your story. They’re the one who’s outcome matters most. There would be no story without them.

How do you choose your protagonist?

Do you have your plot laid out? Okay, now let your characters decide.

You can choose a character to be the center of the story, but the cast will ultimately choose themselves. Like I’ve explained many times before, I originally had George the protagonist of my mystery series. And, while he’s still one of the main characters, the female main character took over and decided to be the protagonist instead.

And the story is much better that way, I have to say.

You may not know your characters until halfway through the story, but the protagonist will present him/herself when the time is right. You’ll soon come to realize which character you’ve been favoring over the others and who makes the important decisions around the plot.

What makes an awesome protagonist awesome?

Their personality

All characters in a story much have unique personalities making the readers love or hate them. They all must have a goal in mind, but your protagonist must be the one that stands out the most, that matters most to the story.

Give your protagonist a strong goal and allow them to be passionate about it. Maybe they want to save the princess (or prince) from the tower because they were childhood friends and/or they want to marry. Maybe they don’t want to save them from the tower, but they have to anyway for certain reasons.

Their background

Protagonists are usually tragic in some way or another. Don’t info-dump to your readers about your protagonist’s second birthday party (well… unless something plot-driven happened on that day, but I’m sure you know what I mean).

However, give your readers a good insight to your protagonist’s life. Their childhood, growing up, what matters most to them in life, what doesn’t matter to them at all, etc. This helps develop their personality as well as their goals in life as they strive to be the spotlight of the story.

But, you must let it all happen naturally. They know what they want.

Their relationship with the antagonist

The antagonist is the “bad guy,” so to speak. There wouldn’t be much of a plot if it weren’t for the dynamic between the protagonist and antagonist.

Whatever the antagonist does should drive the protagonist forward (or backward) in some way or another. The antagonist is one of the reasons the protagonist is going on their journey. Maybe they know each other from the past, maybe they will get to know each other when all is said and done. Or, maybe it’s just a random encounter because something else happened.

Either way, allow the protagonist to know what he/she wants and how they want to accomplish those goals.

Their decisions

Speaking of accomplishing goals, your protagonist should be the one making all the heavy decisions. I’m not saying they can’t ask for help, but they’re the ones driving the plot forward.

If something goes wrong, what will your protagonist do? If the antagoinst does something your protagonist did or didn’t expect, what will he/she do? If there’s a fork in the road and they can’t read a map, what will they do?

Allowing your protagonist to make most of the decisions allows your readers to get to know him/her and get inside their head. It makes the readers say, “I would have done that, too,” or, “Why in the world did he decide to do that? That was a stupid, they’re going to get into trouble!”

It becomes known that the protagonist is in charge of the story and they become relatable to the readers as the protagonist takes his own life, and the life of the other characters, into his own hands.

Remember…

  • Give your protagonist a goal, something to strive for.
  • Give your protagonist tragedy
  • Put all the weight on your protagonist’s shoulders
  • Allow your protagonist and antagonist to have some sort of relationship
  • Let your readers connect with the protagonist emotionally

The more you do that, the more your readers will root for the protagonist to win in the end.

How do you create awesome protagonists? What’s your favorite trait of a good protagonist? Let me know in the comments below!

Did you enjoy this post? Check out the companion post, Antagonists Are People, Too

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

19 thoughts on “Why Does Your Protagonist Matter?

  1. Some really great tips here, Rachel! Thanks for sharing them. Nice resource to keep in mind for any writer 🙂 A lot of books fall flat simply because of their protagonist; whether it’s simply that they don’t resonate, which is fine as not everything appeals to everyone, or whether they don’t feel fleshed out, a slightly larger crime often down to inexperience. Thanks 🙂

  2. Absolutely love this post!

    In a WIP I’m working on, I’d decided who the protagonist would be. But, by the time all the sketches were done and I was halfway through the plot outline, a lesser character stepped forth and stole the show! LOL!

    Great post!

    1. Thanks, I’m glad you find it helpful!
      That’s exactly what happened to me… Except I had the entire novel written. I kept going thinking it would get better and fix itself, but my writers group and I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t working.

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