The Key to a Great Story – The Basics of Protagonists

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The Key to a Great Story – The Basics of Protagonists

A protagonist is your main character, the person who the reader is supposed to root for as they read your writing. You always need at least one protagonist, but there is nothing to stop you from having more than one. When it comes to starting out writing having one or two protagonists makes it quite easy to manage. I’ve been writing stories for over a decade and I still only stick with having two protagonists.

All of my other ‘main’ characters are what I describe as minor characters, a category of people in themselves who will have posts of their own dedicated to them. Having more than one protagonist is easy to manage, but the key to managing them properly is to know what their relationship to each other is as well as their relationship to other characters and how their stories interweave and cooperate with each other.

It is quite possible to have a story where actually the two main characters are each other’s antagonists: Ron Howard’s ‘Rush is a fantastic example. His film is about two men, who basically butt heads with each other as they drive in F1. From audience’s perspective both are the protagonists, with the audience rooting for both characters for entirely different reasons. Pulling it off might not be easy, but Rush proves that it is possible.

However, when I write protagonists, I always write them where eventually they have the same goal in mind. They might never meet until near the end, or they might have vastly different ideas about how to go about doing something, but like with all characters knowing how they react is absolutely fundamentally important.

This is true for any and all characters that you create, but it is more true with your protagonist than it is with any other character, because your protagonist is the one you and your audience is going to be spending the most time with; they are crucial to your story and you have to know them as well as you know yourself.

Character development for protagonists is also linked to world development and also to the plot that you have in mind for your story. All of this applies to creating any character, but the plot has a very strong influence over your main character. With practice developing characters, plots and new worlds becomes more naturally (I won’t say easier because a decade into writing fantasy, it still isn’t easy for me): it becomes a skill to develop. Of course learning how to do so will require understanding the basic of characters, plot and world building. I can’t however elaborate on it for the moment as that will be the topics of later posts when I have finished explaining the basics of all three and I can explain more advanced techniques.

Naturally of course not all protagonists are the same. In the series of posts to follow I will explore a few different types of protagonists that you could use as a basis for character creation and development.

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