What is the protagonist of a story, and why are they so important?
A story is only as strong as its protagonist. If your protagonist is weak and passive, your readers won’t care if s/he succeeds or fails. Knowing the definition of a protagonist is critical to fully understanding how to create a strong main character that will attract A-list actors.
Begin on this page by exploring the definition and essentials of having a strong protagonist, followed by a few examples.
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The definition of protagonist is, quite simply, the main or lead character in a story, often called a “hero.” The story must revolve around this character and the overall goal of the story must be something the protagonist can and does actively pursue.
What is a protagonist in a story?
Creating a strong protagonist is critical for developing a solid story. Different terms are often used in the protagonist definition such as hero, central character, main character, etc. Bottom-line: S/he has to be the main focus of your screenplay. The overall story must revolve around your hero.
Some essentials for having a strong protagonist:
- For a reader to want to follow the protagonist character through their journey, it’s typically necessary the hero be likable, but not always. More than likable, they need to be relatable to the reader.
- In order to reach their story goal, they must evolve in some way to make that final step toward success. Usually, the final evolution of the protagonist happens in the climax of the story.
- Since the protagonist is the main focus of the story, her/his goals and evolution are paramount. Achieving those goals only happens because the protagonist takes direct action.
- Drawing the audience in emotionally helps keep the reader engaged. By making the protagonist relatable, the reader wants to see them succeed.
Still need clarification on what is a protagonist character? Here are two examples of protagonist:
Agent Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs
While most people recognize Hannibal Lector as one of the best antagonists ever written, in terms of protagonist vs. antagonist, Agent Starling proved to be the driving force in solving the case. Clarice is a brilliant FBI rookie who has to overcome the demons of her past to push through her fears to succeed. With determination, she cleverly uses her bizarre relationship with Lecter to accomplish her goals.
Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark
One reason Indiana Jones was so popular was his utter charm and relatability. Sure, he was an archeologist, but he was also the quintessential adventurer, conquering all, despite the obstacles, even snakes. But he wasn’t just competent, he was funny and also deeply underappreciated those who worked with him. Adding realistic human qualities makes a protagonist multi-layered and anything but boring.
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