Home Writing What is a Protagonist? Understanding the Main Character

What is a Protagonist? Understanding the Main Character

by Neil Chase

Are you looking for guidance on how to create your own protagonist?

It’s essential to understand the characteristics and types of protagonists so that you can craft an engaging, believable character for your story, short film, movie, or play.

In this article, we’ve put together all the resources you need to understand what makes a protagonist great – from knowing their main purpose in a story to creating unique personalities with different goals, motivations, and particularly a tragic flaw or two.

Let’s get into it!

The Characteristics of a Protagonist

Let’s start off with a protagonist definition.

Typically, a story revolves around a protagonist – the main character who is the focus of the narrative and drives the plot forward. According to this definition, they are often seen as heroic or noble and are typically opposed by a main antagonist or villain.

the leading character, hero, or heroine of a drama or other literary work.


In other words, the protagonist can be a hero, an anti-hero, or even a villain, depending on where they fall within the context of the story.

The key traits of any successful central character include relatability, depth, clear motives, and growth throughout the story. It is vital to start with the character’s backstory and create their personality by considering how past experiences shaped them.

Developing a likable yet flawed person who embarks on a journey full of change and growth can be done through careful crafting of expositions, interactions with other characters, and situations in which the protagonist is forced to make difficult decisions that impact future events.

With this approach, your main protagonist will surely draw readers into your story.

Types of Protagonists

When it comes to literature, you have many options to choose from for your type of protagonist.

A hero is a classic protagonist: a brave and moral “good guy.” On the other hand, an anti-hero is more flawed and unheroic and may even make poor decisions.

Tragic heroes can shatter our hearts as they put their own needs before those of others and often end up facing dire consequences.

Unreliable protagonists are untrustworthy, and readers are left guessing about the truth.

A supporting protagonist is someone who would normally be a secondary character but is actually the central character.

A false protagonist is a character who initially appears to be the main character of the story, only to be later revealed as something else.

A villain protagonist, on the other hand, is a “bad guy” from the start, though may eventually become the hero.

Lastly, multiple protagonists refer to more than one protagonist and offer readers an opportunity to explore several different characters’ perspectives and storylines at once.

Creating a Protagonist

Crafting a protagonist is an integral part of creating a captivating narrative.

Start with a character’s background and take time to think through elements like home life, career, and hobbies; this will dictate much of their decisions throughout your story.

Next, consider their motivations — what is their driving force, and why do they make the decisions they do? Base these motivations on reality and create plausible moments of conflict.

Then, develop a character arc. This includes strengths and weaknesses that challenge them as they move forward in the story.

Finally, utilize archetypes when crafting your protagonist – see which strong characteristics these characters embody that could help you create your own unique hero/heroine that readers will remember.

The Role of the Protagonist in Storytelling

Protagonists drive the story forward by facing conflict and tension. Without them, stories would be flat and uninteresting.

Beyond advancing the plot, most protagonists serve as role models for personal growth, as readers are sometimes inspired by how they face adversity and take action to achieve their goals.

Furthermore, protagonists also help us connect more deeply to the story – when we identify with them, we invest our emotions in their journey, too!

With a strong protagonist leading the way, a story can become a way for readers to become more self-aware and open-minded about different points of view.

The Importance of the Protagonist’s Journey

Since ancient Greece, literary work has employed the hero’s journey, following a protagonist who embarks on an adventure, faces great challenges, and returns as a hero.

Significant to this narrative structure are the hero’s distinct emotional, physical, and transformational journeys. These aspects mirror our own experiences in life and help us to think more deeply about ourselves and our environment.

On the protagonist’s emotional journey, they experience inner struggles in overcoming their fatal flaws, such as cowardice or greed, through newfound courage or morality.

While traveling on the physical journey, obstacles are encountered that test their knowledge and skills developed through the story.

Overall, this transformational journey reveals powerful truths and values that change the protagonist for the better.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Developing a Protagonist

Many stories suffer from having a weak protagonist due to some common mistakes.

