In stories, the most important characters are the characters that create, decide, react, and make things happen as your plot unfolds.
Even if you have the most spectacular story with beautiful imagery and vivid settings, when readers see their own dreams, values, struggles, and needs reflected in your main characters, be it in the protagonists or antagonists of your story, that's the point they truly get swept away by your writing and story-telling.
What is a Protagonist?
The word "protagonist" comes from the Greek word, prōtagōnistēs, which means “principal actor.”
In pretty much any novel, storyline or narrative, the protagonist is the main character; the central figure who's actions and motivations drive the plot forward. Most of the time, the story is told through the lens of the protagonist, and who's perspective the readers sees the story unfold from. This character also tends to be involved in, or affected by most of the choices or conflicts that arise in the narrative. This makes the protagonist the center of a story.
In order to build a strong and engaging protagonist, you have to brainstorm through and outline what they want most in the story, what they need, and what they have to do or achieve in order to get there. For your protagonist to go on a journey; whether it's physical, spiritual, or an emotional journey, they need to want something, and someone or something needs to be standing in the way. If you are able to plot this journey, you can take your protagonist and your reader on that journey together.
Characters Who Support The Protagonist
In most stories, the protagonist is also not the only character you meet. There are several other characters who interact, support, or antagonize the protagonist. These include:
Almost in direct opposition to the protagonist, like Voldermort is to Harry Potter, is the antagonist. Antagonists in a story are simply characters who want something that is in direct conflict with what the protagonist wants. And throughout the course of the character development in your story, both your protagonist and antagonist, or individually, will either end up achieving what they want, with nothing, or learn to want something else along the way.
2. Supporting Characters
While our protagonist is the most important tool in delivering the main crux and themes of the story, sometimes it's the secondary characters that really linger in our minds even after we finish reading the story. These characters all support the protagonist’s story arc in some way—whether that’s leading the protagonist in the right direction, giving them something to fight for, throwing them a game-changing curveball somewhere in the story. Despite being supporting or secondary characters, they should still unique individuals that resonate intimately with a wide variety of different readers.
Some of the other supporting characters you might find in your protagonist’s story are the best friend, the romantic interest, the mentor, guide, and many more. Whether they’re helping or hindering the journey of the protagonist, their job is to keep the plot moving forward and developing. These supporting characters have their own goals, struggles, and motivations as well; from which subplots sprout from.
The Importance Of The Protagonist
The protagonist is the driving force of the story, providing the motivation and conflict that propel the narrative forward. The protagonist is also the character that the audience can relate to and sympathize with, creating an emotional connection with the story and keeping them flipping the pages of your story. They are usually the character that the audience will root for, creating a sense of investment in the outcome of the story.
The protagonist is the character that the audience will learn from throughout or at the culmination of your story, providing a moral or ethical lesson that can be applied to real life. They will also be amongst the few characters that are remembered long after the story is over, providing a lasting impression on the audience.
Writing strong protagonists is, thus, very important in making sure your story holds ground. The process of character development is crucial in ensuring that you have robust protagonist character profiles and personalities in your story.
All-rounded character profiles allow writers to delve into the psyche of their characters and tease their personalities out throughout the story. JotterPad's character profile template can offer a space for you to explore multiple aspects of characterization.
Examples Of Protagonist Types In Stories
1. The "Hero"
While heroes can look very different depending on the story setting, themes, and cultural background of the story, a hero is someone who always tries to do the right thing—even when doing the right thing is hard, and even when they have too much to lose. Throughout the hero's journey, they tend to put the needs of others before their own and are evidently your traditional “good guys” of the story. They try their level best to embody and exemplify good morals, and make the right decisions for themselves and for the well-being of other characters. Some heroic protagonist examples from literature include Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker.
2. The Anti-Hero
Some protagonists, instead, subvert the traditional “hero” trope. Antiheroes are the unlikely or unwilling heroes. In some cases, they end up being the villains in a story. Even when antiheroes are villains, they’re protagonists—rather than antagonists—when they’re in stories where the author treats them as the main character, rather than the main conflict working against the main character.
Famous antihero protagonists include characters like Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series, and Shylock from William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.
3. The Supporting Protagonist
Most protagonists are main characters in their own right in stories. Whether they are heroes, anti-heroes or villains, they are central to the action that takes place in the plot. Occasionally, writers do explore the character profile and the role that a supporting protagonist could play, or a main character who is more on the periphery of events in the book. The supporting protagonist is someone who would normally be a secondary character by conventions of the genre but is actually the main character in the story. Some writers like to do this and mix it up by choosing someone that does not have the central role in the story and tell the story from their perspective instead. In this case, the protagonist has a “supporting” role in the events, despite being the central figure of the story.
While protagonists are often seen as the “point-of-view” character for a story, writers don’t always tell their stories from the lens of the protagonist. They can also choose to tell stories through a third-person point of view, or through the eyes of a supporting character.
4. The Villain Protagonist
In some cases, the villain is also the protagonist, or the main character of the story. Unlike an anti-hero, a villain protagonist never gets his redemption. This character is just a “bad guy.” through and through. As a villain protagonist, he drives the plot as the main character. Some popular stories that are great examples of villain protagonists are evil fairy Maleficent, who's POV we see the story of Sleeping Beauty being retold, and William Shakespeare’s corrupt king in Macbeth.
Using JotterPad to Write Your Own Stories
Once you have fleshed out a strong protagonist, an antagonist, and other supporting characters, and have written up your novel from start to end, you can start thinking about how you want to share your heart-work with the world. If you're looking to self-publish your book instead of hunting for a publisher, you can do so with the help of the ePub plugin on JotterPad. This plugin converts your Markdown documents into formatted eBooks, and generates and packages your final document with standard electronic publishing formatting.
When you export your Markdown document to ePub, multiple Markdown elements that you incorporate into your work such as Font styles, URL links, lists, tables, images, bold, italic, strikethrough, bullets, headers, and titles can also be generated and preserved from in the ePub files. Your bibliography, footnotes and references would also be preserved and formatted accordingly when you choose to export your work as so. You can export, share, and view your work on platforms such as Apple Books, Kobo, Amazon Kindle, Barnes, and Noble Nook after completing your writing.
Together with being central and pivotal to the plot and conflict points of your story, protagonists are also usually the emotional heart of the narrative; making them key in how your readers receive and digest your story-telling. While your protagonist can take on many forms, as a hero, an anti-hero, a supporting protagonist, or even a villain, they all serve similar purposes; to drive your plot forward and to journey alongside your readers.
If you have done your research, planning, and creative exploration well and crafted a protagonist that’s engaging and dynamic, your readers will stay with your protagonists until the very last page of your story.