As covered in 1-4 of this series, there are 6 essential keys to unlock the definition of what makes a good story:
4) Beginning, Middle and End
This post covers #5. The essential element that brings us (the reader) into the story.
As in most things story, the word comes from greek; for 1st in importance – protos + agonistes – ‘actor’. In other words, this is the star, hero/heroine, main character.
As mentioned in key #2 (PLOT), often when crafting stories the writer ends up with a much different turn of events than originally anticipated before facing that 1st blank page, and when they get to the last blank page – the character they thought was the protagonist is merely a secondary character.
The identifiers are this:
The Protagonist is the one primarily affected by the action (good and bad) of the plot.
The Protagonist carries the goal of the plot, and in the case of an ensemble or co-protagonist, they each will have the same goal. It is usually in these stories of multiple main characters that the writer ends up missing who the protagonist is.
Probably the most important identifier (especially as far as the 1st 10 pages go) is that the Protagonist is the one that brings the reader into the story. Yes, you can start with the villain (antagonist) or the event, but remember the audience wants to know who they are concerned with as soon as possible, which is why a common complaint among audience members is that ‘it took awhile to get going’ or ‘it got off to a slow start’. So THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR STORY is get your Protagonist on the page (in a big, think ‘star’ way) as soon as possible, absolutely no later than the 1st 10, ideally much sooner.
Beyond the 1st 10 usually the difference between a great story and a s0-s0 one is that the writer has become so attached to their hero, they are afraid to put them through the hell they need to go through, the absolute worst thing imaginable must be imagined (and typed) — it’s okay — you will feel so much better when your baby comes out, changed for the better, fully arc’d — the best part here is your audience will also be fully engaged.
To quote a pretty good writer namely, F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.’ And I borrow this from John August’s blog who borrowed it from Michael Goldberg, ‘the protagonist is the character that suffers the most’.
The Protagonist does not have to be entirely sympathetic, nobody is perfect. In fact the ‘fatal flaw’ in story development often refers to that which is ‘out of whack’ with your good guy. You know how when someone snaps and makes the local news, and all their friends and neighbors say, ‘he/she was such a nice person’, giving your Protagonist, not so perfect desires and traits, makes them normal. How they handle those desires and traits while in pursuit of the goal of the plot, makes them the good guy.
The best part of knowing your Protagonist is once you do, you also know how to pitch or sell, your story because He/She should be the subject of your logline.
Next up is the Protagonist’s opposite twin, #6 Antagonist.