A one-dimensional protagonist is not engaging, so adding complexity and development in the form of meaningful interactions, life experiences, and/or decisions is necessary for truly memorable characters.

It also very important that your leading character shows agency by taking an active role in the story rather than being passive or reactive.

As noted in this article, failing to connect with the audience can also doom a main character; if an audience can’t relate to your hero, it will be difficult for them to remain invested in their journey.

Don’t be afraid to take risks and explore different personalities, objectives, and imperfections. Doing so will give readers something real and relatable that they can hold on to as they follow your principal character on their quest!

Testing the Protagonist

When writing a story with a strong protagonist, it’s essential to get objective feedback. That’s where beta readers and critique partners come into play!

Beta readers can test out the protagonist that you’ve created by providing general feedback about the character’s strengths and weaknesses.

Critique partners, on the other hand, are writers familiar with your work, so they can offer more in-depth advice about your protagonist and story.

Although it can be challenging to see your protagonist from an objective viewpoint, building up a team of beta readers and critique partners is key to crafting a solid character that resonates with readers.

The Protagonist’s Impact on the Audience

For most audiences, a well-crafted character goes beyond entertainment by providing insight, inspiration, and connection.

By taking part in the protagonist’s journey, an audience not only gets to know them intimately, but their own feelings and experiences are often given a powerful voice.

We may relate to the protagonist’s struggles and setbacks, be moved by their courage and determination, or even be encouraged to take up causes that we had previously ignored.

In this way, a thoughtfully written protagonist can give us strength in our own lives and encourage us to become better people.

Tips for Writing a Great Protagonist

Writing a great protagonist is both an art and a science; it requires combining creativity, thoughtfulness, and empathy.

Creating believable characters requires attention to the details of facial expressions, dialogue, behaviors, circumstances, and physical descriptions while writing with empathy means not only understanding the character but also questioning their beliefs and motivations.

Focusing on character growth allows readers to understand their personal journey as an integral part of the story. Inner and outer growth should be palpable throughout, allowing readers to stay true to the character’s journey while connecting with them in meaningful ways.

Strong Protagonist Examples

Let’s take a look at a few protagonist examples.

  1. Harry Potter (Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling) – A chosen hero who must defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and fulfill his destiny.
  2. Luke Skywalker (Star Wars series by George Lucas) – A coming-of-age hero who learns to use the Force and becomes a mighty Jedi Knight.
  3. James Bond (James Bond series by Ian Fleming) – An action-hero protagonist who uses his physical abilities and gadgets to thwart villains, save the world, and protect his country.Ned Stark (Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin) – A tragic hero and false protagonist who is honorable and just and who sacrifices himself for his family and people.
  4. Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle) – A detective hero who uses his intellect and deductive skills to solve crimes and mysteries.
  5. Deadpool (Marvel comics and movie franchise) – A wisecracking antihero protagonist who has a dark sense of humor and is known for his violent and irreverent antics.

Conclusion: What is a Protagonist?

In conclusion, understanding the concept of a protagonist and the characteristics of a great protagonist can help create stories that are engaging, believable, and rich.

A great protagonist isn’t just someone who is noble or always makes the right choice, but someone with flaws, motivations, and reactions like any real person.

Writing a great protagonist requires considering what internal struggles, goals, and opinions their character might have, as well as their actions in reaction to external events.

Remember that by taking the time to develop strong protagonists, you will be able to help your reader relate to the characters and story, and keep them hooked until the end of your book or film!


  • Neil Chase

    Neil Chase is a story and writing coach, award-winning screenwriter, actor, and author of the horror-western novel, Iron Dogs.  Neil has won over 100 international awards for his writing and filmmaking, including the prestigious FilmMaker’s International Screenwriting Grand Prize Award & the ScreamFest Best Screenplay Award. His directorial-debut feature film, Spin The Wheel, is currently in post-production. Neil believes that all writers have the potential to create great work. His passion is helping writers find their voice and develop their skills so that they can create stories that are both entertaining and meaningful. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, check out his website for tips and inspiration!

You may also like