Fiction Focus 1- Protagonists

So, you’re all set to write that story of dashing and daring- or maybe of romance- or of political intrigue- or self discovery- or an odd relationship- whatever it might be, I will put money on your story having a protagonist. Unless you’re really edgy.

Merriam-Webster defines a protagonist thusly:

a : the principal character in a literary work (as a drama or story)

b : a leading actor, character, or participant in a literary work or real event

But when we think of protagonists, we think of a little more than that. They are usually also the main character or point of view character, and they are the ones that when we read books we route for and when we write the ones we want our readers to route for (of course nowadays, villains are so good we often end up rooting for them a little bit). Whether it’s that we want Jimmy to save his family from a pack of flesh eating monkeys, or that we want Miss Penelope to marry the handsome Count Dupree, or even if we want Anne to finish the short story she is writing in our short story about Anne, we take their side, and we follow them on their journey. The conflict that drives a novel is usually between the protagonist and the antagonist- which could be a person, or a thing, or an idea- or maybe just the protagonist and the world.

So if you’re a fiction writer, who’s the protagonist in your work in progress? Or was there a protagonist you particularly liked in a past work? And who is your favourite protagonist from a book or movie or play not written by you? For instance, my current favourite protagonist is one that I know is very famous and very popular- Lizzy Bennet from Pride & Prejudice. I loved how realistic she is and watching her journey through the novel!

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8 Responses

  1. CowTheEagle says:

    When I write, I prefer to blend the lines between good and evil, protagonist and antagonist. In my stories, the good and bad guys are not always as clear cut as it could seem in other works, because I recognize that humans, in their nature, are both flawed and endowed with saving graces. My main character is typically the focus of the story, but I make it a point to show that, while you may root for him, he is not the best person in the story. In fact, his faults often outweigh his positives. Just my view on it.

  2. Shino says:

    I am currently a huge fan of Raylan Givens from Justified. He’s a very well rounded, interesting character.

    My current protagonist is Mel Garret. He’s a train robber. That’s all I know about him as of yet.

    Nice article Stella!

  3. Stella says:

    That’s a really interesting way of looking at it, Cow, and a very modern way too! A lot of twenty first century books love to do this, to write everything in shades of grey so we’re never quite sure what’s going on. I know in my WiP, one of the main antagonists my protagonist has is herself!

  4. Aria says:

    Why, I tend to give my characters a lot of flaws as well.. The whole tone of what it write is kind of dark, so I certainly don’t have anyone who’s perfect and good (or I don’t have them for long, anyway).. Nor I like the classic protagonist/antagonist thing, as no realistic person is completely white or black.

    I do have a tendency of making both of the sides in my novels have someone as a POV character (this time, it changes through the series), so even if the reader grows to like one character in one story, they might just fall in love with that character’s opponent in the next :3

  5. Twit says:

    My current protagonist is Victor, who dances the line between artist and mad scientist.

    I have so many favourite protagonists!

  6. Cole says:

    Great article!

    In my current novel-in-progress ‘In Secret Places,’ my protagonist is messenger Mary Reedel who is trying to uncover dark secrets of the totalitarian government, The International Order (the IO), and its military force, the Elite Guard.

    A favorite protagonist that I’ve written in the past is Lira, a girl living in first-century Jerusalem and daughter of an abusive father. She was mysteriously born with red eyes, so the people of the city condemn her as a witch.

    In literature, some of my favorite protagonists are Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights), Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities), Havah/Isha (Havah), Kira (Gathering Blue), Hesther (The Scarlet Letter), and Lizzy Bennett is such a good one!

  7. Skorpionne says:

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer will always be one of my favourite protagonists. Her and Althea Vestrit, of the Liveship Trilogy.

    I don’t really have any favourite MCs of my own. :/

  8. Vyper says:

    I tend to have a general hatred of protagonists in general, but, as Shino said, Raylan Givens is the man.

    As for my protagonists, I’ve got two stories I’m writing simultaneously.

    The protagonist in the first, ‘Enslaved in Lytias’, is Anastasia “Tasia”. She’s a 12-year-old farm girl who gets kidnapped. Fantasy.

    The other isn’t named yet, but it sort of has joint-protagonists…if I can do that. Not sure if that’s allowed…

    But it’s written from the perspective of Aria Conner, a teenage orphan. The other MC is named John Grayson.

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