Everyone Loves Them
One of the most common character types you will hear about is the protagonist. Who exactly is this person. Put simply, this is a character you cheer for. The person you hope has all their dreams come true. The protagonist is usually main character. This allows you to get to know them and cheer on their dreams.
With this in mind let’s see how to build a good protagonist. There are some general rules I always use.
First, you need to know who your story is for. This character should be relatable to this audience. If I decide I am writing a story for 12-year-old boys, your protagonist should be a 12-year-old boy. This is automatically relatable. Familiars settings such as school are also helpful. You will also appeal to older audiences who have been 12 years old and remember going to school. Other ways of making your character relatable are giving them common problems. For example, bullying or bad grades.
Every protagonist needs a goal. This need to accomplish something is what causes your audience to be interested. This can be as simple as buying a video game or winning a sporting event at school. It can also be as complicated as saving the world. Your character not having enough money to buy the videogame or sucking at sports provides both your needs. The goal becomes getting money or better at the sport. This is also relatable because lots of your audience has one or both problems. The more difficult and positive the goal the more the audience cheers.
A protagonist can also be a form of wish fulfillment. This means that their goals and abilities are not something your audience has or relates to. Instead, they are things the audience wishes they could do.
This falls into two possible categories. The character who is slightly older than your audience and does things they think would be cool to do some day. A teenager learning to drive or on the first date, works here. The other version of wish fulfillment is more fantastical. This is where superheroes and characters with magical powers are handy. They give the audience the chance to dream and imagine themselves accomplishing amazing things. You can still make these characters relatable by giving them the issues already discussed.
The last and most important feature of a protagonist is making them likable to the audience. This is so important I will discuss it in its own post. Here, I will mention some key points. The protagonist should seem like a decent person. This means their goal should be something the audience wants them to accomplish. Avoid for example, seeking revenge. A vengeful protagonist probably won’t be fun to read about. The way the protagonist goes about accomplishing goals is also important. This means that by the time they’ve succeeded your audience should still like and relate to them. The audience should ultimately be happy after their success.
I will expand on likability later. I will also give some common traps to avoid.
Thanks for reading
Lee Ward - author of superhero and sci-fi stories.