The Protagonist

The definition (meaning) of protagonist:

  1. The leading character or one of the major characters.
  2. The advocate or champion of a particular cause or idea.

Every story needs a compelling lead character. One who is interesting and relatable. A well drawn character has a spine: a dominant unconscious goal that they strive for. This drives all their actions and decision making. (wall-E – find beauty)

What to show

We judge people by whether their values (priorities) and their attitudes (opinions) match ours. We admire people who have the passion to endure severe obstacles to achieve their goal, even if we don’t agree with them. Getting the reader to care about the protagonist requires empathy. Do not confuse this with sympathy.

Empathy: identifying with or understanding another person
Sympathy: feeling sorry about someone else’s misfortune

In order to empathize with the protagonist, the audience needs to learn a thing or two about him:

  • values (priorities)
  • attitude (opinions)
  • ambition (hopes and dreams)
  • flaws
  • fears

How to show it

Torture your protagonist (conflict). You reveal character by showing how he reacts to the problems he faces.

What you do is who you are,
What you say you do, is who you think you are.

conflict –> reaction –> identification

Stimulus –> Internalization –> Response

Stimulus and response have a cause and effect relationship. Stimulus and response must both be external (perform-able on a stage).

Stimulus: He sees her walk in.
Response: He fumbles for his handgun.

Stimulus: He sees her walk in.
Internalization: Shit. She found me. I’m dead.
Response: He fumbles for his handgun.

internalization prevents confusion

See full characterization article for more information.

Example of characterization from superficial to deep immersiveness

Superficial (camera eye): His wife is pregnant.
Activity (action, dialogue, gestures): ‘What do you mean, we’re pregnant?’
Perception: ‘We’re having a baby!’ she said gleefully.
History: They’ve been trying for a baby for years.
Thoughts: I can’t believe this.
Emotion: He vomited.
Core (secrets): He never told his wife he was unable to have kids.

Female Protagonist vs Male Protagonist

Choosing based on your target audience
By default, male protagonists are more accessible to the broader audience because women can easily empathize with both genders, while men find it significantly easier to identify with other men. If you target women specifically, then the female protagonist is preferred.

Minding the gender differences
Of course a man can be feminine and a woman can be masculine, but some gender differences still apply. Yes, even if your protagonist is transgender.